Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What We're Reading: An Edible History of Humanity

An Edible History of Humanity, by Tom Standage, looks at the history of civilization through the prism of something seemingly minor: its food. However, food changed the way humans lived, allowing people to settle down through the advent of agriculture. That's fairly common knowledge. What is so striking is the part it played at other times in human history - particularly in its ability to contribute to the outcome of war. Those that could find ways to travel light and still feed the army were those most likely to win the day; it helped Napoleon to conquer much of Europe, and proved to be his undoing as his soldiers marched deeper into Russia.

Food was, arguably, the catalyst for exploration, leading to the discovery of the New World and the quest for spices. With its increased production, some people could leave the farms for different jobs, bringing about the Industrial Revolution. It is the focus of the debate about biotechnology vs. organic agriculture. Of course, nothing we see on the farm existed in the wild; genetic modifications had to occur to bring out traits that were ideal for human needs. It can be political - many people refused to eat sugar for a time because it was connected to slave labor. There are an amazing amount of tasty tidbits to discover in these pages. Recommended for history buffs who would like a different perspective, and those who want to learn more about history in a relatively quick and painless manner.

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