Ô Cuisine and Empire ↠´ Download by ¸ Rachel Laudan It s not hyperbole to say that Cuisine and Empire Cooking in World History, Rachel Laudan s exhaustive study of the creation of the world s cuisines, is a minor masterpiece Laudan s book examines in acute and thought provoking detail the evolution of eating and the forces that conspired to influence cooking across time and cultures Her book is a good reminder that most of the world s cuisines are based on grains, and have been for a very long time In fact, crushed seeds continue to form the basis of most meals in the world even to this day She also traces the innovations that resulted in the development of high and low cuisines high for the rich and influential low for the rest of us Laudan does an exemplary job of showcasing the incredible role France played in establishing modern cuisine and the middling cuisine we eat today one richer in variety and nutrition than low cuisine, but without the expense and hours of preparation that characterize high cuisine She does an equally magnificent job at explaining that all food is processed food, and the process of converting raw materials into easily consumed meals is one of humankind s greatest accomplishments Laudan is clear and direct in reminding us that the food technology and processing we take for granted and even sneer at today saved us from the food insecurity, deprivation, disease and misery that had been the lot of previous generations.
The bits and pieces are well known, but putting the bits and pieces together is enlightening Laudan s thoughtfulness and rigor undercut many conventional ideas about the development of cuisines.
Humans are the animals who cook this is Laudan s central thesis, as she tracks how humans came to start cooking food rather than eating raw, how diets were limited by technology and climate, and how diet changed as religion, social hierarchy, world exploration, and food science changed what foods people had access to It s a huge subject that could easily spin off in several directions, but Laudan keeps things relatively focused on what was eaten, by whom, and how it was prepared Most interesting to me were the effects that religion and early attempts at science had on what humans decided was good or bad to eat without any modern concept of nutrition, there were still attempts at trying to balance humors with food of different temperatures unrelated to a temperature measurable by a thermometer, but to do with various qualities of the food itself , or regulating food based on religious beliefs, etc And these ideas were global even if executed in different ways, the logical structures were happening simultaneously all over the world Just fascinating, overall, extremely well researched and full of interesting tidbits.
Excellent book, not one to race through, much food for thought and reflection.
Laudan does a great job of explaining the interrelations between gastronomy and history She discusses dozens of cuisines from around the world and their historical influence on cultural and political development The overall prose of the book is quite dry but readable As a reader whose read dozens of books on Mesoamerica a region she discusses throughout her book , I couldn t help but notice an air of Eurocentrism when she discussed the question of cannibalism in Aztec culture and the overall Mesoamerican region First, Aztec society as a whole did not consume human flesh This practice has been put to rest by archeologists and anthropologists The practice of cannibalism was reserved for a small class of elite priests and warriors who believed that by consuming the flesh of certain high ranking warriors, the partaker would be imbued with prowess and energy Second, cuisine was highly developed in Mesoamerica by the time the Spaniards arrived in Mexico in 1519 Laudan does not believe that a Columbian Exchange existed Rather, she believes that whatever exchange occurred happened one way going from Europe to the Americas Where would Indian and Thai cuisine be without chilies Where would Italian cusine be without the tomato There WAS a Columbian Exchange and Mesoamerica contributed much to global cuisine including maize, beans, sweet potato, squash, pineapple, pitahaya mistakenly called dragon fruit , papaya, chocolate, chili peppers, cassava a tuber used in making tapioca , allspice, vanilla, amaranth, etc All of these products came from or were cultivated in Mesoamerica Laudan also overlooks many of the Mesoamerican gastronomical techniques that were lost or misconstrued at the time of Spanish contact.
Laudan provides some revealing information on cuisine and its cultural and historical importance on a global level Laudan also downplays the importance of Mesoamerican cuisine and miscontrues it s historical contribution to global cuisine.
While Rachel Laudan s Cuisine Empire is a fascinating review of the evolution of food and the experience of eating throughout history, it is also not an easy book to recommend based on its density and the niche like quality of the topic.
I first came across this book in 2015, when Laudan gave a talk on the podcast EconTalk A fascinating discussion, it particularly appealed to me as I had been and curious of what lower class food was like in the ancient world and into the middle ages in Europe The book deals with these topics, moving in chronological order for the most part through the development of cuisine and is an important corrective to pop culture perceptions of historical cuisine and the relative newness of what people might consider traditional cuisine There is refreshingly little moralizing about modern diets and food, without obscuring the fact that certain illnesses of affluence are becoming legion in the developed world.
Where it struggles, perhaps, is that there isn t a narrative thesis tying he book together There are times when the book is repetitive, both stylistically and in the evidence being presented The many interesting facts and insights seem almost isolated from one another And while I got the sense of a unique voice peeking through the text on than one occasion, much of it gets concealed into a story telling style that is academic influenced though, it must be said, very much not geared towards appealing to an academic audience only.
This is a book that will have a place on my shelf, but will be something I dive into for specific chapters and references as inspiration for further investigation, rather than something I would re read in its entirety.
Rachel Laudan Tells The Remarkable Story Of The Rise And Fall Of The World S Great Cuisines From The Mastery Of Grain Cooking Some Twenty Thousand Years Ago, To The Present In This Superbly Researched Book Probing Beneath The Apparent Confusion Of Dozens Of Cuisines To Reveal The Underlying Simplicity Of The Culinary Family Tree, She Shows How Periodic Seismic Shifts In Culinary Philosophy Beliefs About Health, The Economy, Politics, Society And The Gods Prompted The Construction Of New Cuisines, A Handful Of Which, Chosen As The Cuisines Of Empires, Came To Dominate The Globe Cuisine and Empire Shows How Merchants, Missionaries, And The Military Took Cuisines Over Mountains, Oceans, Deserts, And Across Political Frontiers Laudan S Innovative Narrative Treats Cuisine, Like Language, Clothing, Or Architecture, As Something Constructed By Humans By Emphasizing How Cooking Turns Farm Products Into Food And By Taking The Globe Rather Than The Nation As The Stage, She Challenges The Agrarian, Romantic, And Nationalistic Myths That Underlie The Contemporary Food Movement Food history is the best history Living in a world of endless fusion dishes and specialty restaurants is great from the perspective of the average eater never in history has it been so cheap, convenient, and possible to develop a taste for so many different styles of cooking but it makes you wonder about where all of these cooking styles came from, and why different cultures have the specific attitudes they do to the food that they eat Food isn t just fuel it s both a shared experience within a society and a dividing line between societies, so any complete discussion of the hows and whys of cooking styles has to include some discussion of the societies that produced them Laudan reaches back to the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution to explain how people s attitudes towards food have changed over time due to religious conversions, imperialism, class conflict, technological change, rising incomes, and simple shifting tastes Laudan starts off with a quick review of the history of the development of agriculture, though thankfully she doesn t exhaust the reader la Guns, Germs Steel with descriptions of every plant domestication in world history This is a social history and not a history of farming, though she does briefly discuss the botanical properties of barley, millet, maize, etc She spends most of her time focusing on grains and to a lesser extent roots, since it was their large amount of stored calories that allowed civilizations to elevate them from raw fuel to food and hence cuisine as we know it Depressingly but unsurprisingly, most of humanity has subsisted on extremely basic and monotonous diets since time immemorial, yet while domestication has vastly enriched the variety of foods available to the masses, the greatest driver of cuisine was political and cultural change.
The Greeks philosophized at length and in quantity about food as a source of civic strength and virtue Plato s specific views in The Republic might seem odd to modern readers, but his general thoughts on moderation and excess, what foods are okay and which aren t, and how the character is determined by the food you eat are still echoed nearly unchanged by many people What you eat says something about you, so anyone who has read their Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, or Michael Moss will be familiar with how those fronts in the food wars are still open Even today, describing a diet as spartan implies toughness and character building, while the modern word foodie has a slightly decadent ring to it Anyone with even moderate means today eats the diet of the kings of yesterday, which can lead to almost absurdly dedicated coolness cascades, as people with excessive time and money on their hands try to seek out ever rarefied culinary experiences Or, in reverse, particularly strict diets e.
g paleo not only demonstrate to others that you have the willpower to eschew harmful luxuries, you re also invoking the presumed strengths of the ancients.
Absorbing as those status identity concerns are, interesting are the details about how religions informed cuisines Nearly every religion has some sort of dietary stricture or custom on how foods should be prepared or consumed, and so often changes in cuisines were driven by the rise and fall of religious conquest Alexander, Ashoka, Mohammed, Jesus, and the Buddha all had profound effects on the way that people ate, even if their ideologies were being spread for quite different reasons Since they were less familiar to me, I found the sections about the spread of Buddhist ideas into China to be fascinating I did not know that it was Buddhist missionaries, attempting to proselytize their reluctance to eat meat, who originally introduced tofu to Chinese cooking The Colombian Exchange is the most famous example of the transmission of foodstuffs, but it s interesting to see that cooking techniques have been getting swapped for thousands of years.
One weakness of the book is that often when she s discussing cuisines she ll present a long lists of dishes or ingredients that someone ate or served at a meal Lists are perhaps unavoidable, and even occasionally desirable, but occasionally it s hard to tell how the specific ingredients in each cuisine belong to it or help define it I m loathe to encourage Great Man Great Meal type history, but maybe some focus of the Planet Taco or The World in Six Glasses variety would have been nice She makes good points about the nature of fusion cuisines, which is that there are rarely completely seamless meldings of cooking styles, but rather deliberate adaptations of certain elements, piece by piece, to make the foreign familiar An example that comes to mind is the Korean taco, where typically a single Korean food item like bulgogi or kimchi is placed in a Mexican context, rather than a total merging of Korean and Mexican ingredients and preparation styles What would the reverse look like, with Mexican meats like picadillo imported into Korean banchan, for example What will the future bring, as global commerce brings even the most obscure cuisines to cities across the world The modern era is unique in that food innovation has taken place peacefully rather than by force The great global accumulation of wealth that has continued since the Industrial Revolution has made it easier than ever for the development and propagation of middling cuisines , Laudan s term for cuisines that everyone can eat, not exclusively the upper classes or the peasantry An immense amount of ingenuity has gone into satisfying our desires for food, and this book makes you see cookbooks differently, as a repository of culture rather than mere recipes I think her closing discussion of middling cuisines is spot on, with many lessons for how we should think about food The challenge is to acknowledge that not all is right with modern cuisines without romanticizing earlier ones to recognize that contemporary cuisines have problems with health and equity without jumping to the conclusion that this is new to face up to new nutritional challenges of abundance without being paternalist or authoritarian to extend the benefits of industrialized food processing to all those who still labor with pestles and mortars and to realize that the problem of feeding the world is a matter not simply of providing enough calories but of extending to everyone the choice, the responsibility, the dignity, and the pleasure of a middling cuisine.
The author begins the book with her main theme Humans are the animals that cook While I am not much of a cook I do love food and history The book is broken down into time periods such as Mastering Grain Cookery 20,000 300 B.
C.
E.
, Buddhism Transforms the Cuisines 260 B.
C.
E 800 C.
E all the way to Modern Cuisines 1920 2000 While this book makes a great textbook for a college level class it is still enjoyable for the lay person like me Every once in a while I like jumping into a book that challenges me to think and take my time to absorb what I am reading I really found it interesting to follow the author as she explained how cuisine traveled with the spread of religion This one made my brain work in a very enjoyable way.
Incredibly dense, slow reading, but well worth it Laudan s focus is the way different cuisines have spread or shrunk across the planet brought by conquerors, borrowed by conquerors, transferred by trade, divided by social status contrary to the idea of national cuisines, most countries eventually developed a high cuisine separate from peasant food and constantly challenged by transnational religious movements, various reform movements frowning on fancy food as self indulgence goes back centuries and of course shaped by modern science and mass production Got it from the library, and promptly ordered a copy for myself.