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Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History (California Studies in Food and Culture)

Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History (California Studies in Food and Culture) [Kindle Edition]

Rachel Laudan
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description


"During my forty year culinary career, there have been a select number of books that became touchstones, volumes that seemed to arrive just when inspiration was needed or direction was appropriate, books that somehow enhanced my sense of having found my calling. The newest addition to the list is a work of culinary history by Rachel Laudan." -- Virginia B. Wood The Austin Chronicle, on the range 20131017 "It seems like every time you hear someone mention processed food, it's accompanied with the words 'bad' or 'unhealthy,' plus a shaking finger. Unless you're author Rachel Laudan." Los Angeles Times Daily Dish 20131021 "Magnificent ... Some of Laudan's 'diffusion maps' of particular styles of cuisine are miniature masterpieces of cultural history." TLS 20131220 "Epic in range... Its solidity and substance make a change from the day-to-day scatter of information delivered and consumed in tweets and sound bites." The Daily Spud 20140119

Product Description

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 29669 KB
  • Print Length: 488 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (20 Sep 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #159,958 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and Well Researched Book 4 Jan 2014
Unlike the author, I am not an expert on the history of food and its production, neither am I a gourmet nor master chef. Never the less, I found this book on the history of world food well researched, interesting and most readable.

In its conclusion, Laudan draws to the reader's attention to the fact that in the richer parts of the world, woman no longer have to spend all their days preparing food such as grinding maize, but now have time for their children, paid work or leisure. They now have the choice whether to prepare meals from scratch, to buy ready prepared ingredients, a ready made meal, get a 'take away' or even go to an inexpensive restaurant for the family meal. They have CHOICE and it is this choice, not available in the past, that most women would loath to give up.

I enjoyed this book immensely and thoroughly recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb history 15 Oct 2013
By E. N. Anderson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The world has long needed a comprehensive, accurate, up-to-date history of cuisine. This is the book--but it is much more. It traces the sweep of cuisine through history: diffusion, trade, religious influences, migrations of peoples, and, of course, empires. Foodways have a history, and it involves world contacts. Globalism is not new; wheat spread over the Old World by 2000 BCE, and maize did the same (a bit later) in the New. Spices were traded from what is now Indonesia to ancient China and to the Roman Empire. Dr. Laudan traces influences over thousands of miles. One conclusion I take away from this is that it's silly to talk about "hybrid" cuisines--cuisines have been meeting and merging for thousands of years, and "fusion cuisine" is a term that could be applied to all of them.
This book is also very well written--Dr. Laudan is a real stylist.
Everyone interested in a thorough, deep history of food needs to read this work!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food IS More Important than Guns, Germs or Steel 5 Oct 2013
By M. Lucey Bowen - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you have ever wanted to understand why the world eats the diverse foods that it does or why some foods seem to have appeal in diverse locales, this is your book. Rachel Laudan manages to write with astonishing depth and scope as she shows how cuisine has travelled with the great religions as they spread from continent to continent. Her style has a windswept quality that entices the reader to feel that they are traveling with the monks, merchants and explorers around the globe.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is to Food History what Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is to Practice 27 Sep 2013
By Tennessee Reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An astonishing book -- a masterpiece in fact. Putting the kitchen at the center of history, Rachel Laudan details the battles for dominance among the big powers, over thousands of years. It's easy enough to understand that ascendant civilizations can and do impose their foodways on those they vanquish, but not so obvious that the vanquished may well have a plan for eating their way back to power. Does Empire drive cuisine, or does cuisine drive Empire? This superbly written book prompts you to reconsider everything you know about food and power. As a historian of science, technology and food, with a prize-winning book behind her (The Food of Paradise), Laudan, uniquely, has the chops for a work of this scope. Dazzling! Read it with your mind, heart and soul, and refer to it forever after.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great non-fiction 2 Nov 2013
By Kay Curtis - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This history is well researched and written in a 'user friendly' style. It is MUST reading for anyone who wants to know about food and how it got that way AND the amazing interaction it has had with the movement of power from nation to nation and conquest to conquest. It is an amazing accomplishment to bring so many threads together and make it SEEM so easy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food IS good to think 10 Jan 2014
By Michael A. Cavanaugh - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rachel Laudan has given us an important and ground-breaking book. There is profit in it for the general reader who is just curious about the main topic, cuisine; but also for more specialized readers of social history, philosophical anthropology, the history of ideas, and the sociology of religion.
The farmer does not give us food. “A sheaf of wheat is no more food,” she asserts, “than a boll of cotton is a garment.” It is a major theme of the book that farming may give us raw materials, but techniques (and importantly, ideas -- “culinary philosophy,” as she has it) of cooking are what give us food. It is, thus, futile to go on about how “natural” this or that foodstuff may be; we no more tear meat from bone with our teeth than we use them to grind the grass seeds that became our corn (maize, or wheat, or whatnot). Human labor, and ingenuity, stand between Nature and dinner. (This is even true of “raw” foods.)
Laudan suggests that, by definition, all food is processed food -- from developing the techniques of settled agriculture to the promotion (or prohibition) of certain foods according to ideas (nicely summarized in tables 1.1-1.5) about such things as the four humors, the four or five elements, maintaining harmony in the universe, and sacrality -- and, more recently, as the songwriter said, while “We Are Eating Foods for Health.” (Modern theories of health and diet turn out to be just the latest in a whole series of fashions which change with the checkered changes of ideas in science and cosmology, since Babylon as it were.)
Food may be “good to think,” but in any case it is not just material fuel, it is a thing shaped by ideas and their changes. One particularly interesting thesis is that there was a broad movement, across different civilizations, from eating meats in religions of sacrifice, to different sorts of diets under religions of individual salvation. So one will read about Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Catholic cuisines. It would be mistaken to think such changes are merely the direct product of sect or dogma; for the religious cuisines followed differential patterns already set within their respective empires (hence, the title). Thus there are also Roman, Achaemenid, Mauryan, and Han cuisines. Empires need armies; armies, notoriously, march on their stomachs; and so empire as well as urbanization will drive innovation in foods, especially those that can be produced in bulk and transported over long-haul.
One of the chief general merits of Cuisine & Empire is that it provides welcome relief from the usual sort of decline from Eden narrative -- often in support of the new new diet fad du mois: the Paleo, etc. -- about the evolution of foodways, the sort which leaps easily from an undifferentiated primordial past to the industrial present. (There is a similar problem with much sociobiological speculation about the evolution of sex.) The book starts, not with some presumed human psychology, but rather with historical differentiation of foodstuffs then goes on to trace convergences, driven by factors like urbanization & military growth which involve empires; though with due attention to continued differentiation in the long process of globalization (major empires converged upon wheat, but did so in different ways; what “Chinese food” is depends at least as much on what the locals’ foodstuffs and preferences are, as what the immigrant Chinese restauranteurs may bring to the table in Lima or Manhattan or London).
If our foodways have not declined from Eden, they have not exactly ascended to paradise either, though Laudan thinks that overall we have made reasonable improvement. She is equally critical when it comes to Romantic agrarian nostalgia for an imagined pre-industrial past, and to the thesis that all is converging upon a bland uniform McDonaldization.
The scope of the narrative (from the origins of settled agriculture -- particularly grain cultivation -- to the present, and across a range of civilizations) as well as its attention to the secular consequences of major religious change, and the importance of empire army and city, put me in mind of Max Weber. Likewise, Laudan ventures some generalizations: for instance, about the decline of sacrifice; or in the observation that the vast gulf fixed in empires between high cuisine for the few but humble cuisine for the many now survives mainly in the developing world, while in the developed world, since the 19th c., practically everyone eats a “middling cuisine” of one sort or another. The book’s emphasis on the decline of sacrificial religion puts me in mind of Robert Bellah’s theses about religious evolution. Its critique of nostalgia for what were actually quite harsh conditions in the pre-industrial past is reminiscent of C P Snow.
The book is well-organized, with clearly-written summaries at transition points. (Here it bests Weber.) Nonetheless it will repay close and slow reading.
All this is not to say it is not a fun read, for it is. I learned lots of neat little tidbits of history: high table was a secularization of the altar as banqueting became a secularization of the mass; it was once believed in India that sweets and unripe fruit could poison children; the words for recipe & prescription had been identical; “flour” was “flower;” Jews bought Crisco as an alternative to lard, while Quakers flogged chocolate as an alternative to alcohol (followed by Milton Hershey, a Mennonite); some experts in 19th c. America agreed that fruits and vegetables would cause fever and even cholera, and that pickles should be prohibited as a gateway drug (leading children down the pathway to demon rum); chicken-fried steak is but the baser form of Wiener Schnitzel. My breakfast tamale this morning was actually a “maize dumpling” -- well, yes it is; can’t regard tamales the same way again.
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