Have you read “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen? I read it as an adult, since every kid around me had consumed it. I wanted to be in on the cultural conversation. After reading it and talking to fans of Paulsen’s work, it was clear the undercurrent in all of his survival stories is the same: it’s about the food.
Our desire for food is, of course, attached to our survival. But once our daily nutritional needs are met, it’s so much more. Food can be pleasure, entertainment, and a way to display socio-economic status. Enter “The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World” by Lizzie Collingham.
The book is detailed, full of dates and stats. Written by an academic, it is a bit dense at times but I still found myself returning to the book again and again. Gulping down chapter after chapter. There are so many tantalizing insights connecting what we eat today to a past we rarely think about. Collingham breaks down how although we think of a cup of sweetened tea as British, the English tea time is actually a result of slavery, trade, political power, agricultural innovation, and more. “By the mid nineteenth century there could be nothing more British than a cup of sweet tea. And yet the drink was an infusion of a Chinese plant acquired in exchange of opium grown in Bengal.”
Recommended for history buffs and lovers of culinary creativity, “The Taste of Empire” is an intriguing look at who we are, what we eat, and how Britain created a global food trade.