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An Edible History of Humanity

Thursday, February 4, 2021

An Edible History of Humanity (2009) Tom Standage

An Edible History of HumanityForever ago I read a History of the World in 6 Glasses, and found it interesting, so I picked up this, let it languish for awhile, and then finally decided to settle down and read it.

I found many of the historical bits interesting.

It is only within the past 11,000 years or so that humans began to cultivate food deliberately.

(H)umans domesticated animals for the purpose of providing food, starting with sheep and goats in the Near East around 8000 B.C. and followed by cattle and pigs soon afterward. (Pigs were independently domesticated in China at roughly the same time, and the chicken was domesticated in southeast Asia around 6000 B.C.)

There is also some mythology mixed in, that of course fascinated me.

But the historical bits were really what I liked, especially when they upended some of the things I thought I knew.

(W)hy humans switched from hunting and gathering to farming is one of the oldest, most complex, and most important questions in human history. It is mysterious because the switch made people significantly worse off, from a nutritional perspective and in many other ways.

This bit gets really complicated, yet well explained, and was probably worth the price of the book.

He then posits how farming essentially created governments and wealth and (eventually) power imbalances. How it created trade and nations. And how it created the abomination that was the slave trade.

Nobody would do such dangerous and repetitive work at the low salaries planters were offering, which is why the planters relied on slave labor.

This pattern is actually one that should sound familiar to the modern ear, except instead of slaves, it’s illegal immigrants who live in horrible conditions so they can send wages home and make a better life there.

The story then got fairly dry, when we get into Malthus and population growth, but got interesting again when it turned to war and transportation.

Alexander’s rule of thumb, which was still valid centuries later, was that an army could only forage within a four-day radius of its camp, because a pack animal devours its own load within eight days.

The way that warfare was shaped and controlled by food supplies and transportation is one of the most interesting parts of the book, especially when he lays out how supply lines affected the outcome of the American Revolutionary war.

The final chapters were again rather dry, as they focused on Malthus and population growth. Especially considering that they were reiterating something I already knew. But the earlier chapters were well-worth putting up with the slower bits.

Publisher : Bloomsbury USA
Rating: 7.5/10

Categories: 7.5/10, eBook, History, Non-Fiction


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