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Food in History

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An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights--like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion.


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An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights--like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion.

30 review for Food in History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lucinda

    From a fellow bus rider: "So what's that book about: food and history?" Me: "Yes." Him: "So like real stuff that happened and food?" Me: "Yes." From a fellow bus rider: "So what's that book about: food and history?" Me: "Yes." Him: "So like real stuff that happened and food?" Me: "Yes."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid Hardy

    I read this book a few years ago (softcover book), and it sits as a treasured book in my collection (I'd like to have a hard cover of it one day). This is a fantastic reference book. It begins where humans began, back in the caves, and gives archeological evidence as well as common sense theories on how certain foods likely came to be, such as yogurt and butter were probably discovered because of the practice of traveling with milk in the dried stomachs of animals. And one thing leads to another I read this book a few years ago (softcover book), and it sits as a treasured book in my collection (I'd like to have a hard cover of it one day). This is a fantastic reference book. It begins where humans began, back in the caves, and gives archeological evidence as well as common sense theories on how certain foods likely came to be, such as yogurt and butter were probably discovered because of the practice of traveling with milk in the dried stomachs of animals. And one thing leads to another. The book is full of fascinating points on the usage, origin and development of all kinds of food, and not just covering the western world. Nearly every country is mentioned, though as the author freely admits, written history needs to be taken with a... grain of salt, so to speak. I have several food history books in my collection - this one is my favorite that I flip through time and again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lorri

    I enjoy food histories and this was no exception. There were a few points that disagreed with other histories, most notably the idea that man once used spice to disguise rancid meat. (Jack Turner's "Spice: A History of Temptation" soundly refutes that idea. ) However, overall I thought it gave an excellent overview and serves as a good companion to other more focused food histories. I enjoy food histories and this was no exception. There were a few points that disagreed with other histories, most notably the idea that man once used spice to disguise rancid meat. (Jack Turner's "Spice: A History of Temptation" soundly refutes that idea. ) However, overall I thought it gave an excellent overview and serves as a good companion to other more focused food histories.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Wayne

    I put this down for the moment and turned to Roger Osbourne's Civilization: A New History of the Western World, to fill my history needs at the moment. Thus, far, I've gotten to easily annoyed at some of the sweeping generalizzations and assumptions the author has made about what was chosen as the first methods of food, and the apparent lack of scholarship in how she decided. I'll have to come back to it when I'm less annoyed with her approach to history. I put this down for the moment and turned to Roger Osbourne's Civilization: A New History of the Western World, to fill my history needs at the moment. Thus, far, I've gotten to easily annoyed at some of the sweeping generalizzations and assumptions the author has made about what was chosen as the first methods of food, and the apparent lack of scholarship in how she decided. I'll have to come back to it when I'm less annoyed with her approach to history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    angi

    reading this book kind of made me want to become a food anthropologist.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ciahnan Darrell

    There is much to admire about this book, the fact that it is dated not withstanding. Its prose is efficient and clear and keeps an excellent pace that carries you through the book almost effortlessly, synthesizing a breadth of material that, in moments, veers from the ambitious to the reckless before swerving back to relatively safety, always acknowledging the limits of its knowledge and signaling its intention when it passes into speculation. The book is great fun, and doesn’t a excellent job o There is much to admire about this book, the fact that it is dated not withstanding. Its prose is efficient and clear and keeps an excellent pace that carries you through the book almost effortlessly, synthesizing a breadth of material that, in moments, veers from the ambitious to the reckless before swerving back to relatively safety, always acknowledging the limits of its knowledge and signaling its intention when it passes into speculation. The book is great fun, and doesn’t a excellent job of building scaffolding that will support and structure more specific knowledge one obtains about the world of cuisine and its role in the development of human civilization. I recommend it highly.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Arjun Ravichandran

    As the title indicates, this is an exposition on the role that food - its cultivation, enjoyment, transportation, and its politics - has played in history. As the author notes in her introduction, for all our technological savvy and utopian visions of the approaching singularity, the fact remains that humanity is still not rid of its all-too-earthly dependence on food. The author begins by looking at the origin of the human species ; forced onto the treacherous Savannah by the retreating ice cap As the title indicates, this is an exposition on the role that food - its cultivation, enjoyment, transportation, and its politics - has played in history. As the author notes in her introduction, for all our technological savvy and utopian visions of the approaching singularity, the fact remains that humanity is still not rid of its all-too-earthly dependence on food. The author begins by looking at the origin of the human species ; forced onto the treacherous Savannah by the retreating ice caps, our primate ancestors evolved big brains and bipedal motion, the better to cooperate socially and chuck rocks at potential prey. From these inauspicious beginnings and precarious technology, we stumbled upon agriculture - and with the burgeoning populations that this afforded, came the first administrative centers, the first vague sense of social unity, and eventually the first cities and civilizations. The author then looks at the food stuffs of the major civilizations from the ancient Mesopotamians, the Romans, the Chinese and the Indians - always making sure to delineate how the climate, availability of grain crops, and available technology determined the variety of food available to these ancient peoples, and also detailing how these burgeoning national cuisines dovetailed and commingled with an emerging national character. (Somewhat pathetically, apparently the only commonality among these different civilizations spanning the globe was the near universal distinction between the quality of food available to the upper classes and that of the lower classes) The author does a fantastic job in subtly adjoining her descriptions of the food cultures of various places in the world with broader historical shifts and changes in fortune ; for example, the Roman Republic took to seafaring primarily because they needed access to the grain of the fertile Nile plains, all the better to fulfill the “panem” part of their governing ethos (“panem et circenses”) ; the curious evolution of Indian vegetarianism, a development that had historical parallels with the early Jews ; the European hunger for spices, arising from their climactically conditioned blandness of food, which led to the great seafarers looking for the spice islands of Indonesia, but instead stumbling upon the giant land mass of North America ; the British and Dutch attempts to escape the stranglehold of the Portuguese on said spice trade, and the resulting British domination of the subcontinent ; the rise of plantations, indentured servitude, and slavery from the new sugar crops found in the West Indies and Cuba, and the expansion of this method to other crops - there are plenty of such deft connections across history, geography, and gastronomy performed. The book ends with a discussion of the Industrial Revolution, and the associated revolutions of food transportation and supply, quality management, and the scientific revolutions, which brought us the Green and White revolutions. The author ends with an enigmatic epilogue which posits that the early co-evolution of culture and cuisine was determined by the nature of an indigenous terrain, and thus, for a particular purpose ; but since these purposes have been transcended by technology and globalization, many peoples consume their traditional food uncognizant of the mismatch between the intended purposes of such food and the current reality. This is an impressive, and engrossing work, with plenty of insights regarding the fundamental nature of our food and its subterranean role in far-flung phenomena with apparently little overlap ; the historical aspect aside, there are many interesting glances into the nature of various cuisine, and how they managed to get that way. This is a good book for fans of general history, food writing, or millennial males who enjoy reading about food without ever once stepping into a kitchen.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve Wales

    My first Folio Society book and a fascinating one detailing the changes in diet, hunting/gathering/farming of food and its preparation and cooking from pre-history to the beginning of the 21st century. Tannahill not only describes these changes and, for example, regional differences in diet but also explains them, e.g. in hot climates people eat spicy foods which make them perspire which cools them down (and prompts them to drink more fluids). The book also demonstrates the wide-ranging impact of My first Folio Society book and a fascinating one detailing the changes in diet, hunting/gathering/farming of food and its preparation and cooking from pre-history to the beginning of the 21st century. Tannahill not only describes these changes and, for example, regional differences in diet but also explains them, e.g. in hot climates people eat spicy foods which make them perspire which cools them down (and prompts them to drink more fluids). The book also demonstrates the wide-ranging impact of food-related issues on civilization. Thus science and technology are important (e.g. the effects of the Industrial Revolution on mechanised farming, or indeed simply the invention of the plough, let alone 20th century and later concerns such as GMOs and food additives) as are socio-economic issues - e.g. cookery books are only of general use when literacy is widespread, when people have enough disposable income to be able to afford the books and the ingredients and when they have some knowledge or curiosity about foods from outside the immediate vicinity (itself in practical terms necessitating improvements in transportation). Changes in food can have long-lasting impacts. This doesn't just refer to the change from hunting and gathering to domestication and farming but also, e.g., in colonization - today's taste for refine sugars (and thus the West's obesity crisis) came from the New World plantations worked by African slave labour. Sri Lanka's ethnic tensions similarly stem from plantations in the colonies. It was not the tea that the country (formerly Ceylon) is famous for, but instead for coffee, produced by Dutch colonists, that the Tamil workforce was brought to the plantations from India. A fascinating book tracing food from pre-cooking-with-fire beginnings to modern day preoccupations with obesity vs famine, food buzzwords like 'natural' 'healthy' 'organic', diseases such as BSE and Foot and Mouth, additives and genetic modification.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Julia Lundman

    Was reminded about this book today when someone posted about a food stall in Pompeii. Most did not have home kitchens, so they went to local public food stalls and stores to buy their meals. (Wondering about those who couldn't afford to eat...) I loved this book, especially the details about Roman food and its origins. Recommended reading, but not for everyone as it is a pretty detailed history of cooking. Was reminded about this book today when someone posted about a food stall in Pompeii. Most did not have home kitchens, so they went to local public food stalls and stores to buy their meals. (Wondering about those who couldn't afford to eat...) I loved this book, especially the details about Roman food and its origins. Recommended reading, but not for everyone as it is a pretty detailed history of cooking.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Mccullough

    We all must eat. Some of us are curious about how we have come to eat what we do eat. Tannehill’s book retells the long journey through time – and space. This is a history book for the general reader that is full of interesting details that enrich the background for the reader. Beginning with our prehistoric past, the reader is taken through the classic civilizations, then into the European Middle Ages and on to our own time. The book has a strong Eurocentric slant, the evolving cuisines of this We all must eat. Some of us are curious about how we have come to eat what we do eat. Tannehill’s book retells the long journey through time – and space. This is a history book for the general reader that is full of interesting details that enrich the background for the reader. Beginning with our prehistoric past, the reader is taken through the classic civilizations, then into the European Middle Ages and on to our own time. The book has a strong Eurocentric slant, the evolving cuisines of this peninsula being central and all other food complexes included primarily as they affect this evolution. The background stories are entertaining and give perspective to the changing foods, preparations and manners of eating in the past and as they relate to our own home tables. The book was first published in 1973 – my edition dates t 2002 and includes some more recent information. Still, that was 17 years ago and a few things have changed. The last chapters dealing with the craziness of the latest (post-1950) food fads brings some of the scientific information close to being up to date – that is, “healthy diets” are not necessarily more healthy than earlier “unhealthy diets.” Which reminds me of my own impression of the scientific literature that exercise/physical work is more important than diet in remaining healthy. Full-color pictures illuminating the text are found on almost a quarter of the pages including many that were probably difficult to find. A down side to these illustrations is that they must be printed on slick paper that reflects light in the reader’s face in a most distracting manner if held at a bad angle. I began reading the book to get a better perspective on food as it affects human health through time. I was not disappointed. If you enjoy eating or preparing a diverse selection of cuisines you will enjoy reading the book almost as much as you like food itself. It took me years to read the book. Why I originally stopped reading mystifies me now that I have resumed reading and finished my task. The text is well-written and interesting, allowing the reader to zip through the book much more rapidly than might be anticipated. The chapters are a bit long but broken up into subsections. For the scholar, there are useful footnotes, bibliography and a minimal index. It is a good book to just read, but if you need information on specific topics, Tannahill’s book is a reasonable start.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Means

    Concise history of food dating back to BCE to the 1980s. The publication date is over 30 years so it would be interesting to read an updated revision of this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Arlian

    Pre-review: I decided I wanted to read this book for a very weird reason. While I was reading So Many Africas, So Little Time: Doing Justice to Africa in the World History Survey by Jonathan T. Reynolds the author said something intriguing in a morbid train-crash kinda way. Here is a direct quote from his article: "...[Africa as a Broken place] is perhaps the most contemporary version of Africa – an Africa where nothing ever works and all good intentions come to naught. This image of Africa stre Pre-review: I decided I wanted to read this book for a very weird reason. While I was reading So Many Africas, So Little Time: Doing Justice to Africa in the World History Survey by Jonathan T. Reynolds the author said something intriguing in a morbid train-crash kinda way. Here is a direct quote from his article: "...[Africa as a Broken place] is perhaps the most contemporary version of Africa – an Africa where nothing ever works and all good intentions come to naught. This image of Africa stresses all the bad things about Africa, highlighting political corruption, famine, violence, and sickness as the defining characteristics of African life. For example, in her popular Food in History, Reah [SIC] Tannahill dismisses the very idea of African cuisine because "... when shortages are the currency of everyday life, filling the stomach is the only art."20 Thus, because Tannahill believes Africans have always been on the verge of starvation, she assumes that nobody ever took the time to develop tasty recipes. Anyone with experience in the diversity and edibility of African cooking would find this a laughable notion. Sadly, Tannahill's book has been in print for three decades without this brutal absurdity being corrected." I just want to comment that regardless if you have ever actually met an African person in your life (and I really hope you have) you definitely had to have at least heard of, if not actually eaten, Ethiopian food--famous for it's delicious Injera. How can you write a book about food history and dismiss the entirety of Ethiopian, Moroccan, and Egyptian food, all know to be famously delicious and available even in America? And I haven't even mentioned the fantabulous cuisines from literally dozens of other countries on the continent of Africa. Reynolds wrote that article in 2004. So I was really curious about the status of this book now, in 2016. So I decided to take a break from my reading and pop on over to my favourite book reviewing site, good ol' Goodreads to see how people feel about it now. At this time of this writing, there are only 16 1-star reviews and 55 2-star reviews. And none of the 1-star, 2-star, or 3-star reviews mention this. One person specially said "Holy Masculine Generic Batman! And this book is dated in other ways." However, that person didn't elaborate on exactly what ways. Most reviewers also feel comfortable using the word "primitive" to describe people from the past (and possibly present), which is very problematic. So I decided I want to read this book specifically to do a more thought-out criticism of it as a colonialist, inherently racist book. And let me be clear--I basically think all history books are that, even though I like history books. When I finish the book, I will update my review but I will leave this part for future readers to understand the context of my relationship to and perspective of this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gphatty

    One of my alltime favorites. I loved learning about and following the history of ingredients & food that we now take for granted. The life of pepper could be a short story. But more interesting to me was the description of the different practices cultures have surrounding eating. Banquet versus intimate dinner. A family table. Sacred foods. Topics about food -- particularly the familiy meal -- that I had never considered having had a origin someplace.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I really enjoyed this book. It's written in a very accessible, style, and I appreciated the author's dry wit. She covers the history of food, from agricultural to culinary to cultural aspects, in most of the world's major societies from neolithic times to the late 20th century (the book was last revised in the 1980s). Highly recommended for any foodie history buffs. I really enjoyed this book. It's written in a very accessible, style, and I appreciated the author's dry wit. She covers the history of food, from agricultural to culinary to cultural aspects, in most of the world's major societies from neolithic times to the late 20th century (the book was last revised in the 1980s). Highly recommended for any foodie history buffs.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fred

    I've read this twice cover to cover and possibly three times, I now can't recall with certainty. As of the moment, I feel that I may read it again, it's that well written and that unique. I've read this twice cover to cover and possibly three times, I now can't recall with certainty. As of the moment, I feel that I may read it again, it's that well written and that unique.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    Wow, a whirlwind but fascinating tour of how food has shaped, well, everything!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    Holy masculine generic, Batman! That shit is hella distracting, and the book is dated in other ways, too.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Justine

    I found a copy of Food in History in a used bookstore and immediately thought: this is my jam. Tannahill’s work is insanely ambitious in scope, attempting to provide a global survey of food from cave dwellers to modern times. I try not to ascribe to historical relativism, but I suppose in this case, I should note that the original book was published in 1973. Using that lens, I found Tannahill’s book to be significantly less racist than I anticipated (the British woman shows an obvious interest I found a copy of Food in History in a used bookstore and immediately thought: this is my jam. Tannahill’s work is insanely ambitious in scope, attempting to provide a global survey of food from cave dwellers to modern times. I try not to ascribe to historical relativism, but I suppose in this case, I should note that the original book was published in 1973. Using that lens, I found Tannahill’s book to be significantly less racist than I anticipated (the British woman shows an obvious interest in, familiarity with, and enjoyment of Indian and Chinese food which is actually quite touching), and basically about as sexist as I would have guessed (a lot of reductive cave person woman farms and bears children and man hunts tropes). Even with all, I would go so far to argue that at the time of its publication, she was probably considered woke. Outside of historical quirks, I found the history to be well researched (and cited), engagingly written, and packed full of the weird kind of facts that I love collecting. I now desperately want to create roman fish sauce and have engaged on further research on the consumption of fetal rabbits during lent. I have already begun her sex in history and bought her history of cannibalism. Shall report back in due time.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I really liked this one. It was an amazing look at history but used food as the vehicle to get there. We take for granted the variety of food that we have these days. As food production, preservation and distribution got better so did the expansion of people. One of the reasons that Rome fell was supply lines collapsed so food for the people just was not there. During the call up for WWI it was discovered that many of the men were malnourished. Life was shorter for centuries because the lack of I really liked this one. It was an amazing look at history but used food as the vehicle to get there. We take for granted the variety of food that we have these days. As food production, preservation and distribution got better so did the expansion of people. One of the reasons that Rome fell was supply lines collapsed so food for the people just was not there. During the call up for WWI it was discovered that many of the men were malnourished. Life was shorter for centuries because the lack of nutrition was immense. There was no understanding of vitamins and minerals for centuries. The science just was not there. Malnutrition was not too bad for the farmer but those in cities had the worst food. Mostly because of distribution issues and being able to keep things fresh. Even farmers had it tough though as they were usually dependent on only one or two crops and weather, insects and diseases could make those crops fail. It really was a good read and I learned a great deal of how our food evolved and was partly a cause of our evolving.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Arrel

    Very interesting reading! Not about food throughout history, but rather how food and the search for it actually gave us our history, not to mention our civilization. Covers 500,000 years, beginning before cavemen, to the present - covers the entire world and its many civilizations, including many no longer extant. Fascinating & informative reading - I only wish it had more figures, photos, maps, &c. 2nd updated edition - I hope to own it someday - I will find room on my food/cooking/eating books Very interesting reading! Not about food throughout history, but rather how food and the search for it actually gave us our history, not to mention our civilization. Covers 500,000 years, beginning before cavemen, to the present - covers the entire world and its many civilizations, including many no longer extant. Fascinating & informative reading - I only wish it had more figures, photos, maps, &c. 2nd updated edition - I hope to own it someday - I will find room on my food/cooking/eating bookshelf. Anyone who really cares about that Holy Trinity should own it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Interactive Direct

    One of the first food histories I have read and one of the most interesting. Ingredients and recipes are records of migration, economics and home. I am always captivated by the changing landscape of the table and how we carry out family history by the meals we eat. Evey wonder how you meals evolved? The edition I read was well illustrated with old line cuts of the period and well type set. If you're interested in food here is a really great gift idea and/or a wonderful read. I suggest this edition One of the first food histories I have read and one of the most interesting. Ingredients and recipes are records of migration, economics and home. I am always captivated by the changing landscape of the table and how we carry out family history by the meals we eat. Evey wonder how you meals evolved? The edition I read was well illustrated with old line cuts of the period and well type set. If you're interested in food here is a really great gift idea and/or a wonderful read. I suggest this edition over all others.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Micah

    I generally steer clear of history books as I find them to be mind-numbing. This book took one of the subjects I most loathe and brought the theme of food down upon it to a point where I was actually interested in knowing more. The tongue-in-cheek humor at the expense of our courageous culinary ancestors was much appreciated throughout the text and I loved the visuals that reinforced the text. I'm putting this one on the shelf. I generally steer clear of history books as I find them to be mind-numbing. This book took one of the subjects I most loathe and brought the theme of food down upon it to a point where I was actually interested in knowing more. The tongue-in-cheek humor at the expense of our courageous culinary ancestors was much appreciated throughout the text and I loved the visuals that reinforced the text. I'm putting this one on the shelf.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Because I believe in creation and that men and women were created as intelligent beings, I cannot agree with the information presented for the prehistoric humans. The rest of the book was very interesting and comprehensive. I learned a great deal about the food eaten in different parts of the world, how it was prepared from plant or animal to table, and how it ultimately spread from one culture to another. A definite need to read for foodies of any caliber.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Terrafied

    This book is more interesting and easier to read than I thought it was going to be. It fueled my little historian heart. This book was written in the 1980's so someday I would like to take a look at from the 80's forward because we have made significant leaps in knowledge about food since then. This book is more interesting and easier to read than I thought it was going to be. It fueled my little historian heart. This book was written in the 1980's so someday I would like to take a look at from the 80's forward because we have made significant leaps in knowledge about food since then.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gayle L. Howie-Ison

    4.5 stars. Wonderful book. I really like that it doesn't concentrate only on caucasian people. Many similar books rely on white bent history for information while Ms. Tannahill covers many different cultures. 4.5 stars. Wonderful book. I really like that it doesn't concentrate only on caucasian people. Many similar books rely on white bent history for information while Ms. Tannahill covers many different cultures.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    A really fascinating history of our relationship with food from the Stone Age to recent times. A bit too much to take in at one go, but invaluable as a reference book, and with a lightness of touch that ensures that it doesn't get stodgy. A really fascinating history of our relationship with food from the Stone Age to recent times. A bit too much to take in at one go, but invaluable as a reference book, and with a lightness of touch that ensures that it doesn't get stodgy.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Javier

    Entertaining and fact-packed, although it seems patchy at times. There is a clear focus on Europe and the West, Africa is briefly mentioned.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kali

    Read this for my food history class. The material is very dry and the author does nothing to make it seem interesting until the very last few paragraphs of the chapters, and in the epilogue.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    After reading this book I'm amazed mankind survived those early ears. Life certainly wasn't a banquet for early man. After reading this book I'm amazed mankind survived those early ears. Life certainly wasn't a banquet for early man.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sally Haythornthwaite

    An all time favourite of mine. An excellently written account of the history of the food we eat and have eaten.

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