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How best to grasp food's place in history? Historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto's Near a Thousand Tables places its beginnings in cooking, a social act that forges culture (and is perhaps responsible for it), then pursues it as a series of "revolutions"--from the inception of cooking, herding, and agriculture to food industrialization and, finally, modern globalization. InfoHow best to grasp food's place in history? Historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto's Near a Thousand Tables places its beginnings in cooking, a social act that forges culture (and is perhaps responsible for it), then pursues it as a series of "revolutions"--from the inception of cooking, herding, and agriculture to food industrialization and, finally, modern globalization. Informatively dense yet spry and aphoristic, the book explores food as rite and magic (it "binds those who believe, brands those who don't"); the domestication of animals (snails are the world's oldest "cattle"); farming and food's use as an index of rank ("greatness goes with greatness of girth"--or at least it did); food's role in trade and cultural exchange (Tex-Mex cooking as a form of colonial miscegenation); and as a force in and for industrialization (canning as the cooking of the Industrial Revolution). In the end, we are brought to "the loneliness of the fast food eater" and the "desocializing" effect of microwave cooking and other forms of modern food manipulation that alienate us from the communal act that "made" culture. "Food gives pleasure," Fernández-Armesto writes, and "can change the eater for better or worse." He concludes, "the role of the next revolution will be to subvert the last." This is a fascinating book that shows us ourselves: like the cannibal, who eats his enemy to appropriate his power, we believe in food's transformative effect, which through devotion to vegetarianism and other special diets will make us "better." It paints a picture both sweeping and precise. --Arthur Boehm...

Title : near a thousand tables
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ISBN : 17261855
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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near a thousand tables Reviews

  • Emily
    2019-03-12 19:11

    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 survival2) The Meaning of Eating, revealing how meals and specific foods were the first building blocks of cultures, traditions, taboos, mores, etc. 3) Breeding to Eat, discussing the role of herding, i.e. transitioning from hunter-gatherer patterns of collecting food to producing food4) Managing Plant Life for Food, which my professor, Ken Albala, has argued as another key revolution in food history, this time, the agricultural revolution5) Food and Rank, revealing the stratifying and organizing power of food to create and reinforce inequality by development of haute cuisine, which in socially mobile societies is observed and copied by the middle class6) Exchange of Cultures, discussing the initial barriers to cross-cultural cuisines, as well as the salt and spice trade7) Food and Ecological Exchange, namely as influenced by the Columbian exchange that facilitated the transport of Old and New World foods8) Industrial Food in the 19th and 20th Centuries, discussed both the pros and cons of the industrial system, and calling for the next food revolution to undue some of the harm that the green revolution of agricultural has causedI really enjoyed it and found it to be a concise and intriguing presentation of the history of food across the globe.

  • Lightreads
    2019-03-04 20:12

    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, people).Negatives: Cheerful use of the phrase “cultural miscegenation,” coupled with an occasionally . . . weird tone when discussing imperial and colonial relationships significant to food history. Cultural miscegenation? Seriously?

  • Olga Kovalenko
    2019-03-20 00:52

    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.

  • Angel
    2019-03-02 00:10

    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 significance, and the idea of food consumption as a social marker (the concept of haute cuisine falls into this). A particularly interesting idea for me was the author's link between cannibals and vegans. Cannibals in ancient and primitive cultures would consume their slain enemies in order to gain their strength or bravery. Vegans eat vegetables in order to improve their health, and it can also have a spiritual angle. The common idea is that both consume food in order to improve their bodies and spirits. Also interesting to read were the narratives of food travels from one continent to another, and how this shaped history. Overall, this would be a book I would strong recommend. A similar title would be Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. <<Today, I would add that a book like Cognac, which I have reviewed here, would be in a similar vein as well.

  • Martin Earl
    2019-02-27 20:11

    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 have reacted toward colonialism in their eating and food cultures. (It is true, yes, that many of his examples sit in the West, but that is the seat of many of the multi-national organizations he cites. How many world-wide food companies from Indonesia can you name real fast?)Among the more interesting points he makes are the close spiritual connection between cannibalism and veganism (you read that right), and the deterioration of the very bonds of society that is caused by fast food and the microwave oven. In the middle there are interesting vignettes on alchemy, spice trade, spontaneous generation and may more flights of intellectual fancy. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to think about the global—and personal—history of food.

  • Laurie
    2019-03-09 17:01

    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

  • Miriam
    2019-02-18 17:45

    Informative, but Fernandez-Armesto is sort of snooty and insufferable.

  • Cynthia
    2019-03-17 00:52

    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 begins when the raw gets cooked.”) This book is so rich in facts, history, and insights that it is difficult to even imagine where to begin describing it. Of course, he covers the transition from hunting to farming and discusses the foods that have had the biggest impact on the planet (rice, wheat, maize, sugar, and so on). But it is the scope of the work, the passion, and the insights into the significance of food that elevate it. We can almost imagine him in a lecture hall, his voice rising with the heat of his argument, as he holds forth on the importance of some key point, such as in the chapter “The Edible Earth” when he writes about farming.“Whether invented or evolved, the farming of plants did more, in the long run, to alter the world than any previous human innovation. The impact of the hunters, fishers, and stockbreeders of the last chapter could not compare—not on the landscape, or on ecological structures or even on diet. … Plants are 90 percent of the world’s food. Plant farming still dominates the world’s economy….We still depend on it absolutely. It is the basis of everything else.”The author joyously explodes a lot of popular myths. For example: “The idea that the demand for spices [during the Middle Ages] was the result of the need to disguise tainted meat and fish is one of the great myths of the history of food. It is more likely that fresh foods in the Middle Ages were fresher than today, because locally produced, and that preserved foods were just as well preserved in their different ways—by salting, pickling, desiccating and conserving—as ours are in the age of canning, refrigeration, and freeze-drying (a technique which, by the way, was known in antiquity and developed to a high degree by Andean potato growers in what we think of as the Middle Ages).” Or “It was probably pigs and horses, not people, that took, to the New World from the old, the diseases that began the precipitate collapse of Native American populations” (he notes, as he explains why herding is more dangerous to humans than hunting). Or even, “More than 50 percent of those with afflicted hearts do not have high cholesterol counts.”He worries about our relationship with food. He notes that, “The loneliness of the fast food eater is uncivilizing. Food is being desocialized.” He observes that the health-obsessed and food faddists share in common with cannibals the tendency to take their meaning from what they eat. He frets over what the microwave is doing to our dining habits, and opines, “Readers who could have Brillat-Savarin settle for the Williams-Sonoma catalogue.”The book sweeps from “The Invention of Cooking: The First Revolution” to “Feeding the Giants: Food and Industrialization in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” scooping up “The Meaning of Eating: Food as Rite and Magic,” “Food and Rank: Inequality and the Rise of Haute Cuisine,” and “Challenging Evolution: Food and Ecological Exchange,” among other topics, as he whirls through the millennia, weaving together a tapestry of what food has meant to our world and what it means to us now.This is not breezy writing. It is the kind of dense, rich, juicy prose that we language arts majors relish. But if you love rich writing, as well as rich food, this book is a real treat.

  • Arjun Mishra
    2019-03-10 20:53

    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 relationships (industrialization). I am sure that his history is sound, as is his method of dividing the history. My disappointments arise from his lack of analysis. We are given various fun facts and trivia throughout the book (his tangents on oysters are fascinating and I daresay, raw), but they deviate from the historical approach so much that it is nearly crying out for another book. His attitude towards contemporary eating is refreshing and necessary. The attitude, acrimony, and intelligence alone cause the final two chapters to be the most riveting and readable. Once again, though, this deviation cries out for a separate book.I am almost under the impression that a separate book would be even more informative and entertaining. The reason his attitude is so refreshing and necessary is that FFA dismisses just about everything we think we know about food and eating. It is upsetting just how easily idiotic, baseless, and moronic health fads infiltrate our daily lives and coerce people in to undergoing unhealthy eating habits, such as the mind-blowingingly troglodytic Atkins Diet. It is abhorrent when those idiotic, baseless, moronic health fads begin to influence health policy. FFA despises all of these fads and is utterly dismissive of them and repulsed by them. I like that. He borderline can take his haughty displeasure in them too far. There is one section in one of the final chapters that he seems dismissive of calories, like in effect saying that they just do not matter. This confuses me because this would seem to be one of the few incontrovertible foundations of nutrition and food science. 3500 kcal gained, 1 pound gained; 3500 kcal lost, 1 pound lost. At is at this point that FFA gets a little apocryphal, as well. He seems to rely on anecdotes. The simple explanation to his caloric stories is that the person in question might have different metabolisms or caloric needs. Regardless, the point he is making is right on. We are obsessive over constantly changing beliefs and understandings for no reason because food science and nutrition are deeply flawed fields with ideologically driven pinpricks, painfully flawed methodology (I saw a study that dictated the experimental group to consume less than the daily minimum amount of calories needed to SURVIVE), and outside influences. FFA makes this point well. We do not really know much about food. Just enjoy it. Also, it is a superbly engrossing read.

  • Dave
    2019-03-15 19:45

    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 most interesting subjects, like the fact that Europe's empires likely wouldn't have lasted so long without the introduction of New World crops. He also says things like people need salt either from mines or boiled down salt water, which ignores the fact that a lot of cultures got sodium from animal blood and even some plant sources, and he actually should have known better since he does mention groups like the Massai and Inuit elsewhere. When it comes to hunter gatherers I have trouble following some of his logic. Apparently a major flaw with that lifestyle is that they're too competitive, overhunting because "why conserve something someone else will hunt anyway?" Well, according to most anthropologists this is exactly why they weren't competitive. Any day, anybody could walk into camp dragging way more meat than they can eat themselves. Sure, there are examples of things going wrong, like chasing entire herds off of cliffs but any group that didn't learn from such mistakes didn't last very long. So that's way off. At other times he tries to be overly provocative, saying things like cannibals and vegetarians are following the same superstitious logic, again showing in other parts of the book that he should know better when he mentions the ethical considerations that lead people to boycott factory farming. I do like a lot of the stuff in here though. His discussion on snail "grazing" was particularly interesting, and I like that he admits there aren't always rational reasons for taboos and other cultural anomalies. It's also nice that he goes through all the theories on why agriculture developed rather than just pretend to know which is true like so many other writers do. It's strange to me that nobody ever brings up that elites have a desire for high population densities for more powerful armies. In my opinion that makes more sense than anything else. In a lot of the world well designed horticulture methods were forcefully replaced with more difficult, ecologically destructive methods and unhealthy crops to subjugate as many people as possible. It'll be interesting to see what this guy's book on the history of civilizations has to say about such things. Maybe he'll be able to redeem himself a little bit. This one, however, is not the best.

  • Catherine
    2019-03-16 17:10

    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 of class and culture.The author's strong intellectual biases, however, trump all other analysis of the historical record on which he draws. At one point he castigates contemporary humanity for assuming that early societies were lacking in any kind of sophistication or intellectual curiosity. In the next chapter he dismisses all religious dietary restrictions as superstition, with no observable or rational basis in fact. Really? His litany of ancient food-related beliefs is amusing, and is one that can be continued right to the present day (fat is okay, fat is very bad, no wait, fat is okay again), but he doesn't go that far in the discussion, because it would undercut his criticism of earlier beliefs. Overall the book is a rambling (and I do mean rambling, full of digressions and trips down rabbit trails) meditation on food and human society, interesting in parts, but too inconsistent and intellectually lazy to be wholly useful.

  • James
    2019-03-05 20:50

    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 read, if a little rambling in places. Although it betrays the author's various intellectual and geographical biases, I have decided not to take offence, since I share some of them. The broadly chronological, yet topical arrangement of the material works well (each chapter discusses a revolution in the history of food, from the invention of cooking itself, through the spiritual and social meanings of meals, to industrial machinations) and he spices up each chapter with titbits and hints from other parts of the book, so it's never boring. He busts a few myths along the way, and manages to weave the weird and wonderful into a compelling narrative. I now wish I'd taken notes so that I could say something more specific, but so be it. Like a wonderful banquet it made a great impression on me, and I remember that it was delightful more than how it was delightful. Thus, like all my meals, valuable at the time, its nutritional value is now largely history.

  • noelle
    2019-03-10 19:45

    3.5. 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 riding, intestines as bain-marie, the use of blood in cooked food, cannibalism (always here, there, everywhere for cannibalism). even his prolonged indignation @ veg*nism - lol. #unoffendedvegetarian

  • Nathanial
    2019-03-07 19:07

    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 his preferences into the text, adding a layer of believability that doesn't rely on raw data, charts graphs or maps.

  • Tso William
    2019-03-13 00:05

    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 unsuccessful attempts on zebra, are explored more deeply by Jared Diamond in 'Guns, Germs & Steel'. Although it is more of an amateurish attempt, the book provides a neat overview on the development of food.

  • James Alvino
    2019-03-10 20:05

    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 food, but it isn't leisurely reading to say the least.

  • Lindsey
    2019-03-19 21:01

    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.

  • Brian
    2019-02-25 21:45

    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.

  • David
    2019-03-12 16:42

    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.

  • Elvira
    2019-03-17 18:01

    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.

  • Arne
    2019-03-07 20:57

    Very interesting read.

  • Margaret Sankey
    2019-03-17 00:45

    Cultural history of cooking a food, the second-runner up winner to be my textbook for the food course.

  • Lisa
    2019-03-04 00:52

    I like to just read random sections of this book in no particular order. Easier going than "Milennium."

  • TC
    2019-03-05 16:54

    This book is the ultimate appetizer.

  • Joel Friedlander
    2019-02-25 21:48

    Despite its academic bona fides, this is an enjoyable book to read that constantly surprised me. Highly recommended.

  • Peribo
    2019-02-26 17:42

    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.

  • Carrie
    2019-02-18 23:00

    Reads a lot like 1491, and very well researched. The font is small making it a bit of chore to get through.

  • Joe Lascano
    2019-02-24 17:12

    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

  • Marco
    2019-03-18 22:04

    Very interesting book.

  • Kelsey
    2019-02-17 23:06

    Had to stop reading a little under halfway through. The tone is obnoxious.