- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (May 3, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0802719910
- ISBN-13: 978-0802719911
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 150 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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An Edible History of Humanity Paperback – April 27, 2010
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"Standage succeeds in underscoring the crucial role that food continues to play in our lives." - Washington Post
"The emphasis on food as a cultural catalyst differentiates Standage from Michael Pollan. With Standage...it's not just one food lifting and guiding history, but what Adam Smith might have called the "invisible fork" of food economics." - New Scientist
"Standage's examples are pretty powerful: In his view of the world, the British lost the Revolutionary War in large part because they failed to provide adequate food for their troops; the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 because the regime could not feed its people; and the reason we say someone is a family's "breadwinner" is because of food's practically ancient association with wealth." - Gourmet
"An extraordinary and well-told story, a much neglected dimension of history." - Financial Times
"Cogent, informative and insightful. An intense briefing on the making of our world from the vantage point of food history." - Kirkus
About the Author
Tom Standage is business editor at The Economist magazine and the author of four works of history, including A History of the World in 6 Glasses and The Victorian Internet. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, Wired, and other publications. He is married and has two children.
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Tom Standage covers his topic really well overall. He follows in time when certain events happen. His main purpose of the book was to inform people on how food has improved technological innovations throughout time. He has stayed on topic on telling the reader about his research. The pace of the book is slower and seems a little too easy to follow along with. I would suggest to add more information so i could understand more of his idea.
Journalist and author ("A History of the World in Six Glasses") Standage takes these truisms and examines them up close, beginning with farming. Fire increased the abundance of food by making it more digestible, but farming was a mixed blessing. Yes, it allowed for increased population - predictable food supply, more babies since it was no longer necessary to carry the family from place to place - but the bigger population worked harder and was less healthy.
"Compared with farming, being a hunter-gatherer was much more fun," Standage points out. Studies of modern-day nomads show they spend less than 20 hours a week on food procurement. "If effect, hunter-gatherers work two days a week and have five-day weekends."
The farmers, with their monotonous grain diet, were also less healthy. Archaeological dental evidence shows that farmers suffered from nutritional stress and that height decreased 5 to 6 inches in both sexes in the 4,000 or so years it took for farming to take over the globe.
So why did they do it? "The short answer is that they did not realize what was happening until it was too late." It was a gradual process, in terms of the human lifetime. That climate change played a significant role seems to be the one thing most scientists agree on.
Standage looks at the evolution of cereal grains, particularly corn, and the role food played in developing centralized social hierarchies and religious rites before jumping on a few years to the craze for spices and the consequent push for exploration, conquest and empire.
In addition to the discovery of the Americas, Standage explores the Arab and Chinese roles in the spice trade, the "communications networks" of trade routes among Arabs, and the spread of Islam, which helped spur the European drive for alternate routes.
He looks at food's role in war, feeding an army - and its animals - being no small feat. The old proverb, "For want of a nail..." could as easily be "For want of a wagonload of hay..."
As the world grew smaller, through exploration, industrialization and invention, wars grew larger and more complicated. Standage homes in on Napoleon, showing how food supplies were an integral part of his ingenious planning and his eventual downfall.
The interconnectedness of seemingly distant things is a constant theme. Coal, for instance. As more land is cultivated, coal becomes cheaper than wood. Britain's plentiful supply spurs the invention of the steam engine (to pump out flooded mines) and greater prosperity, from more glass in British windows to a booming energy-gobbling textile industry. And into this cycle of consumption and expansion comes the potato, which helps fuel the cheap labor of the industrial revolution. And the consequent Irish famines.
In the modern era Standage looks at the Communist attempt at collectivism, the boon and bane of chemical fertilizer, and the Green Revolution with its fertilizer-dependent yields, Franken foods, and ecological impact.
Standage, business editor of The Economist, is particularly fascinated by the unintended, far-flung consequences of things, like the seemingly harmless pastime of growing a few stalks of einkorn to supplement the local nuts and berries.
Today's virtuous locavore gets a wake-up call too. Throughout the book Standage finds opportunities to measure the true overall cost/benefit ratio of eating local. Local greenhouse tomatoes in Britain, for instance, produce more carbon emissions than imports from Spain, even factoring in transportation.
And cooking accounts for the greatest percentage of energy in the food chain. "Whether you leave the lid on the pan when boiling your potatoes has more of an impact on the total carbon-dioxide emissions than whether they were grown locally or far away."
He also looks at efficiencies in various forms of transport, concluding, "the drive to and from a shop or market can produce more emissions, for a given weight of food, than the whole of the rest of its journey."
Standage packs a lot into less than 260 pages (including chapter notes and research sources). He focuses on largely familiar elements of history and examines them from an up-close, food specific perspective. The ripples of cause and effect provide the underlying theme.
The material is clear and well organized and Standage's prose style is conversational and engaging. Foodies and food-history buffs will be familiar with much of the material, but Standage puts his own stamp on it. This is an accessible, enjoyable book for anyone with an interest in food's role in history.
I found that this book met both cravings very well. It also fits into the many aspects when studying history and its causes. Climate change is one such discipline that has brought new understanding to this pursuit. The history of our food supply through agriculture, climate change, relocation, and hybridization has very much influenced human history as a whole and its individual parts. This also touches on the great search for spices and the many turns it had to make to supply the Europeans new passion. It really captures the human experience in the lacks and abundances of the mighty power of food.
This has been a wonderful surprise and a great addition to my library.