"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 15, 2013

Take and Eat

Today, of course, marks the beginning of the forty-day St. Philip's Fast observed by Byzantine Christians leading up to Christmas. What better time to think of food? As I've noted before, the connections between feasting and fasting are far from purely spiritual constructs in our household. Along comes a new book to examine such connections on a wider cultural scale, including a chapter on how Christianity transformed the cuisine of the Western world: Rachel Laudan, Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History (University of California Press, 2013), 488pp.

About this book, set for release later this month, the publisher tells us:
Rachel Laudan tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of the world’s great cuisines—from the mastery of grain cooking some twenty thousand years ago, to the present—in this superbly researched book. Probing beneath the apparent confusion of dozens of cuisines to reveal the underlying simplicity of the culinary family tree, she shows how periodic seismic shifts in “culinary philosophy”—beliefs about health, the economy, politics, society and the gods—prompted the construction of new cuisines, a handful of which, chosen as the cuisines of empires, came to dominate the globe.

Cuisine and Empire shows how merchants, missionaries, and the military took cuisines over mountains, oceans, deserts, and across political frontiers. Laudan’s innovative narrative treats cuisine, like language, clothing, or architecture, as something constructed by humans. By emphasizing how cooking turns farm products into food and by taking the globe rather than the nation as the stage, she challenges the agrarian, romantic, and nationalistic myths that underlie the contemporary food

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