Food in Global History

Food in Global History

Food in Global History

Food in Global History


Social scientists have studied foods in many different ways. Historians have most often studied the history of specific foods, and anthropologists have emphasized the role of food in religious rituals and group identities. Sociologists have looked primarily at food as an indicator of social class and a factor in social ties, and nutritionists have focused on changing patterns of consumption and applied medical knowledge to study the effects of diet on public health. Some scholars from these and other disciplines have studied the economic and political connections created around commerce in food, regionally and around the world. Now, all of these perspectives are brought together in a single volume. Fifteen specialists currently working in Canada, England, France, Guatemala, Norway, and the United States come together to apply their expert knowledge of food and food consumption in a new context, global history. In general essays and case studies, they reflect on the connections across space and time in what people eat and assess historical patterns of change in the human diet. The book begins with a consideration of the relationship between food and global history. Part One considers the global history of the ecology of food production, the contrasting impact of New World foods on India and China, the effects of global tourism, and the interaction between identity, migration, and diet. The selections in Part Two study the impact of public policy, comparing the countries of the former Soviet bloc with Scandinavia and Western Europe, analyzing the effects of international assistance on West Africa, and looking at changes in childhood nutrition in developing countries. Chapters in Part Three study nutritional change, the dietary effects of increased wealth, and the "Mad Cow" crisis in terms of global systems. Part Four investigates the relationship of global change to the ideologies and practices of the family meal, of food and cultural identity in Japan, and the American counterculture.


Raymond Grew

The history of food is a fashionable topic, and so is global history. Although they come together naturally, their combination is explosive. They intersect so easily because each sends forth tentacles of relevance that reach across conventional limitations of time, region, and scholarly specialization. Both employ vocabularies applicable everywhere. As subjects of study, however, food and global history begin from opposing points of departure and move along contrasting intellectual trajectories—with different purposes, methods, and prejudices. Remarkably, these complex, erudite, demanding topics appeal to a broad public. Articles and programs on the history of food appear in all the media, and allusions to it decorate patriotic speeches and advertising. A reference to globalization (and therefore some conception of global history) has become a talisman of wise engagement with the modern world and regularly inserted in economic forecasts, political statements, and sociological analyses. Although this double popularity has been a stimulus to this book and understanding the challenge in combining two such universal interests was essential to the project it represents.

I The Appeal of Food as a Subject of Study

Readers who would not normally wade through the abstractions of social analysis and for whom the details of history are a burden will nevertheless eagerly read about the foods and eating habits of other eras and cultures. There are many reasons for this appeal. Descriptions of other societies seem more immediate and concrete when they treat the common experiences of hunger and eating, inevitably invoking personal memories, sentimental associations with familiar foods, and a shock of delight or revulsion at descriptions of strange foods. Travel accounts, novels, and motion pictures all use food to measure social distance and to give immediacy to penury or plentitude. At . . .

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