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Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary…

Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure… (1986)

by Margaret Visser

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575427,646 (4.1)22
Winning unanimous praise on its publication and now available in paperback from Grove Press, Much Depends on Dinner is a delightful and intelligent history of the food we eat. Presented as a meal, each chapter represents a different course or garnish. Borrowing from Byron's classic poem "Don Juan" for her title ("Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner"), writer Margaret Visser looks to the most ordinary American dinner for her subject -- corn on the cob with butter and salt, roast chicken with rice, salad dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, and ice cream -- submerging herself in the story behind each food. In this indulgent and perceptive guide we hear the history of Corn Flakes, why canned California olives are so unsatisfactory (they're picked green, chemically blackened, then sterilized), and the fact that in Africa, citrus fruit is eaten rind and all. For food lovers of all kinds, this unexpectedly funny and serious book is a treasure of information, shedding light on one of our most favorite pastimes.… (more)
Recently added bykmfiske, Bluster, Roarer, Sadiemcf, private library, Kristen606, Brookecooks, Mark_D._Osborne, Kurcfeld
  1. 10
    Food in History by Reay Tannahill (nessreader)
    nessreader: Food in history is more of a narrative history of western eating; Much depends has a quirkier layout, being an indepth look at the provenance of key ingredients.
  2. 00
    Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson (nessreader)
    nessreader: Both erudite but non-academic histories of food (visser) and what we do to food (wilson) that make the everyday fresh.

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Showing 4 of 4
A book of essays about our relationship to food, in Western culture. Visser was a classical scholar, and thus extrapolated ideas about common behaviours, and what things like the foods assembled for a single meal could tell people about their relationship to the planet and to other people. It is a contact with a very civilized mind, and a marvelous discussion! ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jan 26, 2014 |
When Visser wrote this book, it was one of the very first ‘food history’ books, spawning a new genre. It’s a very well researched book, and goes into great detail.

Vissar’s format is to detail the history of the components of one simple dinner- buttered and salted corn on the cob, a roast chicken with rice on the side, a green salad with olive oil and lemon juice dressing, and ice cream. Each piece of the dinner gets it’s own chapter, and it’s rather surprising how long the chapters are, because none of these items has a history that is uncomplicated.

To get to the history of butter (or ice cream), one must have the history of milk, the history of cows. This leads to the migrations of the cow keeping people. We follow the history of butter up to the age of margarine, and the history of said margarine, and the battle between the manufacturers of butter and of margarine. And the unholy things they do to both.

It was a fascinating read to me. I would never have thought that it would have taken over 300 pages to cover the history of 9 food items. I would love to see an updated version- in 23 years, a lot have things have happened in the food world. She delves deeply and disapprovingly into the things big agribusiness was doing in ’86; I’m sure she’s horrified now with GM foods and the like.
  lauriebrown54 | Aug 5, 2009 |
A brilliant, unusual look at where food REALLY comes from, why we eat what we eat and what we think about it. ( )
  herschelian | Jan 18, 2006 |
Well done, this book was my first real introduction to food history. ( )
  Selkie | Oct 10, 2005 |
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