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Food Fights & Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste
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Food Fights & Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste

3.33  ·  Rating details ·  219 ratings  ·  45 reviews
In this eclectic book of food history, Tom Nealon takes on such overlooked themes as carp and the Crusades, brown sauce and Byron, and chillies and cannibalism, and suggests that hunger and taste are the twin forces that secretly defined the course of civilization. Through war and plague, revolution and migration, people have always had to eat. What and how they ate provok ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Harry N. Abrams
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Average rating 3.33  · 
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Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, food
I was first introduced to "Food Fights and Culture Wars" through an excerpt in the "Boston Globe" newspaper on lemonade's potential influence on the lack of plague outbreak in Paris. These food-related tales are not terribly cohesive as book and the lemonade excerpt that I'd already read was definitely the best section of the book. Overall, I'd encourage most readers to simply Google the lemonade excerpt to learn a little food history. However, it is a short book that you can skim through to lea ...more
Mar 31, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The formatting of this ebook makes it nearly illegible. Diminished in size to fit text boxes, the font is very small and evidently cannot be adjusted.
Mar 24, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is arranged where every topic is a chapter. Some chapters were so engaging, with interesting historical context, evidence supporting what was being said and a clear picture of why it was important. Others chapters... not so much. The author rambles through anecdotes and personal opinions and you come away with no real information.
Ibrahim Niftiyev
Aug 09, 2021 rated it liked it
I expected more. More of philosophy of foods and cuisines. Yet, you can learn some things from the book.
Nealon sets out to '... fit food back into the historical narrative... to reconcile its place in our lives with its absence from written history'. Unfortunately, what he has produced is little more than waffle to accompany illustrations from books in the British Library collection. If not for the illustrations, this book would go straight to the bin. Unsupported claims (there are no references and no bibliography - it's really my fault for not looking for bibliography pages before purchasing), u ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
I first heard about Food Fights and Culture Wars on the podcast The Sporkful when the host did an interview with Nealon. I figured this would be my cup of tea and I was right.

I enjoyed this book because it is not a scholarly examination of the history and culture of food. Instead, Food Fights and Culture Wars is conversational.

The book takes on specific short topics that by themselves are easy to digest and together show some of the underlying influence food has had on society as a whole. Tom N
Ken Rideout
Oct 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
Too many words to be a picture book but so many pictures that you can read this book in an afternoon. At first I thought I was reading a scholarly book about the ever-popular subject of history and food, but the author's flippant and casual style eventually left me wondering how much I actually learned and how much was just one man's take on it all. I understand many of the anecdotes were tongue-in-cheek, but I just didn't go for it. Here's a break-down of what I think I learned chapter-by-chapt ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a lovely little food book! In this book, we learn about 10 different food related histories. There are several topics covered included carp, cannibalism and thickening agents. I admit that some of the chapters were a bit dull to me as I didn't have interest in certain topics. However, the illustrations and paintings and photographs made up for the boring text as they were tons of fun to look at! ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfic
I managed this near in a sitting- there's very little of substance. It's very much a coffee-table book, but only read it if you're waiting on a friend and it's their table! Lots of pictures. And except that most of the essays are involving food and conflicts on the same essay, this book doesn't live up to it's title. Taste? No where really mentioned. This is a sort of popular history lite. ...more
Aug 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, food
A little scattered....hard to go from cannibalism to Worcestershire sauce from one illustrated page to the next. Although richly illustrated, the imagery didn't always seem pertinent without further notation.

In some cases, it was difficult to differentiate between opinion and fact. However, there were some very interesting bits scattered throughout the volume.
May 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
The illustrations are fascinating, but the essays fall somewhat short. Perhaps read singly they are more entertaining, but they aren't a great source for food history, and the humor seems forced. ...more
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Entertaining, and with beautiful art throughout, but not quite the serious history Nealon himself says he's trying to produce. (Pun intended.) The chapter on cannibalism is outstanding, though. ...more
Lucile Barker
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
91. Food Fights and Culture Wars: a Secret History of Taste by Tom Nealon
This book was beautiful visually and I learned a lot about food and history. The history of carp in the Crusades was especially relevant, even though I have never attempted gifilte fish. The use of lemons against plague was a fun chapter, as was the section on Brown Sauces, which are one of my culinary sins. There are pages from historical cook books with unheard of ingredients. There are table settings, a discussion of can
This one had been on my “to read” list for a while and I’m glad I finally read it. That being said, it was not quite what I was hoping. A fun and easy read, the book is organized into chapters by topic and each chapter has many interesting illustrations. There were nuggets of great information here and there, but overall, it sort of read like a History or Sci Channel show – good ideas, a liberal sprinkling of facts, and lots of pictures and conversation. The amount of fact/research for each chap ...more
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
An easy, fun and often very funny read. As other reviewers note, it is a ramble through various topics about the history of food. The illustrations are gorgeous and well worth closely studying-the marginalia within the medieval texts (" Rabbit in herbs") etc. was well worth the time. The book can be summed up with this quote, about the invention of extracts: " The notion of meat extract is similar to the French technique for making glacé de viande', reducing meat stock to a concentrated paste. I ...more
Aug 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book is worthless garbage. The only decent part that Nealon includes is a wide and admittedly impressive collection of historical illustrations & pictures. Unfortunately, the text is rambling, poorly written, and barely researched. In his best chapters Nealon jumps from topic to topic, writing the minimum words necessary to outline his poorly thought out theories. He includes no citations and presents ridiculously stupid ideas as facts. He also excludes a large quantity of relevant material ...more
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A bit of a mixed bag. Each chapter focused on a different food subject- most of them were about a specific item (like Worcestershire sauce, or Bovril, or lemonade during the plague, etc.) and were extremely interesting, whereas other chapters covered a broader subject (like dinner parties or cannibalism) and ended up too vague and wishy-washy as a result (though the fact that this dude managed to make cannibalism boring is quite a feat).

Contains a huge and expertly curated picture/illustration/m
Jul 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, food, nonfiction
I liked it, but I think I was hoping for a bigger, denser text that's more academic in tone. I read it much more quickly than I suspected, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just not what I expected. Good for when you want an interesting "light" history/culture book. Full of gorgeous illustrations from a wide range of historical sources. If I could, I'd rate it 3.5 stars. ...more
Mar 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
Book was organized very poorly as if the aesthetics of the book mattered more than the information. Promising topic but the author used verbose, stumbling language often with a lot of interjections that distracted from the actual subject matter.
The author also did not include ANY source material for his claims. This is an enormous issue for me. Citing pictures is not enough.
Ruth Feathers
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting connections.
Daniel Farabaugh
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting books. It was as easy read and had a lot of interesting trivia. Not are particularly deep book but really enjoyable.
Oct 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I enjoyed the theme and the beautiful pictures in this book, but skimmed through most of the writing.
Jack Bruno
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved the illustrations throughout this -- tons of primary source stuff! I love food history and this was a great, fresh look at an eclectic group of topics.
Nov 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, found myself drifting slightly on the odd occasion.
Mickey Boxell
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wanted so much to like this book. I typically enjoy any and all stories related to food. With a couple of exceptions, the ones retold in this book were not engaging.
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Each chapter could be a detailed book on its own, but the witty (snarky at times, even) tone and the quick pace keeps this a fascinating peek into the history of the world through the lens of food.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Layout was challenging. The broad topics were interesting but not entirely relevant to my research.
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Enjoyable look at the history of food, and a look at history through food. Same, but different.
Oct 06, 2020 rated it it was ok
no rhyme or reason, and very little substance
Clare Vergobbi
Jan 11, 2022 rated it it was ok
2.5. Not exactly what I was hoping for, this was more of a anecdotal history of certain foods than a well-researched chronicle of food history. Most of the essays seemed truncated and drew some conclusions evidenced only by the author’s opinions. Nevertheless, I enjoyed some of the essays quite a bit (the spread of carp farming, lemonade and the plague, cannibalism) and the accompanying collection of images mostly sourced from the British Library were fascinating.
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