Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food
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Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  273 ratings  ·  26 reviews
In Near a Thousand Tables, acclaimed food historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto tells the fascinating story of food as cultural as well as culinary history -- a window on the history of mankind.
In this "appetizingly provocative" (Los Angeles Times) book, he guides readers through the eight great revolutions in the world history of food: the origins of cooking, whic...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 2nd 2003 by Free Press (first published 2001)
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Trying to supplement my knowledge of food history for my Survey of Food History course this semester, I greatly enjoyed Fernandez-Armesto's account, which organizes the vast details of world food history into eight compelling categories:

1) The Invention of Cooking, arguably the "first revolution" of human eating and a key step in our evolution and survival

2) The Meaning of Eating, revealing how meals and specific foods were the first building blocks of cultures, traditions, taboos, mores, etc.

Positives: rambly accounts of food history, ecology, cultural and political significance, etc. Lots of great anecdotes – mozzarella from water buffalos! The chocolate bar invented partially as a temperance object to keep people from drinking! (Which sent me lunging for the internet to find out how long it took someone to invent chocolate liqueur. My faith in humanity is sustained by learning that alcoholic chocolate beverages actually predate the chocolate bar by nearly two centuries. Priorities...more
I read this book back in 2003. Here is what I wrote in my journal at the time:

>>Finished reading Fernandez-Armesto's Near a Thousand Table. This history of food is a book to be savored; it is not fast paced, but it is a book with interesting content. The book is arranged on the basis of major revolutions in food history, but then we get to see how these revolutions affected human history. Some of these revolutions include the concept of cooking, the idea of eating as having ritualistic si...more
Just as I started getting used to the abundance of information and ideas, the book came to an end. "Tables" is a great inspiration for further reading and discovery, it is an easy read and it's quite objective about all kinds of diets and food fads of the past and present.
Exactly what the title says - an overview of the evolution of food, from gathering raw shellfish to the current 'Eat Local' movement. Fascinating and well-informed, with information on the cyclical fadism of vegetarianism (and its cultish offspring Veganism), innovations in cooking styles, preservation, transportation; the globalization of foodstuffs, and the false promises of 'healthier' alternatives (i.e. margarine, spirolina, and so on). Fascinating and worth reading
Melissa Larson
While packed with engaging anecdotes regarding the history of food, Fernández-Armesto seemed to be trying to accomplish too much in too short of a book. Although he states in the preface that he will take a "genuinely global perspective" towards food, many of the passages provide dense offerings of facts that generally came across as a Westerner fascinated with exotic or historical ways of eating (rather than analysis). Odd insertions of his own taste preferences throughout the text also seemed...more

goodreads just ate the review i started typing, like a rude mfer.

periodically tedious; i struggled especially to force my way through some of the passages about wheat and grains, but enough of interest to continue on. someone else on GR mentioned fernández-armesto's sort of... mixed bag/confusing relationship with imperialism/colonialism, but it's so sparing that it's hard to really interpret. i rly enjoyed some of the weirder stuff because that's me--meat tenderized under saddles while ri...more
Informative, but Fernandez-Armesto is sort of snooty and insufferable.
Arjun Mishra
I am really unsure of what to make of this book. It was not at all what I was expecting, but different expectations are my fault. As far as the history of food goes, FFA does a complete examination of our origins, evolution, idiosyncratic developments, and breakthroughs. A real strength of his historical approach is to break down the relationship between food and humans into revolutions. This is necessary, of course, by virtue of humans taking control of food and applying human knowledge to the...more
Fernandez-Armesto argues for several major revolutions in the history of food: cooking itself (as distinct from the use of fire, he posits drying, salting, fermenting and other forms of preserving as integral forms of cooking), domestication, agriculture, "The Columbian Exchange," industrialization, and mass markets. He delights in describing idiosyncraic recepies, customs, and cross-cultural reports of cuisine. He doesn't stay entirely objective, but willingly and overtly inserts himself and hi...more
James Alvino
My one nitpick about it is that the words are very small. What is supposed to "only" be a 224 page book took me forever to read. Anyway, while the material can be a little dry at times the author does a good job in keeping it interesting. It is fun to read about how people used to eat in the olden days and how we as westerners, for the most part, have completely abandoned any sort of healthy or balanced diet. I recommend it to anyone that has an interest in seeing history through the lens of foo...more
The history of food is endless, and authors on the subject all are bound to have a bias of taste based on the culture and cuisine that they find familiar. The author is frank about his preferences and seeks to be fairly balanced. The result is a breezy, superficial Cook's tour of cuisines in history.
Currently reading this book, the paperback version type is way to small. I brought on my trip to Sweden and couldn't focus on the small print for too long. So far the information is interesting, but not quite the writing style I enjoy reading.
Not done reading yet, so well see if it improves.
I was enthusiastic about learning about the spread of different foods across the world and the book does have a lot of this information. But as I recall the book was pretty flat and kind of a struggle to get through.
I would just like to say that I enjoyed this book a lot despite the fact that the author is very boastful and brags about himself and his abilities in the introduction ad nauseum. So flag me.
Joe Lascano
Another great book by Fernandez-Armesto. If you like culture and contact history this book is for you. He is still pretentious in how he writes, but I find him amusing
Shonna Froebel
A little slow at the beginning, but got better.
Still jumps around a bit, only touching briefly on a lot of things.
Where else will you read on the gastronomy of cannibalism? The societal collapse vís-a-vís the microwave oven?
Joel Friedlander
Despite its academic bona fides, this is an enjoyable book to read that constantly surprised me. Highly recommended.
Margaret Sankey
Cultural history of cooking a food, the second-runner up winner to be my textbook for the food course.
Feb 08, 2010 Lisa added it
I like to just read random sections of this book in no particular order. Easier going than "Milennium."
Reads a lot like 1491, and very well researched. The font is small making it a bit of chore to get through.
Oct 18, 2008 suzye rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: foodies
Totally interesting book on the history of food. I loved it.
Jerrod Stephan
Apr 05, 2007 Jerrod Stephan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
It history meets food, how can you NOT love it?
This book is the ultimate appetizer.
Very interesting book.
Very interesting read.
Beth Ann
Beth Ann marked it as to-read
Jul 21, 2014
Alan marked it as to-read
Jul 20, 2014
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Born in 1950, Felipe Fernández-Armesto was raised in London by his Spanish born father and British born mother both active journalists. As a historian, he has written numerous books on a variety of subject from American History to the Spanish Armada. He currently serves as the Principe de Asturias Chair in Spanish Culture and Civilization at Tufts University and Professor of Global Environmental H...more
More about Felipe Fernández-Armesto...
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