Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Books: Much Depends On Dinner, and The Rituals Of Dinner, by Margaret Visser

I usually read fiction. But when I branch out into nonfiction, I like books that meander over a subject, chewing over facts, giving me really good stories. This is one of those.

Much Depends On Dinner, The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal, by Margaret Visser, follows a meal from beginning to end - corn with salt and butter, chicken with rice, lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice, and ice cream.

The history of salt and the customs associated with it - the Roman "salary", the use of salt as money, the meaning of "above the salt", the history of taxation on salt, that taxation's link to Gandhi's walk to the sea - is fascinating. As is the history of corn and its interweaving into the history and infrastructure of America. And the history of rice and its impact on the cultures that it rules. And so on, for each subject. Just the section on margarine is enormous fun.

It's not a dry, lofty book. It's a happily readable ramble through these subjects. But it's not pure comedy either - there's plenty of solid information, and opinions to chew on. Go read it.

And then go read The Rituals Of Dinner: The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners, by the same author, a similarly enjoyable ramble through the manners and customs associated with eating.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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