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Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  508 Ratings  ·  42 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, which set hum
Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 2nd 2003 by Free Press (first published October 2001)
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Feb 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-studies
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.

Aug 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: food
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
Olga Kovalenko
Mar 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Martin Earl
Jun 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is, quite simply, the best scholarly approach to food history that I have read to date, mingling sociology, economics, anthropology, history and politics to show the impacts of foods and food ideas on society and, conversely, society on food.

Fernández-Armesto ranges topically through multiple cultures in one paragraph, creating a density of example that is at once stimulating, informative, and enticing. His viewpoint is more pan-global than many histories, showing the ways that societies h
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Informative, but Fernandez-Armesto is sort of snooty and insufferable.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is thoughtful, wide-ranging, iconoclastic, brilliant, elegant, and packed with fascinating, abundantly documented information. It’s an exhilarating race through the entire history of where food came from and what it means to humankind. It encompasses psychology, sociology, science, culture, literature, religion, and politics, along with its culinary history. Fernández-Armesto doesn’t shy away from anything, delving into everything from cannibalism to the raw food movement. (“Culture be ...more
Arjun Mishra
Mar 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
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
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
This isn't exactly "the" history of food but since he titles it "a" history I guess I shouldn't be too critical of that. He does cover a lot of subjects but just seems overwhelmed at times. This leads to him making what I consider to be unforgivable mistakes, like buying into the idea that eating only potatoes can provide all the nutrition humans need (what about fats, vitamin A, the fact that its toxins build up if eaten in large quantities, etc.?) and the omission of some of food history's mos ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food-and-cooking
This book is broadly organized into chapters that examine how the acquisition and preparation of food affects the organization of human society. The divisions are interesting: the evolution of cooking, the rise of herding and agriculture, food as an expression of religion, culture, or rank, the effect of cultivation and commerce on the environment, and lastly the rise of industrial food preparation. There are many interesting parts in this book, particularly historical facts and the discussions ...more
Apr 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Two of my favourite things, history and food, in a brown paper parcel, tied up in string. Well it's got a browny-goldish dust jacket, anyway, and look, here's a piece of string...

No one could accuse Fernandez-Armesto of aiming low or of underestimating his own abilities. That he manages in only 224 pages to convince the reader that he has come close to providing a comprehensive history is a tribute to his enviably broad knowledge and energetic swashbuckling style. This book is tremendous fun to
Apr 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: do-not-own, ebooks

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
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
Tso William
Oct 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This is a book fully packed with interesting facts but weak arguments. The references to food around the world widened my knowledge. However his claim that snail farming is human's first systematic food production is weakly argued and not supported by much details. Other parts are superseded by later works. The harms and benefits of farming are, for example, dealt more persuasively by Daniel E. Lieberman in 'The Story of Human Body', while the domestications of animals, including the unsuccessfu ...more
James Alvino
Apr 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Excellent book. The writing is as delightful as the sweep of food history, with names that we only know as brands sprinkled along the way: Nestle, Heinz, Cadbury. Certainly biased toward certain viewpoints, but nothing one can't respectfully disagree with as one goes along, and sometimes the bias is delightfully unconventional.
Dec 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Oct 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Cultural history of cooking a food, the second-runner up winner to be my textbook for the food course.
Feb 08, 2010 added it
I like to just read random sections of this book in no particular order. Easier going than "Milennium."
Mar 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is the ultimate appetizer.
Joel Friedlander
Jun 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Despite its academic bona fides, this is an enjoyable book to read that constantly surprised me. Highly recommended.
Sep 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Reads a lot like 1491, and very well researched. The font is small making it a bit of chore to get through.
Joe Lascano
Jul 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book.
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food
Had to stop reading a little under halfway through. The tone is obnoxious.
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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
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“it aligns the cannibals with their real modern counterparts: those who eat “health” diets for self-improvement or worldly success or moral superiority or enhanced beauty or personal purity. Strangely, cannibals turn out to have a lot in common with vegans.” 2 likes
“The myth of Native Americans’ talent for conservationism before the arrival of the white man is belied by the evidence of the scale of their slaughters.” 1 likes
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