rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 3: p. 270
Sources: World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization
Natalia Tingle

Business Librarian, University of Colorado, Boulder

World Food: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Social Influence from Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Globalization “examines the spectrum of comestibles as they apply to history, politics, economics, medicine, nutrition, ethnicity, worship, and invention” (xix). Mary Ellen Snodgrass, prolific author of reference materials, tackles this immense scope in under 800 pages. There is no shortage of reference materials on food and foodways, and this work’s closest peer, The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (Scribner’s, 2003), won the Dartmouth Medal in 2004. Also, a number of this work’s entries have been handled in previous reference works of their own (examples include: Food Additives, Coffee, and Healing Foods).

The 300-plus entries are well researched and often absorbing, each weaving the story of an ingredient or custom through history. Recipes and black-and-white photographs are peppered throughout the work. A topic finder groups entries into seventeen themes such as “Customs, Lore, Religion” and “Meals and Courses.”

The author follows a chronological format for many of the entries, beginning with a definition of the topic, its earliest origins, and tracing highlights throughout time up to the present. For example, the “Condiments” entry begins with a listing of tastes as diverse as duck sauce, whipped cream, sofrito, and ketchup as a way of introducing the many different ways condiments are used, followed by a brief chronology of the first recorded uses of condiments. Subheadings lead the reader through “Medieval Advances,” “Post-Columbian Flavor Boom,” and “Pre-Modern Innovations.” The effort to include non-Western tastes and trends is notable and consistent throughout the content. Biographical entries cover historical figures of particular influence in culinary trends, namely explorers, horticulturists, and celebrity chefs. Maintaining the social focus, fifty-three entries generalize the diet and cuisine of groups by region or period, such as “Indian Diet and Cuisine,” “Paleolithic Diet,” “Nomad Diet and Cuisine,” and “Soul Food.” As the entries in World Food range from a few paragraphs to three pages, the depth of treatment is necessarily limited. Snodgrass manages this limitation with “see also” references and citations for further research.

Particular attention is paid to the supplemental materials: the chronology, glossary, bibliography, appendix, and index. Following the alphabetic entries is a chronology which begins with the control of fire, circa 498,000 BCE., and marks agricultural, culinary, and social events through early 2012. The appendix, “Herbal Foods and Uses,” is presented as a table with three columns: “Herb” (for example, bistort), “Food Use” (roasted rhizome, soup, flour, salad), “Curative Use, Health Benefits” (enteritis, dysentery, skin irritation, bleeding). While this is an interesting compilation, it lacks context and references. The glossary is short and includes terms such as “hippophagy” and “idiocuisine,” alongside the less-exotic “colloid,” “omnivore,” and “roux.” The work closes with eighteen pages of bibliography (primary and secondary sources listed separately), and an impressive index.

The scope is broad for two volumes. An exhaustive treatment of food and foodways across the globe and throughout history requires more space if consistent depth is to be achieved, but this encyclopedia offers a very good overview, and the author makes the content accessible, opening doors to further study. Engaging and readable, World Food is recommended for larger undergraduate and public libraries, and those with strong culinary collections.

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