Food and Global History
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.
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