A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization

Article excerpt

A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization Kenneth F. Kiple. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization is an engaging, wonderfully detailed account of the global spread of foods over the past 10,000 years. Historian Dr. Kenneth Kiple weaves his encyclopedic knowledge of food and history into a narrative exploring the patterns, processes, and implications of this spread. Identifying seven geographic centers of origin for contemporary foods, he traces how crops have been borrowed, exchanged, and integrated into local cuisines. He then examines how contemporary eating habits and menus have come about, focusing on the nutritional and health impacts of this spread.

Kiple challenges some of the "common wisdoms" about globalization. Contrary to definitions of globalization as beginning with the Columbian exchange in the 1,400s or within the last century with the rise of technology and the economic and political imperialism of the West, Kiple presents globalization as an on-going process that began millennia ago. Foods have rarely stayed in only one small geographic area; natural as well as human forces have spread them throughout the world.

This approach offers a very different perspective on the history of food that then demonstrates connections over time usually overlooked. American fast food, for example, evolved from street food, a phenomenon found throughout history and throughout the world. Also, contrary to common stereotypes, Americans have actually been anything but fearful of new foods; and in fact the food industry has constantly introduced new tastes, items, and ingredients while also promoting unified patterns of consumption. While this overview is helpful in seeing the "bigger picture," it is also confusing at times. Leaps of decades, even centuries, are sometime glossed over, so that differences in historical, social, and cultural conditions are erased. It is not always clear where and when something was happening, and what conditions existed that enabled it.

This longer perspective also raises questions about the use of the term "globalization" for what might be more accurately described as a global history of food. Kiple asserts (and I agree with him) that this historical perspective is necessary, however, if the human diet has been going downhill since we first settled into domesticated agriculture, how does this history help us address what are considered the pressing issues of globalization: hegemony, homogenization, loss of tradition, cultural and economic imperialism, etc. …

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