Book Reviews

Massimo Montanari: Food is Culture


The author is a professor of medieval history and history of food at the University of Bologna. Bologna enjoys the title gastronomic capital of Italy

The erudite and extremely well informed author writes how the gathering of food, growing it, processing same, its preparation and even its consumption collectively contribute to culture.

The narrative delves into details of how gathering (foods) and hunting (of wild animals) made up parts of primitive societies because of their economic, nutritional and health properties.

All of these important factors prompted such societies to domesticate animals, and start agriculture and ultimately create permanent dwellings and towns.

Professor Montanari starts with a discussion of cooking to transform natural foods to render them easier to masticate and digest, which in turn lead to the invention of kitchens, cooking utensils, and eventually develop recipes that were first handed down orally, and later, more formally written down for posterity.

The spice trade and its eventual commercial repercussions, Renaissance recipes, and later an interest in healthy foods are discussed in detail.

All topics are covered under four chapters
Creating One’s own food
The innovation of cuisine
The pleasure and duty of choice
Food language and identity

Each chapter contains five specific topics i.e Nature and Culture, Even nature is culture etc.

Professor Montanari, being a European writes differently than a North American academic would, and this gives the narrative a special stylistic ‘flavour”.

  1. Sonnenfeld, a professor of Romance languages, has masterfully translated the text.

A link connecting specific recipes to festive periods i.e Christmas, Easter, Lent, and others, enlightens the reader as to how religion led to the development of specialties.
Food Is Culture clearly explains how much of you food represents and how it contributes to your health as well as longevity.
Even if you are not particularly interested in food you will find out how much you depend on it for your mental and physical well being.
Some readers may think the narrative to be too verbose but you might recall how Mediterranean academics write.
Instead, the translator decided to stick to the original version rather than attempt to transliterate.

Highly recommended.

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