A History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat – review

A history of food This book should be republished and retitled THE History of Food. It’s probably the most remarkable book on the subject I have ever had the pleasure of reading. A History of Food is huge in size and comprehensive in depth and breadth of subject.

The author, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, is a celebrated historian, journalist and writer and has published seventeen books in France on food and its history. Although a serious academic she writes with a light and charming style.

The original edition of A History of Food is considered as a master work. We all profess to love “the classics” but in truth we mostly read them when forced to at school. We say we read them in adulthood when in fact we only buy them to make our bookshelves look intellectual! I had therefore not expected to enjoy this new edition as much as I do.

A History of Food is a “good read” with all that those words imply. It’s absorbing, accessible and easy to dip into. There are 750-odd pages here so you will not be rushing through this in a weekend. It isn’t a book you will choose as your commuting reading matter nor will you read it propped up in bed with your late-night cocoa. (The weight alone will bring on the sensation of either indigestion or cracked ribs.)

Maguelonne has penned a book stuffed with facts but presented with a delightful padding of cultural observation, anecdote and folk tale. This could so easily have been a useful but dry encyclopeadia of food but instead it’s a colourful journey through the historic and social evolution of ingredients and their place in our lives.

The chapter headings will spark your curiosity: Spice at any Price, The Lure of Sugar, Tea and Philosophy. No food type is omitted, no adventure glamorized and no injustice minimised. A History of Food gives the facts and context for each and every narrative and will encourage you to regard some foods with a bit more respect.

I have been immersed in A History of Food for several days. Each page offers more fascinating stories, more tales of daring-do and more characters who have changed the way we eat and even the way we view our daily bread. If you love food, if you love history then this is the book for you. It’s amazing value.

A History of Food
Author: Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat
Published by: Wiley-Blackwell
Price: £22.99
ISBN 978-1-4051-8119-8


Food history book review by Chrissie Walker © 2018