Synopses & Reviews
Elegantly written by a distinguished culinary historian, "Food Is Culture" explores the innovative premise that everything having to do with food-its capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption-represents a cultural act. Even the "choices" made by primitive hunters and gatherers were determined by a culture of economics (availability) and medicine (digestibility and nutrition) that led to the development of specific social structures and traditions.
Massimo Montanari begins with the "invention" of cooking which allowed humans to transform natural, edible objects into cuisine. Cooking led to the creation of the kitchen, the adaptation of raw materials into utensils, and the birth of written and oral guidelines to formalize cooking techniques like roasting, broiling, and frying.
The transmission of recipes allowed food to acquire its own language and grow into a complex cultural product shaped by climate, geography, the pursuit of pleasure, and later, the desire for health. In his history, Montanari touches on the spice trade, the first agrarian societies, Renaissance dishes that synthesized different tastes, and the analytical attitude of the Enlightenment, which insisted on the separation of flavors. Brilliantly researched and analyzed, he shows how food, once a practical necessity, evolved into an indicator of social standing and religious and political identity.
Whether he is musing on the origins of the fork, the symbolic power of meat, cultural attitudes toward hot and cold foods, the connection between cuisine and class, the symbolic significance of certain foods, or the economical consequences of religious holidays, Montanari's concise yet intellectually richreflections add another dimension to the history of human civilization. Entertaining and surprising, "Food Is Culture" is a fascinating look at how food is the ultimate embodiment of our continuing attempts to tame, transform, and reinterpret nature.
Food is Culture is a sophisticated, eminently readable look at how the capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption of food relate to culture and identity. By integrating the evolution of social structures with taste and cuisine, Massimo Montanari shows how food, originally a practical necessity, became metaphor, discourse, and gastronomy.
Montanari touches on the spice trade; the first agrarian societies and their idea of a civil man as one who artfully developed foods that did not exist in nature, such as bread; the search for synthesis in the Middle Ages and its expression in dishes that blended different tastes, whereas the analytical attitude of the Enlightenment insisted on the separation of flavors. The switch from boar and bear to poultry and small game marked a change from warrior-dominated to domesticated political society. Particularly revealing for us today is the on-going cultural continuity of dishes meant to harmonize the four humors of medical antiquity: Chinese sweet and sour pork, American Thanksgiving turkey and cranberry relish, British lamb with mint jelly, Italian prosciutto e melone.
Entertaining and surprising, Food is Culture elegantly demonstrates how the history of food is intimately linked to the transformation of human cultural identities.