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An Edible History of Humanity by Tom…

An Edible History of Humanity

by Tom Standage

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Well researched book that was easy to read but made you think about the food we eat and the influence it has had on our history. ( )
  mjmorrison1971 | Aug 31, 2013 |
Throughout history, food has had a huge impact on civilization as a catalyst of social change, political organization, military, and economic expansion. An Edible History of Humanity is a spectacular book of how a series of changes, caused by the influence of food, has helped to shape societies around the world today.
Tom Standage is the business editor at the Economist and the author of 5 different books and many different newspaper and magazine articles. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of how food can literally change the minds of the world. Not explaining how food tastes, but how food really inspires and impacts the worlds mindset from hunter-gatherer to agriculture and farming. ( )
  naitsirhC | May 20, 2013 |
How food has acted as a catalyst of social transformation, political organisation, competition, development, military conflict and economic expansion, by our business affairs editor. -The Economist
  celinac | Mar 2, 2013 |
I love Tom Standage's books. He and Mark Kurlansky are my two favorite writers of food histories. In this book, Standage writes about food as a weapon, as a catalyst for cultural change, and as a turning point for global population. It's quite fascinating. I knew nothing about Soviet and Chinese collective farming experiments. I'd never heard of the Great Leap Forward. Jesus Christ that was horrible. Incomprehensibly horrible. The last part of the book is on the Green Revolution, and on current problems facing the world's food supply. The whole thing is wonderfully written. Definitely recommended. ( )
  SwitchKnitter | Jun 29, 2012 |
Standage looks at food from a geopolitical, anthropological and ethical point of view. The book is mainly about how food and agriculture have changed and keep changing history and development of humankind.

I didn’t find absolutely everything of interest to me there- for example, I have read about spices and their role in the progress of mankind a countless number of times by now. But there was enough other information to make it for a worthwhile read.

Here are some tidbits of what I found interesting.
Standage stands on middle ground between organic fundamentalism and blind faith in biotechnology. He deftly overthrows a few myths about organic food unspoiled by civilization by pointing out that no crops are ‘unengineered’ or organic anymore and have not been since the beginnings of agriculture. The varieties of plants we eat today are very different and very remote from the plants they originated from. Almost none of the foods we eat today can really be described as natural. Carrots, for example, used to come in white or purple. The sweeter orange variety that we eat nowadays was created by Dutch horticulturalists in the 16th century. Grains we eat today were simple grasses with potential. By the same token, the varieties if rice and wheat we eat today differ significantly from the varieties people ate at the beginning of the last century.
When fertilizers were introduced after the First World War, grains started to grow lanky and tall and kept folding over themselves. So new short stalk, big seadhead, disease resistant varieties were widely introduced. Nowadays, 100% rice harvested in China and 74% of it in Asia overall, and 90% of wheat in Latin America and 86% in Asia are of the new varieties, and cereal yields in those countries have grown faster than the population.
There has been an effort to preserve the seeds of traditional varieties of plants around the world, and Norway built a global seed depository- Svalbard Global Seed Vault seven hundred miles from the North Pole to house them. The need for such a facility became pressing after various wars destroyed national seed banks in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and with them ancient varieties of fruits and cereals forever.

An obscure maize grass and other grains we eat nowadays managed to ‘domesticate’ man by making him adopt a new sedentary lifestyle. Funnily enough, the hunter-gatherers were taller and healthier and agriculture initially made man malnutritioned, shorter and more prone to degenerative diseases like arthritis, but allowed him to reproduce much more. The hunter-gatherers were healthier but not so numerous. It’s agriculture that led to the population explosion, and it will be the global industrialization that most probably will put a stop to it. The main reason for that is that when a society makes a transition from an agricultural to an industrial state the average wealth of that society increases and the population growth declines.

Standage also discusses the new trend of trying to produce everything locally and says that it only makes so much sense. The carbon footprint is actually smaller when crops are produced in conditions suitable for them climatically, so it’s cheaper and less exhaustive for the environment to grow oranges in Egypt and potatoes on Prince Edward Island, for example. In fact, lambs reared in England have a bigger carbon footprint than those imported to England from New Zealand, transportation included. The same goes for biofuel- even though it’s well intentioned, it’s a bad idea according to Standage.

He also makes interesting observations about food used as a political weapon. Notably, he discusses Berlin blockade and food airdrops among others, and notices after Amartya Sen, an Indian economist who won a Nobel prize in Economics in 1998, that the combination of democracy and free press make famines much less likely to occur. The worst famines in history happened in communist and dictatorial states- China, the Soviet Union, Ethiopia and Somalia, and many dictators have blackmailed their countries’ populations with food. ( )
  Niecierpek | Nov 29, 2011 |
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Standage, Tomprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cumptich, Roberto de Vicq deCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Kirstin, my partner in food -- and everything else.
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There are many ways to look at the past: as a list of important dates, a conveyor belt of kings and queens, a series of rising and falling empires, or a narrative of political, philosophical, or technological progress.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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From the Publisher: From the bestselling author of A History of the World in Six Glasses, this is a riveting history of humanity told through the foods we eat. Throughout history, food has done more than simply provide sustenance; it has acted as a tool of social transformation, political organization, geopolitical competition, industrial development, military conflict and economic expansion. And today, in the culmination of a process that has been going on for thousands of years, the foods we choose in the supermarket connect us to global debates about trade, development, and the adoption of new technologies. An Edible History of Humanity is a journey through the uses of food that have helped to shape and transform societies around the world, from prehistory to the present. Drawing on genetics, archaeology, anthropology, ethno-botany and economics, the story of these gastronomic revolutions is a deeply satisfying account of the whole of human history.… (more)

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