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Rachel Laudan tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of the world’s great cuisines—from the mastery of grain cooking some twenty thousand years ago, to the present—in this superbly researched book. Probing beneath the apparent confusion of dozens of cuisines to reveal the underlying simplicity of the culinary family tree, she shows how periodic seismic shifts in “culinary philosophy”—beliefs about health, the economy, politics, society and the gods—prompted the construction of new cuisines, a handful of which, chosen as the cuisines of empires, came to dominate the globe.
Cuisine and Empire shows how merchants, missionaries, and the military took cuisines over mountains, oceans, deserts, and across political frontiers. Laudan’s innovative narrative treats cuisine, like language, clothing, or architecture, as something constructed by humans. By emphasizing how cooking turns farm products into food and by taking the globe rather than the nation as the stage, she challenges the agrarian, romantic, and nationalistic myths that underlie the contemporary food movement.
"During my forty year culinary career, there have been a select number of books that became touchstones, volumes that seemed to arrive just when inspiration was needed or direction was appropriate, books that somehow enhanced my sense of having found my calling. The newest addition to the list is a work of culinary history by Rachel Laudan."
— Virginia B. Wood
"It seems like every time you hear someone mention processed food, it's accompanied with the words 'bad' or 'unhealthy,' plus a shaking finger. Unless you're author Rachel Laudan."
— Los Angeles Times Daily Dish
"Magnificent . . . Some of Laudan's 'diffusion maps' of particular styles of cuisine are miniature masterpieces of cultural history."
"Epic in range. . . . Its solidity and substance make a change from the day-to-day scatter of information delivered and consumed in tweets and sound bites."
— The Daily Spud
"A fascinating account of the rise and fall of cuisines. . . . Touching on all parts of the globe, Rachel explores human development through the vastly understated tool of food."
— Blue Lifestyle Minute
"A new standard for global culinary history."
"To her impressively thorough research Laudan brings a lifetime that has included practical experience on the farm, in the kitchen, and in the classroom. This means that her exposition is as lucid as it is authoritative. Her bibliography and notes bear witness to her deep learning, and her book, in its scope and originality, gives deserved prominence to a long-neglected theme in world history. It is a triumph, pointing the way to a wholly new kind of historiography that can hold its own with more familiar work on political, economic, social, and intellectual history."
— G. W. Bowersock
"A remarkably detailed, generously illustrated and professionally written nonjudgmental history of the evolution of the world’s cuisines . . . Laudan enlivens the pages with specifics of familiar and unfamiliar foods."
— Harvey Finkel
"Laudan has found not just a new way of telling some familiar stories but a whole new historiographical approach to what is now a copious literature, in a dynamic and exciting book written with the kind of crispness, concision, and eloquence that will make you squirm with delight. . . . A triumphant historical synthesis."
— The World of Fine Wine
"Innovative narrative... Impressively detailed, extraordinarily well-written, deftly organized and presented. Cuisine and Empure: Cooking in World History is a seminal work of outstanding scholarship, remarkably informed and informative."
— Helen Dumont