I haven’t read many books on food, except two or three books of Anthony Bourdain and one by Marcus Samuelsson and one by Jim Gaffigan. So “Food: A Cultural Culinary History” is rather interesting in its grand scope and its comprehensiveness. People, who are used to food books, may want more specific things and more elaboration, but it suffices for me. I particularly enjoy the second half when the lectures are getting more relevant to our modern food scenes with tea, coffee, spices. What I really enjoy is the chapter that mention the celibate communities emerging here and there in the northeastern part of America in the past. I actually visited one when I was in Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. There are little houses that exhibit the group of people in 17th and 18th century who came together, basically creating co-op kind of farming communities. I wish it could be elaborated on–how they live their life, what they eat, what they grow, how they make money, whether the communities were profitable etc. Of course due to the ambition of the book, it is impossible to dwell on just one particular content.
I started this book a long time ago, but couldn’t finish more than half of it–the first half–which is relatively less interesting than the second half. Ancient Rome, Egypt, Arabia are described, but I don’t feel a big connection. Their eating habits seem to be too different from ours that I don’t relate very well; also they don’t seem exotic enough to pique my curiosity. They seem to enjoy food more bland than ours. One thing is for sure they eat organic food. How lucky they are to be able to escape the scourge of modern fertilizers. Other than that, I couldn’t describe the merits of the ancient dishes, probably because I’ve completed the first half quite a while ago.
The second half is much more interesting, to my surprise. I didn’t actually read or go through the audible book, but rather I watched the video from Amazon, which gives me the feeling of an online classroom and the opportunity to see the face of the instructor, who looks like a much more interesting character than a usual stuffy academic figure. Somehow the lectures can be even more interesting if there are more details on United Fruit Company, for example, which is involved in many Latin American political events. I even read about it in a book on Cuba revolution. He points out, justifiably, that the industrial revolution and the food revolution actually didn’t bring improved living standard for majority of the third world people, but rather famine and environmental damage and the loss of livelihood and tradition. He didn’t mention social unrest and revolution, but it’s implied. It’s not his intention to elaborate on these issues–since food is the only purpose for him–but it really gets me thinking that the seemingly unimportant tea leaves or pineapple can have such unexpected importance in people’s life.