Book cover

Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History
by Rachel Laudan
Published: 2015
Read from: 05 Jun to 05 Jul
My rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

Really excellent guide to changes in cuisine through history, and the forces that drove them. A useful antidote to the rose-tinted myth that the cooking of times gone by was so much better than the food we have now. Some people have described the book as too dry; I disagree. It is scholarly and informative, rather than the once-over-lightly so common in so many "factual" works.

1. Mastering Grain Cookery, 20,000–300 B.C.E.
Highlight - Location 431
A sheaf of wheat is no more food than a boll of cotton is a garment.
Highlight - Location 471|My note
"bile" Really?
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There is considerable evidence that following the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century, for example, the survivors ate better as a result of the drop in population.
Highlight - Location 1049|My note
"Italian" Mental health quote
Highlight - Location 1064
“The chicken is the country’s but the city eats it,”
2. The Barley-Wheat Sacrificial Cuisines of the Ancient Empires, 500 B.C.E.–400 C.E.
Highlight - Location 1626
People had been working for millennia to discover how to maximize their profit from olive trees, one of the most unpromising of the many unpromising plants from which humans have learned to produce food—a small straggly tree that takes years to mature enough to produce tiny, bitter fruits every other year that cultivation has never succeeded in making good to eat fresh. By the third millennium B.C.E., improved varieties were being cultivated in Syria, Palestine, and Crete.
Highlight - Location 1750
Alexander and his retinue thus aided and in some cases probably instigated transfers of plants between the Mediterranean and the Middle East and beyond.
Highlight - Location 1819
Gluttony and rampant sexuality encouraged highly undesirable luxury, a term that comes from the Latin word for the floppy, overabundant growth of plants given too much water and fertilizer.
Highlight - Location 2275|My note
"Since grains bound society together—peasant to family, family to village, family to ruler, and family to ancestors—to abstain from grain was to reject society." Taoists
3. Buddhism Transforms the Cuisines of South and East Asia, 260 B.C.E.–800 C.E.
Highlight - Location 2585
khand, whence our word “candy”
Highlight - Location 2916|My note
"tough, chewy Champa (Vietnamese) rice, which the government insisted they grow, in the south." Which is what?
4. Islam Transforms the Cuisines of Central and West Asia, 800–1650 C.E.
Highlight - Location 3098|My note
"Only pork and blood were forbidden. To avoid the latter, animals were slaughtered by cutting their throats and allowing the blood to drain out." Did they do anything with the blood?
Highlight - Location 3488|My note
"Bread" Details would be useful.
Highlight - Location 3495|My note
"pastirma" History of pastrami
Highlight - Location 3570
“Eating the sultan’s bread” was the phrase for receiving a salary.
5. Christianity Transforms the Cuisines of Europe and the Americas, 100–1650 C.E.
Highlight - Location 3763
Bread, the everyday staple, was used as a metaphor to explain Christian beliefs.
Highlight - Location 4457|My note
"This exchange of raw materials should not blind us to the fact that they all have to be processed to become food. European and Asian food-processing and cooking technology was transferred wholesale to the New World, whereas essentially no American food-processing technology was moved to the Old World." Not even mixtalisation?
Highlight - Location 4457|My note
"From a culinary perspective, then, as opposed to a biological or ecological one, there was no Columbian Exchange; there was yet one more largely one-way culinary transfer." Underappreciated point.
6. Prelude to Modern Cuisines: Northern Europe, 1650–1800
Highlight - Location 4603|My note
"Giving everyone the same cuisine meant bringing down the cost of food." Seems one could argue that bringing down the cost of food came first.
Highlight - Location 4789
The eighteen-year-old Philippe and his thirteen-year-old bride sat expressionless, suffering the humiliation in silence.
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The abbé Pluquet calculated in 1786 that the foods reduced to essences for ten gourmets could have been used to feed three hundred hungry people.
Highlight - Location 5046
Each May, two thousand herring-busses (haringbuizen), each with a crew of fifteen, sailed out of ports such as Rotterdam and Amsterdam for the two-month season when fat herring started breeding.
Highlight - Location 5341|My note
"loblolly or burgoo" How did these get transferred to pines, pudding and squirrel stew?
7. Modern Cuisines: The Expansion of Middling Cuisines, 1810–1920
Highlight - Location 5755
The British spent between 38 and 60 percent of their income on food,
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In the 1850s, the German economist Ernst Engels formalized this strategy as Engels’s law: the proportion of income spent on food fell with rising incomes, even though the absolute amount increased.
Highlight - Location 6209|My note
"By 1900, every leading Bordeaux producer used the word “château,” leading one historian to comment that there are “few better examples of the invention of tradition than the process that some wines underwent in this period".” Wine Geese
Highlight - Location 6563|My note
"To persuade German, British, and other European biologists and biochemists to come to the new Imperial University of Tokyo in the 1870s, the Japanese government ..." Story???
Highlight - Location 6622|My note|
"Maurizio charged that rich countries that attempted to shift the diet of ethnic minorities to white bread were guilty of “dietary imperialism".” Nice phrase
Highlight - Location 6668|My note
"Feminists saw communal dining as a way to escape domesticity. In Australia," Story???|
8. Modern Cuisines: The Globalization of Middling Cuisines, 1920–2000
Highlight - Location 7016|My note|
"Sturgeon ... When they found that the fish had nonstandard scales, exports resumed." Story???|
Highlight - Location 7115
Presumably searching for historical antecedents, someone in the U.S. Department of Agriculture condensed Xenophon’s longish discussion of Socrates’s theory of food and the state into the pithy statement, “No man can be called a statesman who is ignorant of problems of wheat.”
Highlight - Location 7339
Small bakers almost disappeared, their market share in 1939 down to less than 4 percent of the total ($ 20 million, compared to the $ 514 million earned by industrial bakeries).
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Chinese noodles and soy sauce, Roman sauces and raised bread, Islamic distillation, Western cakes and chocolate are technological achievements that stand alongside Chinese bronzes, Roman hydraulic engineering, Islamic ceramics, and Western steam engines.
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If our vision of the way to have better food is to have less processing, more natural food, more home cooking, and more local food, we will cut ourselves off from the most likely hope for better food in the future.
Highlight - Location 7803
Industrialized food processing was as necessary to the weakening of social hierarchy as the mastery of grains had been to its appearance.

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