How Food Made History

How Food Made History

How Food Made History

How Food Made History

Synopsis

Covering 5,000 years of global history, How Food Made History traces the changing patterns of food production and consumption that have molded economic and social life and contributed fundamentally to the development of government and complex societies.
  • Charts the changing technologies that have increased crop yields, enabled the industrial processing and preservation of food, and made transportation possible over great distances
  • Considers social attitudes towards food, religious prohibitions, health and nutrition, and the politics of distribution
  • Offers a fresh understanding of world history through the discussion of food

Excerpt

Food history has at least two major strands. One is concerned primarily with the history of food itself, often finding its voice in celebration of the joy of preparing and consuming particular foods – raw or cooked – with a strong emphasis on pleasure. The second strand originates more often with social and economic historians whose concerns typically lie elsewhere and show little evidence of the pleasures associated with food. Indeed, the regular fare of this second variety of food history is found in painful problems rather than pleasure, with an emphasis on deprivation and the role of food in conflict, for example, or, alternatively, studies of production and trade located firmly in the “dismal science” of political economy. Alongside these two main streams in the writing of food history are studies emanating from the disciplines of anthropology, archeology, sociology, geography, and psychology. A further, parallel, division exists between the popular celebration of food – exhibited most clearly in the West in the proliferation of television cooking shows, which had their beginnings with James Beard in 1946 – and the predictions of doomsayers, seeing famine and disaster beginning in the global South and spreading globally.

These two central themes, pleasure and pain, coexist in food history but most often run along separate paths. One of my aims is to bring them together, or to make sure at least that the separate routes criss-cross, because fundamentally the division is a false one. A major reason why it is false is simply that food systems are interconnected and codependent, both internally and externally. Contrasting outcomes are frequently merely two sides of the same coin. I believe these connections need to be confronted and the two strands brought together, however uncomfortably, in a single account.

The subject of this book is vast. My objective has been to provide a broad sketch of the history of food but without imagining that this can be achieved in a genuinely comprehensive manner. It is not possible even to mention all . . .

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