Have the French always enjoyed their renowned cuisine? When did Russians begin to eat pirogi? What was the first Indonesian spice to be cultivated elsewhere in the world? Questions such as these make for good Jeopardy material, but they're far from trivial--just ask anyone with a passion for good food and a curiosity for where that food originated. That person will know instinctively that the best way to approach a culture--and, indeed, the human animal--is through the stomach. For this individual, The Cambridge World History of Food will be something of a bible, and the best of gifts.
A massive scholarly tome in two volumes and more than 2,000 pages, the CWHF encompasses a wealth of learning that touches on nearly every aspect of human life. (It also reveals the answers to the three earlier questions: No, French cuisine as we know it is a 19th-century development; in the 16th century, following the conquest of the Volga Tatar; ginger, in colonial Mexico.) Thoroughly researched and highly accessible despite its formidable layout, the set addresses a groaning board of topics past and present, from the diet of prehistoric humans to the role of iron in combating disease; from the domestication of animals to the spread of once-isolated ethnic cuisines in a fast-globalizing world. Of greatest interest to general readers is its concluding section--a dictionary of the world's food plants, which gives brief accounts of items both common and exotic, from abalong to Zuttano avocado.
The product of seven years of research, writing, and editing on the part of more than 200 authors, The Cambridge World History of Food promises to become a standard reference for social scientists, economists, nutritionists, and other scholars--and for cooks and diners seeking to deepen their knowledge of the materials they use and consume. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
It seems inconceivable that the editors and 224 international experts who contributed to this tour de force would suggest that our Paleolithic ancestors ate healthier than humans did up to 100 years ago, but they bolster their claim with facts: because they were hunter-gatherers, our Paleolithic forebears did not stay in one place long enough to pollute the local water with waste, nor did they come to rely on one primary source of food (and thus limit their access to vitamins and proteins). In addition to looking at the relationship between what we eat today and what humans ate millions of years ago, Kiple and Ornelas explore every type of food and food supplement, the cultural history of food, opposing views of vegetarianism, and related contemporary policy issues such as the argument over food labeling. With information that is up-to-date, a format that is easy to use and a fresh, engaging approach to their subject, Kiple and Ornelas have prepared a magnificent resource. The only quibble a reader may have, which the editors readily acknowledge, is that despite its claim to be a global study, the primary focus of their work is on the U.S. and Europe, but that is because more information on the history of foods in these areas is available than anywhere else. Serious students of health and anthropology, as well as libraries, provide an obvious market for this two-volume treatise. (Nov.)
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