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What some good books about food production, science and history?

RealMenJulienne Oct 12, 2012 10:29 AM

I can offer up the first two:

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond - Has an extensive section about the earliest human domestication of food organisms explaining how we ended up with the pig, chicken and cow but not the rhino, gazelle or elephant. It also talks about how the earliest human crops were mutations of wild crops that would have been at a disadvantage in the wild; thin seed husks, for example, are bad for wilderness survival but good for attracting curious human farmers. It's a high-level overview but to an amateur like me it was fascinating.

"Salt, A World History" by Marki Kurlanksy - I haven't finished this one yet but it is highly readable and I strongly recommend it. These days salt is so cheap it's almost free, so it's easy to forget that for most of human history it was an irreplaceable resource that people fought and died over just like we do over petroleum today.

I'd like to get some recommendations from the readers on Chowhound. I'm especially interested in aquaculture and early efforts at food preservation like canning and curing but all books are welcome here.

  1. p
    pearlyriver Oct 21, 2012 02:16 AM

    I'm not so smart about science or aquaculture, but I'm especially interested in food history, its evolution and the way it enriches our life. Any recommendations?

    1 Reply
    1. re: pearlyriver
      drongo Oct 21, 2012 04:23 AM

      Here's one I've read... good, though a little academic in parts:
      Food: The History of Taste, edited by Paul Freedman http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0520254767/ref=oh_details_o02_s02_i01

      And here's one still on my "to read" list:
      Feast: Why Humans Share Food, by Martin Jones http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0199...

    2. Delucacheesemonger Oct 21, 2012 03:35 AM

      Robb Walsh has 'Sex, Death, and Oysters', the most factual and interesting of my 11 oyster books.

      1. c
        cleobeach Oct 21, 2012 05:53 AM

        I also enjoyed Salt.

        Bottlemania (can't remember the author) is fantastic. It is about the country's drinking water systems, the development of the bottled water industry and the impact on the environment.

        1. Crockett67 Oct 21, 2012 06:02 AM

          Science; On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

          Food Politics by Marion Nestle

          USA History; Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky

          Social Economic; Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, How to Cook a Wolf: M. F. K. Fisher, or On a Dollar a Day. Not only about food, but it plays a huge part in them.

          1. r
            rasputina Oct 21, 2012 09:26 PM

            On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

            1. firecooked Oct 21, 2012 09:45 PM

              What an interesting list! One I enjoyed was "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human" by
              Richard Wrangham

              1. Sooeygun Oct 22, 2012 05:59 AM

                I am currently reading 'Fear of Food' by Harvey Levenstein (he also has two other books about food history in America). Just finished a really interesting chapter about the history of beef production and contamination.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Sooeygun
                  firecooked Oct 22, 2012 12:12 PM

                  A classic I recently read is "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. What's the most scary is how little things have changed in 100 years!

                  1. re: firecooked
                    cleobeach Oct 23, 2012 06:08 AM

                    I did a report on The Jungle in high school and it haunted me for years.

                    1. re: firecooked
                      Delucacheesemonger Oct 23, 2012 08:57 AM

                      Still proudly own a first edition, super story.

                  2. fldhkybnva Oct 23, 2012 10:32 AM

                    Cooking for Geeks

                    1. jmckee Oct 24, 2012 08:57 AM

                      I liked Salt. I like all Kurlansky's books. "Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World" is terrific.

                      "The United States of Arugula" is a fascinating look at how America became a more food-conscious nation.

                      John Egerton's magisterial "Southern Food" may be the best work on the topic.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jmckee
                        cleobeach Oct 24, 2012 11:25 AM

                        "The United States of Arugula" is a fascinating look at how America became a more food-conscious nation.

                        Oh yes, I really liked that book! And recognized myself in the pages.

                        Cod is on my reading list.

                        1. re: jmckee
                          Savour Oct 24, 2012 12:13 PM

                          I liked Food of a Younger Land, which was edited by Kurlansky.

                        2. g
                          GreenGal Oct 24, 2012 12:08 PM

                          "Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History" by Sidney Mintz is a personal favorite. Mintz discusses the cultural role of sugar globally as it evolved from a key component of the slave trade to its ubiquitous presence in our modern diets. I find this book incredibly readable, a classic in food anthropology. It's probably my favorite non-fiction book.

                          And of course since it is sugar, there is some discussion of sugar as historic preservative, touching on one of your requested topics.

                          1. jmckee Oct 26, 2012 10:16 AM

                            I also need to put in a plug for this: http://www.amazon.com/PURE-KETCHUP-PB...

                            1. RealMenJulienne Oct 30, 2012 07:46 AM

                              Some great recommendations here, thanks guys. Has anyone read "Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World" by Mark Kurlansky? It seems right up my alley but I don't know anyone who has read it.

                              Edited: oops, I see it has already been mentioned upthread

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: RealMenJulienne
                                jmckee Oct 31, 2012 10:24 AM

                                I did. It's terrific.

                              2. ipsedixit Oct 30, 2012 07:54 AM

                                Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle"

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ipsedixit
                                  mike0989 Oct 30, 2012 09:14 AM

                                  Gotta second this one. It was intended to spark Socialist reform but it instead lead to led to the eventual formation of the Food and Drug Administration.

                                2. b
                                  Bunson Nov 1, 2012 11:11 AM

                                  Eating Animals and The Botany of Desire were good, Omnivore's Dilemna and Four Fish are on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

                                  1. Sloth Nov 1, 2012 12:25 PM

                                    Two I've read in the past year that combine food and American history

                                    - Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings Introduced French Cuisine to America
                                    by Thomas J. Craughwell
                                    - Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens
                                    by Andrew Beahrs

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Sloth
                                      jmckee Nov 2, 2012 10:07 AM

                                      The Twain book is on my list.

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