Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly
World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization
World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization. By Mary Ellen Snodgrass. Armonk, NY: Sharpe Reference, 2012. 2 vols. alkaline $249 (ISBN: 9780765682789).
World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization "examines the spectrum of comestibles as they apply to history, politics, economics, medicine, nutrition, ethnicity, worship, and invention" (xix). Mary Ellen Snodgrass, prolific author of reference materials, tackles this immense scope in under 800 pages. There is no shortage of reference materials on food and foodways, and this work's closest peer, The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (Scribner's, 2003), won the Dartmouth Medal in 2004. Also, a number of this work's entries have been handled in previous reference works of their own (examples include: Food Additives, Coffee, and Healing Foods).
The 300-plus entries are well researched and often absorbing, each weaving the story of an ingredient or custom through history. Recipes and black-and-white photographs are peppered throughout the work. A topic finder groups entries into seventeen themes such as "Customs, Lore, Religion" and "Meals and Courses."
The author follows a chronological format for many of the entries, beginning with a definition of the topic, its earliest origins, and tracing highlights throughout time up to the present. For example, the "Condiments" entry begins with a listing of tastes as diverse as duck sauce, whipped cream, sofrito, and ketchup as a way of introducing the many different ways condiments are used, followed by a brief chronology of the first recorded uses of condiments. Subheadings lead the reader through "Medieval Advances," "Post-Columbian Flavor Boom," and "Pre-Modern Innovations." The effort to include non-Western tastes and trends is notable and consistent throughout the content. Biographical entries cover historical figures of particular influence in culinary trends, namely explorers, horticulturists, and celebrity chefs. …