Do food books taste as good as they look?

I browse on Amazon Books. A lot. Five years ago, if I saw a book that sounded interesting, I would buy it on impulse. That might be the reason there are so many books on my shelves that sit unread. I have gained only slightly more self control. Which means I go to Amazon’s site everyday and stare at the books I want to buy, then quickly navigate away from the page before I add it to my cart. Or worse… hit the dreaded “Buy with 1-click” button. Why was that invented? To torture me?!

Let’s just say it’s a work in progress. Just because I am trying to make a dent in “The Collection” before I add more to it, doesn’t mean I won’t buy any more books (I already have). It just means exerting some self control and some patience. If I am lucky, they may drop in price!

Lately, during my perusal of the online bookstore, I keep stopping at a certain type of book. Food history. I am not sure what caused this trend, since I don’t normally read these kinds of books, but I am fascinated by them. It might have started after hearing an author interview on NPR radio, but whatever the reason, I want to read them. Here are a few books I thought sounded interesting.

It all started with this book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. Clearly this book isn’t about food, but drinks, however I feel like they are both in the consumable category, so go with me on this. I downloaded the sample of the e-book on my Kindle, which was really engaging. Standage says that each period in the history of man has a beverage associated with it: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and pop (or soda for you weirdos out there). His theory is that these beverages played a major role in the shaping of society. It is strange to think that life is driven by a drink, but when you really think about it, it makes sense. Standage also has a book about the history of the world through food.

While looking at books about a history of the world, I came upon Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I also downloaded this sample on my Kindle. The book tells us about how something we take for granted was once the world’s hottest commodity. It was once “rare,” and therefore heavily sought after, because look at all it can do. Kurlansky traces the path of salt throughout the world, and just like in the previous book, talks about how it has shaped society. I’ll admit, it doesn’t sound as interesting as A History of the World in 6 Glasses, but together I think they form a great picture of why life is the way it is today.

If you like the idea about the history of salt, how about learning something about black pepper? Well, you can with Spice: The History of Temptation by Jack Turner. It’s another interesting look at something we use daily, but rarely, if ever, think about. The book talks about the history of the spice, and also how and why it was used. However, spices don’t interest me a whole lot, so I can’t quite understand why I want to read about salt and pepper. Is it more for the impact they had on our world? But with a couple spices and a few drinks, we are seeing the world form before our very eyes.

Another book I thought was interesting was the history of the banana. Okay, after re-reading that sentence, it really doesn’t sound that interesting. But something is drawing me to it. In Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Dan Koeppel tells not only the history of the amazing edible, but also how man has used it to his advantage. It is also an appeal to bring attention to the loss of many banana varieties. Once again, after reading that last sentence, why am I so interested in this book?!

From one fruit to another (because it is a fruit), there is a book about tomatoes! Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook seemed very interesting despite the fact that I absolutely despise tomatoes. Estabrook talks about how one third of the countries tomatoes come from Florida, where they become so injected with pesticides in order to survive the climate, that they become completely altered from what they once were. It is another look at American farming culture and where our food comes from.

So what is the appeal about these beverage/spice/food books that has gotten me so enthralled? Is it because I haven’t bought a book in so long that I am dying for something… anything?! I honestly don’t know. Maybe I will buy A History of the World in 6 Glasses and become so utterly bored that I will give up on the genre all together. Maybe I will end of discovering a new fascination: the history of our world as told by our consumable products. Or maybe I am just really hungry when I am at work and browsing Amazon.

Has anyone read any of these books and have some food for thought for me? (Pun intended, but not funny, so I apologize.)

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