The Library: An Edible History of Humanity


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!


  1. Sounds like an interesting book, definitely have to check it out!

    • Yep, sometimes you just want something a bit on the drier side after reading a lot of fluffier books 🙂 That could just be the former science major side of me speaking, though. And hey, on the same subject… you’re a bio major! Woot! I was doing bio up until my last year, when it became clear that I’d have to spend too much cash and time to juggle a second major — so I just finished off my English lit and graduated. And the culinary school thing sounds fab — I’m sure it’ll be lots of fun and can’t wait to hear your stories. I did a stint of trade school (in fashion design) after finishing university as well, just to clear my head of all the academics, work with my hands and get back in touch with real life. Following your passions is never wrong, and everything you learn only helps to round out the way you look at other aspects of life. 😀

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