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Tuesday, February 23rd 2010

4:50 AM

Two fun & interesting history books on Food & Beverages by Tom Standage

  • Mood: tired (it's late!) but amused

I just recently finished these two very interesting books by Tom Standage, and wanted to share them with my readers. The subject of both is the ways in which food and drink have manipulated mankind’s history--while it may seem a light subject, upon reading these, you gain a fuller understanding of the huge influence that sustenance has wielded.


In the first book “A History of the World in Six Glasses”,  Standage sets the 6 important beverages as:







You may not realize how very long beer has been around, but the ancient Egyptians made it from their barley and it was considered an everyday drink for most of them. Standage presents the ancient story of Gilgamesh as containing references to beer, its importance in ritual, and traces how it made its way to Europe to became the national drink for Northern Europeans. Wine is the next covered, and he goes into great detail, beginning mostly with the Greeks, continuing with the Romans and spreading throughout the Middle East and Southern Europe. It’s interesting to note that for centuries, the Greeks and Romans diluted their wine with water, and considered drinking it straight to be barbaric. Liquor, especially rum made from the dregs of sugar production, is seen as a major influence in the slave trade. Coffee is the stimulator of the Age of Reason, a caffeinated beverage that induced intellectuals to discuss and explore and open minds throughout Europe. Tea was the fuel that kept the Industrial Revolution running, and Coke is the very image of America that spreads our culture worldwide even today. All in all a satisfying and entertaining history, well-researched and just plain ole FUN to read!


In “An Edible History of the World” one can see how mankind moved from a hunter-gatherer society to one where agriculture was the mainstay, and how the growing of cereal crops such as corn, rice, barley, maize and millet sustained human life for millennia. Standage shows how the growing and storage of crops led to those storage places as temples of worship, and how food was used in warfare and for a show of political power. He also explains how these cereals began as wild foods that humans eventually began to genetically engineer for larger yields—fascinating! Corn was originally grown in Central America and made its way west after Europeans began conquering the native peoples. Potatoes, a seemingly age old staple, came from Peru, and were not accepted at first by westerners—like the tomato, they were considered poisonous, but gradually took over in Europe because they preserved the population from starvation during famines. He also covers the beginnings of food preservation by canning, which greatly increased the storage time and also led to a rise in population. I highly recommend both of his books as very educated without being stuffy, as humorous without losing the seriousness of the subject, and simply filled with interesting connections between food and human history. Read these and you'll have some really choice trivia to enliven any gathering!

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