A savory history, from foraging to fast food

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Although the shopping cart wasn't invented until 1937, food has been traveling from one place to another for centuries. “A Moveable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization,” just published by Cambridge University Press, traces its paths.

Written by Dr. Kenneth Kiple, editor along with Kriemhild C. Ornelas of the highly regarded “The Cambridge World History of Food,” the book chronicles edible plants and animals from the days of foraging to modern fast food. Catering to today's time-constrained reader, Kiple, a Bowling Green State University Distinguished University Professor emeritus of history, has condensed his previous massive, two-volume history of food in this latest endeavor.

“It's enormously fascinating to see how globalization has evolved. If you have the money, any food in the world is available to you today,” the historian points out.

A major impetus for globalization was that now-famous 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus. Exchanges began immediately. From Europe came rice, sugar, horses, pigs, cattle and wheat; from the New World came corn, potatoes, squash, beans and chocolate.

The historian writes about the innovation of farming, the domestication of animals and the impact of industrialization on food production, processing and distribution. His investigation of food's global impact provides, as one reviewer has noted, “a cornucopia of information about food, both profound and fun.”

Interesting tidbits can be found throughout the 366-page book, among them:  

  • Cheese making began over 6,000 years ago in Iran.
  • Sugar and soy beans are the world's best-selling foods.
  • By 1880, virtually every major American city had a Chinese restaurant.
  • Honey has been used for its medicinal as well as nutritional properties.
  • The can opener was patented in 1870.
  • India produces and consumes more butter than any other nation.
  • The Portuguese were the first Europeans to drink tea.

Kiple, who has previously studied and written about the history of disease, also discusses the correlation between nutrition and disease in this book and the perils brought by both shortages and bounties of food, such as the current obesity epidemic in the United States

From his perspective, it is inexcusable in the 21st century for humans to starve to death in any part of the world. “We have the ability to produce and distribute the food the world needs. Nobody should starve. Everyone is entitled to food as a basic human right,” Kiple contends.

Kiple, who appeared at the Ann Arbor Book Fair last week, will speak June 10 at the Printers Row Book Fair in Chicago. “A Moveable Feast” is available at the BGSU Bookstore, at other retailers around the nation and online.

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(Posted May 24, 2007)

Updated: 12/02/2017 01:14AM