CULTURE AND CUISINE: A Journey Through the History of Food by Jean-FranÇois Revel

CULTURE AND CUISINE: A Journey Through the History of Food

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Eleven adventurous if scattershot essays by a French political commentator (Without Marx or Jesus, 1974) with a far-ranging knowledge of the culinary past and a lot of opinions about the present. In the passage from ancient Greece to 19th-century France, there are abundant quotations from the few ancient recipe-books extant; generous snippets of Juvenal and Horace; menus from Renaissance banquets; accounts of the successive shifts of taste in 17th- and 18th-century France; and thoughtful observations about the gradual internationalization of the higher cuisine--with all sorts of possibilities both for mindless bastardization and for delightful invention. Revel does not attempt to stuff this material into conceptual straitjackets; but he repeatedly returns to the point that the conflicting pulls of ""popular"" and ""erudite"" cuisines continually reshape taste and practice, in every era including, our own. Not everything here is precisely documented (the claim that ""ovens were more or less unknown"" in the Middle Ages until the 13th century must be taken on faith); and the translation occasionally suggests less than ideal familiarity with English culinary terms past (""seeds of Paradise"" for ""grains of Paradise"") and present (""morilles"" for ""morels""). Those looking for a neat and minutely documented history of the subject should see rather Reay Tannahill's Food in History (1973). With no pretensions to historical completeness or impartiality, Revel has a lot of fun investigating some delightful material. And his general perspective on the competing attractions of ""real food"" and fanciful experiment--each in its way part of the logic of culinary history--is a welcome note of good sense nowadays.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1982
Publisher: Doubleday