If you have any interest in food history at all, you’ve probably come across the Food Timeline, an extraordinary free website that tracks the evolution of food, recipes, and trends from prehistory to the present.
The Food Timeline explains itself with this header: “Food history presents a fascinating buffet of popular lore and contradictory facts. Some experts say it’s impossible to express this topic in exact timeline format. They are correct. Most foods are not invented; they evolve. We make food history fun.”
There are thousands of entries, ranging from cattle domestication to medieval foods and menus to Marshmallow Peeps, just about everything that explains American food and how it got that way. For food-obsessed people, it’s a really fun way to lose a few hours, over and over again.
The most amazing thing about the Food Timeline, aside from its breadth, is that it was the work of just one person, a New Jersey reference librarian named Lynne Olver. Dayna Evans has written a lovely profile of both Olver and the site over at Eater. Olver, she writes, was obsessed with both research and the Timeline; she would work on it 30 hours a week on top of her day job at the Morris County Public Library. She promised users that she would answer all their questions within 48 hours, and she took that commitment seriously, to the point of dragging her computer along with her on family vacations.
Olver died of leukemia in 2015 at age 57. She left behind a husband, two children, a personal library of thousands of food-related books, and, of course, the Food Timeline. The Timeline hasn’t been updated since her death. Her family members felt incapable of maintaining it to her standards. “To anyone willing and able to maintain Olver’s vision of an ad-free, simply designed, easy-to-access resource on food history,” Evans writes, “the family members say that the website and her library are theirs, for free.”
So far, though, they haven’t found any takers. But surely there must be someone out there with the time, interest, and skill to be able to continue Olver’s work. Could that person be you?