Friday, July 11, 2014

An Edible History of Humanity

An Edible History of Humanity
© 2010 Tom Standage
288 pages





Tom Standage offers a course in human history set at the dinner table, beginning with agriculture and moving swiftly to the green revolution.  His A History of the World in Six Glasses  used given beverages to exemplify a historical epoch; beer covered agriculture,  wine the classical era, and so on through to consumerism’s Coca-Cola.  An Edible History of Humanity isn’t quite as tidy, but whereas most of his beverages were recreational drinks,  food is serious business.  Beginning with civilization and agriculture, Standage explores various theories as to why man settled down and began domesticating so many species. From there he moves to exploring how the European obsession with spices led to the discovery of the new world, and the nigh-subjugation of the old.  The bounty of the new world allowed for substantial population growth, even before the scientific and industrial revolutions; in fact, Standage contends, industrialism was a consequence of the boom allowed for by the increasingly diverse range of foodstuffs available to people throughout the world.  Man's search for food security is the Edible History's main point, and it's a hard point to oversell  Although not quite as cohesive as Six Glasses,  I thoroughly enjoyed both the author's usual lively writing and the way it informed my understanding of topics like the Napoleonic wars.

Related:
Against the Grain,  Richard Manning
Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky
A Splendid Exchange: A History of World Trade

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