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Food Food Is Culture (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) [Hardcover]

Massimo Montanari , Albert Sonnenfeld
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 21, 2006 0231137907 978-0231137904

Elegantly written by a distinguished culinary historian, Food Is Culture explores the innovative premise that everything having to do with food—its capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption—represents a cultural act. Even the "choices" made by primitive hunters and gatherers were determined by a culture of economics (availability) and medicine (digestibility and nutrition) that led to the development of specific social structures and traditions.

Massimo Montanari begins with the "invention" of cooking which allowed humans to transform natural, edible objects into cuisine. Cooking led to the creation of the kitchen, the adaptation of raw materials into utensils, and the birth of written and oral guidelines to formalize cooking techniques like roasting, broiling, and frying.

The transmission of recipes allowed food to acquire its own language and grow into a complex cultural product shaped by climate, geography, the pursuit of pleasure, and later, the desire for health. In his history, Montanari touches on the spice trade, the first agrarian societies, Renaissance dishes that synthesized different tastes, and the analytical attitude of the Enlightenment, which insisted on the separation of flavors. Brilliantly researched and analyzed, he shows how food, once a practical necessity, evolved into an indicator of social standing and religious and political identity.

Whether he is musing on the origins of the fork, the symbolic power of meat, cultural attitudes toward hot and cold foods, the connection between cuisine and class, the symbolic significance of certain foods, or the economical consequences of religious holidays, Montanari's concise yet intellectually rich reflections add another dimension to the history of human civilization. Entertaining and surprising, Food Is Culture is a fascinating look at how food is the ultimate embodiment of our continuing attempts to tame, transform, and reinterpret nature.

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Food Food Is Culture (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) + My Life in France
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Editorial Reviews


A worthwhile indulgence.

(Eve Lichtgarn Associated Content)

To read this disarming collection of brief essays is to witness a superbly stocked mind grappling with matters that are vital to human survival.

(Tim Morris Wilson Quarterly 1900-01-00)

Montanari here has provided students of anthropology with a wonderful text... Recommended.

(Library Journal)

Eloquent and shrewd.

(Ken Hirschkop Radical Philosophy)


One of the most significant and well-documented among contemporary writers of food-related history and culture, Massimo Montanari has been a household name for a number of years. This book can easily be called a crowning achievement. It does not deal, primarily, with food from the point of view of nutrition; it is rather the work of an anthropologist who knows food literature (and medical and 'literary' literature) as few others and uses his knowledge as an irresistible invitation to travel through a much frequented and yet not adequately mapped territory.

(Luigi Ballerini, culinary historian and coauthor of The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book)

Product Details

  • Series: Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History
  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (November 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231137907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231137904
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 6.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #313,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Montanari Way November 24, 2006
As an American boy growing up in France, we had only to hop it down to the local grocery to find the very best terrine. Massimo Montanari, author of a new compendium of his food columns, has written an exciting book about how and why people (especially in the Wrst) became interested in eating as an aesthetic proposition. Just yesterday here in San Francisco, I had the strange experience of having one of Montanari's columns come to life, as at a festive Thanksgiving dinner, someone brought a heaping box of cranberry flavored biscotti, explaining that the Italian bakeries of North Beach made them only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, for there's no market for them at other times of the year.

Exactly, Massimo Montanari would exclaim. One of his chapters shows how once a dish is associated with Christmas, you never see it the whole year round, and some foods (gingerbread for example) have been unfairly stigmatized with this "Christmas branding," although anybody could enjoy a nice piece of gingerbread in any season except that culturally, it would revolt us and most of us, even if we were starving, shipwrecked with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sun and the rest of the cast of LOST, on a desert island, most of us would turn up our noses at gingerbread. Brillat Savarin said it best, "Tell me what you eat anbd I'll tell you what you are," but canny old Massimo Montanari turns the good Frenchman upside his head to produce a slew of new apercus.

He knows his history backwards and forewards. When, for example, did Europeans introduce the custom of providing salad, sherbet, or just plain still water between courses? Montanari knows!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food is culture November 26, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an opportunity for enjoyable and thought provoking reading.
The metaphor of "food as language" proved very versatile for academic purposes.
I have used Montanari's ideas to put together a short introduction to a
Marketing in the Food Sector module. My students can now relate media language with
"food language" in meaningful and imaginative ways.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Read It Any More June 8, 2010
I am a fan of the books that tie history and food together, so it was with great anticipation that I bought this book. It seemed like it would be ripe with topics, and since it was relatively new, it would be relevant in discussions or even sharing with a class.

The writing is so painfully verbose that I could barely read more than a few pages at a time, and even upon returning to it to browse for more direct statements about the author's pet theories, I had to put it down out of frustration. The author is fond of hearing himself "speak", and as such, uses a dialogue that bores the reader to the point of losing interest in the subject. I am a life-long food and beverage person, with hundreds of books in my collection, each beloved as the next; but, I simply could not in good conscience recommend this book to anyone hoping to be enlightened in the history and relevance of food and cultures. It was egregiously boring.
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