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Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal Paperback – September 1, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802136516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802136510
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,480,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In this immensely learned and attractive book, Visser gives a chapter to each of the nine ingredients of a simple dinner: corn with salt and butter, chicken with rice, lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice, ice cream. Each of these foods has a "weird, passionate, often savage history of its own," which she relates in spirited prose, rich in surprising facts, unexpected connections, and a well-documented outrage at what modern technology and agribusiness have done to purity and quality. This presents a remarkable amount of information seamlessly and entertainingly. Ruth Diebold, MLS, Upper Nyack, N.Y.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Carol C. VINE VOICE on July 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
Visser begins by stating that "The extent to which we take everday objects for granted is the precise extent to which they govern and inform our lives." She then discusses the shape of chairs, the shape and configuration of forks, things we just don't think about every day. Visser constructs a menu of simple, taken-for-granted foods -- corn with salt & butter, chicken with rice, lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice, and ice cream. She the devotes a chapter to each course, providing more details about corn, salt & butter than you could ever imagine -- and it's all fascinating; corn, for example, touches just about everything we eat (except fish) -- all canned foods are bathed in liquids containing corn, nearly all paper, cardboard and plastic packaging depends on corn products, soft drinks contain corn-based coloring and high fructose corn syrup, corn touches ketchup, ice cream, pickles, instant coffee, insecticides, soap -- just about everything. Visser describes how corn plants grow, the origins of corn, how corn is eaten, the development of the original health food - corn flakes (with a fascinating discussion of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his efforts at the Battle Creek Sanitorium), corn farming around the world. It's not dull or laborious or academic -- it's fun, easy reading. After corn, Visser moves on to salt, then butter -- again, in delightful detail.
I'd recommend this book to anyone with a penchant for non-fiction, particularly a food lover, a history buff, or a science buff. Informative, well-researched, delightful fun.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Pumpkin King on November 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Margaret Visser takes typical components of an American meal (corn, salt, butter, chicken, rice, lettuce, olive oil, lemon juice, ice cream), and shows the reader what they tell us about our history and culture. It is one of the effects of mass production that we have very little idea how our products are produced, and for those people who share an interest for food, why people eat what they do, and the beliefs people hold about food, this book will be fascinating. It is not just a collection of tidbits of useless trivia; there is a steady theme of the food being discussed in each chapter. At the same time, it is not just about the particular foods she chooses as her chapter titles. With Visser, you find out that not only do our behaviors of consumption have far reaching effects that are largely unnoticed by the general public, but also that the foods we eat have long, unthinkable histories that determine our attitudes towards them.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Erika Mitchell TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is an exploration into the science and lore of common foods. In the introduction, the author notes that the topic is far too broad to be covered in any detail in a single volume, so she has restricted herself to examining 9 ingredients found in a simple dinner menu: corn with salt and butter, chicken with rice, lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice, and ice cream. Each subsequent chapter takes up one of these ingredients in turn. At the end of the book there is an extensive section of references, organized first by general references and encyclopedias, and then by specific references corresponding to each chapter. There is also an index.
The material in each chapter is quite varied, ranging from history, mythology, science, and economic botany, to health concerns and environmental issues. We read about such topics as the history of corn flakes, the significance of salt-making for the Indian independence movement, and the preservation of lettuce through irradiation or sprinkling with sulphite. All in all, the book is quite fascinating, with many facts and figures for those interested in food history and culture.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Hoffman, author:Radiation Days: A Comedy VINE VOICE on February 5, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's hard to imagine now how revolutionary books like this were back when Much Depends on Dinner was published in 1986. It was barely conceivable then that someone would write a book, an actual book about something so ordinary as a meal of corn on the cob with butter and salt, chicken, lettuce with olive oil and lemon dressing and ice cream. History was supposed to be reserved for the manly pursuits of war and politics with occasional detours to economy and science.

We are much more comfortable now with the notion that real life (and therefore real history) is about the ordinary and that the mysteries worth exploring are the ones wrapped in dailiness. Way before her time, Visser made the point that "...forms of things are a kind of language, speaking the logos of our culture...". In short, that to truly understand ourselves , we need to understand the things that are so common that we scarcely notice them at all.

Her pioneering work helped open up a floodgate. We have excellent books about Cod Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and SaltSalt: A World History, ChocolateThe True History of Chocolate, Second Edition and olive oilOlive Oil: From Tree to Table. There are so many books about the history of wine that there's no place for them in a brief review.
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