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Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat Hardcover – November 13, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Murray, a Financial Times contributor, takes a look at the literal journey of food through multilayered essays of the history of food transportation. From the banana export business of Central America (which was rife with America's economic gain and political manhandling) to the creation of the barrel (which revolutionized transcontinental trading and contributed a new dimension to the art of winemaking), the dozen chapters each start with a straightforward item-the shipping container, a tin can, a tub of yogurt, etc.-and delve into topics of greater significance like globalization, empire building, localized farming and food aid programs. For example, her essay on the amphora, a container used to carry olive oil throughout the ancient Roman Empire, not only depicts the social and economic importance of olive oil in Roman times but also leads into the contemporary debate of regional designation of origins for foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or Newcastle brown ale. Erudite and thoroughly researched, this is a fascinating read for both foodies and those who love how the minutiae of life often provide a fresh lens with which to view the world. (Nov.)
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"A fascinating chronicle of mankind's efforts to move food throughout history."--The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina)
"[Murray's] investigations are detailed, sophisticated, and intellectually satisfying."--The Washington Post
"Hugely enjoyable . . . I've read more than my share of books about food, and this one really stands out for being well researched and highly entertaining."--Tim Zagat, cocreator and publisher of the Zagat Survey guides
"Packed with fascinating information."--The Washington Post
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Top customer reviews
Food miles is an issue these days and I try to support local food whenever I can. But as a result of reading this book, I have a newfound appreciation of what it takes to provide me with a steady diet of a wide variety of tasty foods from around the world, lest I wound up with a strict diet of NY apples and NJ lettuce (OK I exaggerate slightly.)
Sarah Murray is one gifted writer, who doesn't hesitate to inject some wry humor to keep her reader entertained. Yes, per one other reviewer, it does come across as a series of essays/ chapters without a narrative theme, but I didn't have a problem with that. She doesn't promise more, while overdelivering on a delightful yet eye-opening read. I bought her latest book, Making an Exit at the same time. I can't wait to start that one tonite!
Murray also has an eye for intriguing details. Her chapter on barrels and cooperage is full of surprises. But do not have any illusions that you will see some serious critical scholarship here - her history of the banana trade is pretty much free of ecological catastrophes and starving peasants, and even her re-telling of the CIA-engineered coup that toppled the Arbenz regime in Guatemala is a bit sanitized. You don't sell a lot of books by being a drag and talking too much about CO2 and global climate change, or peak oil. The book hovers somewhere between "don't worry, be happy and enjoy your Chilean grapes" and "oh dear, we will have to do something." It is a serious and indigestible topic, made superficially tasty and palatable with a lot of fascinating detail and a fine sense of irony.
And that's where Murray's point about "food miles" comes in. Adam Smith made the point in "The Wealth of Nations" that a good claret could certainly be produced from grapes grown in greenhouses in Scotland -- and at a cost only 20 or 30 times that of growing the grapes in France, making the wine there, and shipping it to Scotland.
I had my own example of this last year. I picked up a container of pear yogurt (in March!) at the grocery store, and noted it was a "special seasonal variety available for a limited time". Wait a minute -- where does one find fresh pears in March in the Northern Hemisphere? Answer: the Rio Negro valley in Argentina, where they must have had an exceptionally good harvest, so Dannon made up pear yogurt for sale in North America. And that's what's wrong with the "locavore" movement. Food production is a global industry because it works better that way, and produces cheaper products and broader availability. Living as I do in Philadelphia, in a locavore world my winter diet would consist of storage apples and root vegetables, along with mostly frozen meat, fish, and poultry. No thank you.