book 1 of 5 for the Non-Fiction Five challenge
This book isn't really about eating food. It's not about tasting food or cooking food. An Edible History of Humanity is about food's place in world history - the roles it has filled, the drama that has sometimes surrounded it and the absolute necessity for our world to deal with it on a daily basis.
We start at the beginning, learning about hunter-gatherers and the transition to more farming-based agriculture. Food is discussed as a major reason why the world started being explored by countries that could afford it - and how food has been used throughout the centuries as a way to separate the wealthy from the masses. I was amazed by how many different conflicts and events were somehow or another related to special foods or a lack of food or an abundance of food - and how often food was used as a weapon. Some of the information is anecdotal, some is downright scientific or straight from a history textbook. It all merges together in body of knowledge that was, for me, completely fascinating and utterly readable. But then again, this stuff really interests me. I always wanted to read around someone so I could talk about the things I was learning.
I appreciate that this was truly a world history - I learned about Africa, the spice islands, Europe and America, India and China. Often it was the interaction between countries and their foodstuffs that was discussed in the context of each nation's desire to have enough food to feed its population and at the same time to hopefully have enough left over to export. What a delicate balance, this feeding of a people. How intricate and essential food is to our daily living. It's interesting to look over history as a whole - to see how far we've come technologically and where we are headed. And yet, when you think about it - the vast majority what we eat, right now, was originally a seed in the ground, a seed that is the descendant of thousands of other seeds. How close we really are to where we started from.