Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food

Written by: Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food Book Cover
In Near a Thousand Tables, acclaimed food historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto tells the fascinating story of food as cultural as well as culinary history -- a window on the history of mankind.
In this "appetizingly provocative" (Los Angeles Times) book, he guides readers through the eight great revolutions in the world history of food: the origins of cooking, which set humankind on a course apart from other species; the ritualization of eating, which brought magic and meaning into people's relationship with what they ate; the inception of herding and the invention of agriculture, perhaps the two greatest revolutions of all; the rise of inequality, which led to the development of haute cuisine; the long-range trade in food which, practically alone, broke down cultural barriers; the ecological exchanges, which revolutionized the global distribution of plants and livestock; and, finally, the industrialization and globalization of mass-produced food.
From prehistoric snail "herding" to Roman banquets to Big Macs to genetically modified tomatoes, Near a Thousand Tables is a full-course meal of extraordinary narrative, brilliant insight, and fascinating explorations that will satisfy the hungriest of readers.
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Near a Thousand Tables A History of Food Reviews

Averin
Where else will you read on the gastronomy of cannibalism? The societal collapse vís-a-vís the microwave oven?
Felipe
Poorly structured and a pretty boring and rambly writing style. He contradicts himself a fair amount and it was a slog to get through certain stretches where he, for example, takes up half a page at a time describing feasts from different parts of history basically like: they had 4000 cows, 200 pigs, 1000 pigeons, ... 12 horses, 15 sea urchins ... 400 freshwater fish, 300 saltwater fish, and not to say anything about the variety of shellfish. There's better ways to describe the gluttony of a kin Poorly structured and a pretty boring and rambly writing style. He contradicts himself a fair amount and it was a slog to get through certain stretches where he, for example, takes up half a page at a time describing feasts from different parts of history basically like: they had 4000 cows, 200 pigs, 1000 pigeons, ... 12 horses, 15 sea urchins ... 400 freshwater fish, 300 saltwater fish, and not to say anything about the variety of shellfish. There's better ways to describe the gluttony of a king or abundance of a feast than flatly listing the grocery list.

It also made it hard to be convinced of anything he said when one of the claims he starts off with is that vegans closest ideological brothers are cannibals. Barring that the book was overall not that interesting and didn't seem particularly well-supported, he also has a weird way of writing about colonial and imperial relations, that is awkwardly phrased *at best*. For example calling the association of watermelons with black Americans a "satirical tradition" or passages such as:

"The best traditional cooking in South Africa is that of the Cape Malays, shipped in by the Dutch in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to provide specialized labor which could not be recruited locally. Their Ramadan feasts display influences garnered from the breadth of the Indian Ocean, and the influence of the food the white master class brought from Holland."

Maybe I'm sensitive but it made me feel kind of weird reading the words "white master class" right after having slavery referred to as "shipped in specialized labor".

I tried my best to justify even two stars to myself. There *are* some parts that I thought were interesting, but one star is for "did not like it" and to be very honest as a whole I did not like it. Finishing it for my book challenge but I figured I'd read enough to fire off a review now that I'm about 2/3 of the way through. Honestly writing this review was a welcome break from reading the book and I'm hesitant to continue.
Maddy Hayes
Honestly this is more of a 3.5--for someone whose goal is to be brief, he sure is fond of using obscure polysyllabic words and gratuitous French.
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