Eating History

If you want to live, you gotta eat. A pretty basic truth and one we tend to take for granted. While gourmands argue about what wine to pair with what fish and health gurus debate the merits of protein vs carbs, a lot of the interesting questions about food go unanswered: Why do we eat what we eat? Why do certain peoples and regions eat different things? What the heck is a ‘square meal’ and where did it come from? Luckily, if you want to find answers to these questions and more, the Everett Public Library is the place to be. There are actually a large number of works on the history of food and eating that are fascinating and help you appreciate this seemingly basic human need. Read on for a few choice examples.

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A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
Taking a pleasingly micro approach to the history of food, Sitwell lays out a fascinating chronology, based on actual recipes, that demonstrates the evolution of food preparation and our eating habits. Everything from Ancient Egyptian bread (1958-1913 BCE), Dried Fish (800 AD), Soufflé (1816) and Rice Krispies Treats (1941) are covered. Far from just a collection of eccentric dishes, however, this work is full of interesting insights into why and what we eat.

Consider the Fork: a History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Instead of focusing on the food itself, this work tracks the history of cooking through the technologies used to create the dishes we eat. While we tend to take for granted many seemingly simple kitchen implements (like the knife, the rice cooker and the egg timer) Wilson describes the surprisingly complicated and significant histories behind them.

Sweet Invention: a History of Dessert by Michael Krondl
Whether you believe dessert is the last part of a meal or a meal in itself, this book will prove entertaining and informative reading. Part history and part travelogue, Krondl travels the globe talking with confectioners and examining the dessert traditions of different cultures and countries and how they evolved over time.

British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History by Colin Spencer
One of the most vilified cuisines deserves an extraordinary and entertaining history; Spencer does not disappoint in this engaging work. The ups, yes there were ups, and downs of Britain’s food reputation are lovingly cataloged. Interestingly, the author charts the most recent downturn to the Victorian period when raw food was frowned upon and every foodstuff imaginable was boiled.

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Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll
More than a history of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in America, Carroll traces the evolution of eating habits in the United States from the colonial era to the present day. As with much U.S. history, the one constant appears to be change itself. The biggest change turns out to be the industrial revolution and its regularization of the workday, leaving dinner as the only time available for a proper sit down meal with the family.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Love and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen
A fascinating memoir and history told through classic Soviet dishes. The author was raised in a communal apartment with 18 other people and one kitchen before immigrating to the United States with her mother in the 1970s. Now the author of several international cookbooks, this is the tale of her upbringing and the food so closely associated with it.

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding
Part travel guide and part food history, this book explores the deep and complicated food culture of Japan. Goulding travels throughout the country visiting the many different restaurants (including ramen, tempura, soba and sushi shops) exploring the food and history of each. The author is also not shy about giving recommendations of which restaurants to go to and which to avoid.

Dining with the Famous and Infamous by Fiona Ross
Taking food history to a personal level, Ross sets out to discover the eating habits of many interesting contemporary and historical figures. From George Orwell to Marilyn Monroe, the individual eating habits of the great and no so great are explored. This collection of food voyeurism is a guilty pleasure but impossible to ignore.

I hope you have enjoyed this small sampling of the many great works available on food, dinning and their history here at the library. Reading might actually burn calories so no need to worry about overindulgence.

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