Food is Culture is one of Montanari’s most-read books. Massimo Montanari is a professor of Medieval History at the University of Bologna and is also one of the world’s most recognized experts in food studies. He is also one of the founders and editors of the popular magazine Food & History.
I found this book thanks to my cousin, who has a master’s degree in gastronomy. And I’m so glad I did. Food has a great place in our lives, and I saw that we often neglect it and thus a massive culture.
The book begins with a short history of food. Two short sections about time and space are my favourites. He explains that the problem of whether food is suitable according to time or place is now gone. He also enjoyable tells the change from the first ages to the present day. It explains how food shows the difference between classes and how it changes over time.
Cassiodorus, the minister of King Theodorus, stated in the sixth century: “Only ordinary people are content with what the local environment offers. The prince’s desk must offer so many varieties that one can marvel when someone sees that table.” However, it is now possible to reach different foods all over the world. Even if a particular food doesn’t grow in our geography, they are as far as the next market. That is because we have now planes, ships, trucks and cold chain systems. Now we have no idea which food to call local and exotic.
Food is culture and a lot more
While we can eat strawberries in the winter, we can easily eat broccoli if we want in summer. In fact, the world has become a global village in terms of food. Thanks to the supermarkets, we can easily find any food we wish, whether it is growing kilometres away from us or not during the season.
Massimo Montanari very nicely explains the need for the fork, the symbolic power (and change) of meat, the cultural attitude attributed to hot and cold food, the link between food and class distinction, the symbolic features of certain foods, or the economic benefits of religious holidays with a wealth of knowledge. While Food is Culture explains nature and how we have been trying to change it for centuries and adapt it to ourselves, it makes us think about what will happen in the future. If you are interested in food and food culture, I recommend you to read this excellent book. It is a small and informative book that can help you make exciting discoveries. Enjoy!
Food is Culture
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 rich reflections 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.
Massimo Montanari, currently Professor of Medieval History at Bologna University, is a scholar in Food studies. His interest in the subject stems from his researches and studies in Medieval Agrarian History.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: