Food Is Culture

Massimo Montanari. Translated by Albert Sonnenfeld

Columbia University Press

Food Is Culture

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Pub Date: November 2006

ISBN: 9780231137904

168 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $35.00£30.00

Pub Date: November 2006

ISBN: 9780231510783

168 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $34.99£30.00

Food Is Culture

Massimo Montanari. Translated by Albert Sonnenfeld

Columbia University Press

Elegantly written by a distinguished culinary historian, Food Is Culture explores the innovative premise that everything having to do with food—its capture, cultivation, preparation, and consumption—represents a cultural act. Even the "choices" made by primitive hunters and gatherers were determined by a culture of economics (availability) and medicine (digestibility and nutrition) that led to the development of specific social structures and traditions.

Massimo Montanari begins with the "invention" of cooking which allowed humans to transform natural, edible objects into cuisine. Cooking led to the creation of the kitchen, the adaptation of raw materials into utensils, and the birth of written and oral guidelines to formalize cooking techniques like roasting, broiling, and frying.

The transmission of recipes allowed food to acquire its own language and grow into a complex cultural product shaped by climate, geography, the pursuit of pleasure, and later, the desire for health. In his history, Montanari touches on the spice trade, the first agrarian societies, Renaissance dishes that synthesized different tastes, and the analytical attitude of the Enlightenment, which insisted on the separation of flavors. Brilliantly researched and analyzed, he shows how food, once a practical necessity, evolved into an indicator of social standing and religious and political identity.

Whether he is musing on the origins of the fork, the symbolic power of meat, cultural attitudes toward hot and cold foods, the connection between cuisine and class, the symbolic significance of certain foods, or the economical consequences of religious holidays, Montanari's concise yet intellectually rich reflections add another dimension to the history of human civilization. Entertaining and surprising, Food Is Culture is a fascinating look at how food is the ultimate embodiment of our continuing attempts to tame, transform, and reinterpret nature.

One of the most significant and well-documented among contemporary writers of food-related history and culture, Massimo Montanari has been a household name for a number of years. This book can easily be called a crowning achievement. It does not deal, primarily, with food from the point of view of nutrition; it is rather the work of an anthropologist who knows food literature (and medical and 'literary' literature) as few others and uses his knowledge as an irresistible invitation to travel through a much frequented and yet not adequately mapped territory.

Luigi Ballerini, culinary historian and coauthor of The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book

Montanari writes engagingly about food in ways the general reader is not accustomed to thinking about it.

Beth Archer Brombert, author of Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat

If you've never thought of a book on food and culture as a page turner, think again. In short, lively sections of Massimo Montanari's eye-opening study produce riveting perceptions of food in its broadest cultural perspective. His arguments are as fresh as they are learned and are as likely to offer challenging new perspectives as to turn conventional wisdom upside down. There's no question that his ground-breaking work adds immensely to what we know and how we think about the culture of food and gastronomy.

Carol Field, author of The Italian Baker, Celebrating Italy and In Nonna's Kitchen

A worthwhile indulgence.

Eve Lichtgarn, Associated Content

To read this disarming collection of brief essays is to witness a superbly stocked mind grappling with matters that are vital to human survival.

Tim Morris, Wilson Quarterly

Montanari here has provided students of anthropology with a wonderful text... Recommended.

Library Journal

Eloquent and shrewd.

Ken Hirschkop, Radical Philosophy
Series Editor's Preface
Creating One's Own Food
The Invention of Cuisine
The Pleasure and the Duty of Choice
Food, Language, Identity

About the Author

Massimo Montanari is professor of medieval history and history of food at the University of Bologna. He has achieved wide recognition for his many searching and thoroughly researched studies of culinary traditions. Since 1979 he has authored and coauthored more than a dozen books, including Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History (Columbia), Food: A Culinary History (Columbia), Famine and Plenty: The History of Food in Europe, and the recent Bologna la Grassa.

Albert Sonnenfeld, longtime professor of Romance languages and literature at Princeton and Chevalier Professor of French/Italian at the University of Southern California, is series editor for Columbia University Press's Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History, which has published his translations of Giovanni Rebora's Culture of the Fork and Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari's Food: A Culinary History.