Just finished reading _An Edible History of Humanity_ by Tom Standage. I’ve always been fond of nonfiction and was in the mood for something to clear my mind after having spent the last few months reading through several series’ worth of fantasy/sci-fi genre stuff. This was certainly a departure. Yet, comfortingly familiar at the same time, since most of it read exactly like something I might have been assigned in an university anthropology class. In fact, I’m willing to put money on the fact that it has indeed shown up on many syllabi since its publication.
The familiarity extends to a lot of the content, as well — there isn’t anything particularly new being said, nor are any ground-breaking connections made. It’s simply what it claims to be on the cover — a history. It neatly pieces together a continuous story highlighting the ways in which food and agriculture have shaped and been shaped by mankind over the course of our development as a species. I’d even hesitate to call it a food book, really — it’s more a book about food in context. There isn’t even a lot of description about food itself — the most detail you ever get about individual items is at the very beginning, when the original plants from which main cereal crops were derived were described. Which I enjoyed, by the way, and probably wouldn’t have minded more of. As it is, the book mostly concentrates on the changes in agricultural methods and cereal grains. I might have to look for a more culinary-slanted history if I want to read about a wider range of food origins. Information about meat farming and fisheries is also only referred to briefly in passing. If you like your anthropology and history neatly focused into a linear narrative, though, this is definitely worth taking a look at.
Interesting tidbits that I hadn’t known, though… There’s a global seed bank in Svalbard! Sugarcane can be farmed continuously because it fixes nitrogen, like legumes! Most of the wheat and rice grown now are dwarf varieties! People used to go excavating for guano to sell for marked up prices! Connect-the-dots explanations of politically-induced famines in the 20th century (especially interesting to me, since we never got into any of that in the very broad history classes I took)!
I just wish they hadn’t put so many farm animals on the cover. Well, maybe the cow can stay, but the rest really are a tad misleading. Tsk.
Edited 4/6/2015: Now linked in the VK Store!