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Food in History

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,243 Ratings  ·  95 Reviews
An enthralling world history of food from prehistoric times to the present. A favorite of gastronomes and history buffs alike, Food in History is packed with intriguing information, lore, and startling insights--like what cinnamon had to do with the discovery of America, and how food has influenced population growth and urban expansion.
Paperback, 448 pages
Published May 10th 1995 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 1973)
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Jan 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, food
From a fellow bus rider: "So what's that book about: food and history?" Me: "Yes." Him: "So like real stuff that happened and food?" Me: "Yes."
Ingrid Hardy
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I read this book a few years ago (softcover book), and it sits as a treasured book in my collection (I'd like to have a hard cover of it one day). This is a fantastic reference book. It begins where humans began, back in the caves, and gives archeological evidence as well as common sense theories on how certain foods likely came to be, such as yogurt and butter were probably discovered because of the practice of traveling with milk in the dried stomachs of animals. And one thing leads to another ...more
Dec 06, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: food
I put this down for the moment and turned to Roger Osbourne's Civilization: A New History of the Western World, to fill my history needs at the moment.

Thus, far, I've gotten to easily annoyed at some of the sweeping generalizzations and assumptions the author has made about what was chosen as the first methods of food, and the apparent lack of scholarship in how she decided. I'll have to come back to it when I'm less annoyed with her approach to history.

Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I enjoy food histories and this was no exception. There were a few points that disagreed with other histories, most notably the idea that man once used spice to disguise rancid meat. (Jack Turner's "Spice: A History of Temptation" soundly refutes that idea. ) However, overall I thought it gave an excellent overview and serves as a good companion to other more focused food histories.
Steve Wales
My first Folio Society book and a fascinating one detailing the changes in diet, hunting/gathering/farming of food and its preparation and cooking from pre-history to the beginning of the 21st century. Tannahill not only describes these changes and, for example, regional differences in diet but also explains them, e.g. in hot climates people eat spicy foods which make them perspire which cools them down (and prompts them to drink more fluids).

The book also demonstrates the wide-ranging impact of
Nicole Means
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Concise history of food dating back to BCE to the 1980s. The publication date is over 30 years so it would be interesting to read an updated revision of this book.
Aug 28, 2016 marked it as to-read
Pre-review: I decided I wanted to read this book for a very weird reason. While I was reading So Many Africas, So Little Time: Doing Justice to Africa in the World History Survey by Jonathan T. Reynolds the author said something intriguing in a morbid train-crash kinda way. Here is a direct quote from his article:

"...[Africa as a Broken place] is perhaps the most contemporary version of Africa – an Africa where nothing ever works and all good intentions come to naught. This image of Africa stre
Oct 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
One of my alltime favorites. I loved learning about and following the history of ingredients & food that we now take for granted. The life of pepper could be a short story.
But more interesting to me was the description of the different practices cultures have surrounding eating. Banquet versus intimate dinner. A family table. Sacred foods. Topics about food -- particularly the familiy meal -- that I had never considered having had a origin someplace.
Jessy Faiz
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Sebuah buku sejarah yang ditulis dengan menarik, ringan, dan mengandung subjek yang menarik pula: makanan.

Dalam buku ini dihidangkan makanan dari masa ke masa, mulai dari masa prasejarah hingga masa keemasan Romawi, Revolusi Industri, dan masa modern.

Lebih dari itu, buku ini juga mengulas hubungan makanan dan keyakinan, trend pada masa tertentu, dan segala macam problema yang hadir karena makanan atau ketiadaan makanan.
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
I really enjoyed this book. It's written in a very accessible, style, and I appreciated the author's dry wit. She covers the history of food, from agricultural to culinary to cultural aspects, in most of the world's major societies from neolithic times to the late 20th century (the book was last revised in the 1980s). Highly recommended for any foodie history buffs.
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Wow, a whirlwind but fascinating tour of how food has shaped, well, everything!
Sep 17, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: tracyfood, nonfiction
Holy masculine generic, Batman! That shit is hella distracting, and the book is dated in other ways, too.
Aug 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I've read this twice cover to cover and possibly three times, I now can't recall with certainty. As of the moment, I feel that I may read it again, it's that well written and that unique.
Aug 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: foodie
reading this book kind of made me want to become a food anthropologist.
Arjun Ravichandran
Sep 24, 2017 rated it liked it
As the title indicates, this is an exposition on the role that food - its cultivation, enjoyment, transportation, and its politics - has played in history.

As the author notes in her introduction, for all our technological savvy and utopian visions of the approaching singularity, the fact remains that humanity is still not rid of its all-too-earthly dependence on food.

The author begins by looking at the origin of the human species ; forced onto the treacherous Savannah by the retreating ice caps
Aug 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: food
Entertaining and fact-packed, although it seems patchy at times. There is a clear focus on Europe and the West, Africa is briefly mentioned.
May 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyne
Shelves: favorites
This book chronicles the history of food for the good majority of human civilization. It pretty much blew my mind. For example, what did caveman eat? Answer: lots of raw meat, and lots of other things, which they discovered more or less by trial and errors over the centuries. One vivid part I recall from the cavemen section was that the human need for protein was so strong, that occasionally an errant neanderthal would kill an animal and crack open, say, an arm bone, and start chowin' down on th ...more
Perrin Pring
Feb 28, 2015 rated it liked it
A friend of mine gave me this as a reference guide. Initially I was a bit daunted by it, as I often struggle with books that are written by academics. Tannahill does a good job at making the material accessible to us non-academia types, but still, it can get a bit dry at times.

Overall, I learned a lot from this book. I breezed through the intro sections about early human history, as my edition was last edited in 1987, and that was nearly 30 years ago. We've found more evidence to both agree with
Cathy (cathepsut)
"Food in History, a panoramic survey of a vast and fascinating subject, will appeal to any and every reader with a general, civilised interest in food and eating. Spanning over half a million years, this lively account describes the world history of food and the way in which food has influenced the whole course of human development. It is packed with intriguing information and insights: how pepper contributed to the fall of the Roman empire; how a new kind of plough helped to spark off the Crusa ...more
Ross Tierney
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book for anyone who appreciates the madness of modern diet preachers. Tannahill's historical approach is the sanest approach to understanding human eating I've read. Even though the updated version was published in 1989, she provides a very clear, unbiased history of food. I love that she spans the globe, too - from her native England and Europe to Australia and the Orient - from prehistory to present. The author's interest seems to have evolved out the diet mania of the 60's tha ...more
Edit Ostrom
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: abandoned
I gave it 5 stars and yet I abandoned it?! Yes, it's a good book, but it gives way more than I ever wanted to know about the history of the human diet. I could read it only up to the ancient Greeks and Romans, then I scanned the Middle Ages and that was it. Yet, what I found out was fascinating.

Another of my problem was that since i skipped some parts, I encountered too many unknown words (of foods) that may have been explained in an earlier chapter but I missed it. For example, some very commo
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This quite old by now, and I suspect a few of the historical theories may have moved on but it is an engaging read, informative and occasionally dryly humourous. Interesting to see that some 80s food fads and ideas (which have since been debunked!) are treated with skepticism. Well worth reading this wide ranging book considers food histories from the ancient past - paleolithic (but not ridiculous dietary theory!) to modern and and globally. Also worth reading in this field is Taste by Kate Colq ...more
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, school
Read this for my Food in History course at college and really enjoyed it. Here and there it's a bit repetitive, so I gave it the four stars instead of five because the writing could be tightened a bit. However, the author if British and hilarious here and there, some of the footnotes she adds are just her own comments. If you're interested in the development of food, farming, meals, cuisine, etc, from really the dawn of time through the 1980s, I'd pick this up, even if you only wanted to read a ...more
Jeff Kissel
Aug 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, food-culture
Out of date, particularly the ending and some conclusions on the latest health claims of particular processed foods. However, the material is still strong throughout and provides a lot of detail...too much to take in with a single reading. With the scope of the book being so large, it has a somewhat fragmented nature, but generally stuck to a timeline structure. A lot of interesting insights into how regional food cultures may have been developed through practical survival of early humans in the ...more
Tina Ye
Dec 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: foodies, random knowledge junkies
So far so good... a wildly entertaining read for the commute. (At least for me.) Should be required reading for anyone who wants to sound like a total food geek at cocktail parties. You will be able to casually drop historical anecdotes about food like you won't believe.

EDIT: I finished it!!! (After getting asymptotically slower as I neared the end...) Reay Tannahill (a historian) is a very cautious and sarcastic writer, never to draw any foregone conclusions, but always tempered with a good sen
Antun Karlovac
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very comprehensive book about food from prehistory to the modern world. Pretty much everything is covered right from pre-farming days, although the book doesn't really go into detail about the modern world. I learned a lot from Food in History, including where the word "Entree" comes from (and why people are actually being ignorant when they mock America's use of it to refer to a main course). While it isn't a microhistory, Food in History is light and easy to read, and never becomes s ...more
May 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-and-diet
I really enjoyed this book. The author provided "the history of food" in intelligent, elegant and relevant prose. There was much food for thought here, unlike many of the extremist opinions I've read in the past regarding what we do eat, should eat, and why. It seems we have access to more variety and more abundant food than ever before, but we still haven't figured out how to eat right to be healthy. Maybe Epictetus was correct when he said: "Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat a ...more
Fernanda Vega
Aug 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2016
Definitely a deep and comprehensive narrative of food in history from different angles: cultural, economic and technological.
The author uses wit and a simple, non-judgemental process to tell the fascinating story of all important foods and how they came to be.
The only criticism I have is its intense euro-centrism, but it is expected from a British writer: taking it with a grain of salt —pun intended—.
Dariusz Płochocki
Poza całkiem sporą dozą ciekawostek szczególnie opisów średniowiecznego i prehistorycznego jadła, nic jednak ciekawego, kilka błędów, które można przypisać tłumaczeniu, czasem trudno uwierzyć, że pisarka jest historykiem. Miło, że nawet kuchnia Inków się tu znalazła... nie miła niespodzianka, że wszystko wskazuje na to że hodowali jakieś duźe gryzonie...
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Brian by:
Food is an important part of everybody's life, but so little is known about the origins of our diet. Tannahill provides a broad sweep of history and--within the limits of her source material and British perspective--a global account. Well-researched and reasonable indexed, it was also an entertaining read.
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Reay Tannahill was born on December 9, 1929 in Glasgow, Scotland, where she brought up. Her forename was the maiden name of her mother, Olive Reay. She was educated at Shawlands Academy, and obtained an MA in History and a postgraduate certificate in Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow. In 1958, she married Michael Edwardes but the marriage ended in divorce in 1983, he died in 1990. Until ...more
More about Reay Tannahill...