Pick of the picture books: A History of Food

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The Independent Culture

In a history of human appetite and consumption that stretches from mammoth steak, through farming and stock-breeding, past the discovery of cocoa all the way to Escoffier and beyond, how did we end up in a century in which our preoccupation with food centres on obesity, genetic modification and celebrity diet fads?

A History of Food, by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat (Wiley-Blackwell, £22.99), first published in France in 1987, has been updated and re-issued with a new introduction in an effort to address this. This excellent guide is an exploration of man's relationship with food from the discovery of fire onwards, and as such portrays a complicated journey, increasingly rooted in sociology and psychology rather than in the physiological need of food for survival. An introduction by the New York Times food writer Betty Fussell explores man's relation-ship with hunger; 70 black-and-white illustrations and a section of glossy colour plates illustrate our transition from a vegetable and cereal-based diet to one in which westerners expect meat at every meal; the environmental implications of this appetite are starkly laid out. Here, a world of plenty is contrasted with a world of want.