By Christine Salins
An Edible History of Humanity
By Tom Standage (Atlantic Books, $24.99, softcover, 269 pages)
Tom Standage draws on a quote from philosopher Karl Popper to open his book, An Edible History of Humanity: “There is no history of mankind, there are only many histories of all kinds of aspects of human life.” Along with the air we breathe, food, surely, is the most important aspect of human life, as without it we couldn’t exist.
Having enough food to eat is the most basic of impulses. Taking pleasure from food is one of the most enjoyable pastimes. And in this book, Standage charts how foods have transformed human culture through the ages.
The author’s previous books include The Victorian Internet, a history of the telegraph, and A History of the World in Six Glasses, which looked at the way six different beverages – beer, wine, liquor, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola – have influenced the world.
Although these were interesting and enlightening, they were focused on only one small aspect of what drives societal change. Food is a different kettle of fish altogether. Beginning with hunter-gatherer societies and concluding with the development of a global seed bank and his thoughts on the future of food, Standage shows how hunger has shaped civilizations and prompted technological advancements.
He looks at the evolution of cuisines, and demonstrates how food has been a tool in political organization, industrial development, economic expansion and as a military weapon.
It’s a fascinating story, and a must-read for anyone with the slightest interest in the role of food in our daily lives.
To find out more about Christine Salins click here.