rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 1: p. 73
Sources: Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia
Kenneth Burhanna

Reference Librarian, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

In his preface to this work, noted food scholar Ken Albala (Food and Faith in Christian Culture, Pancake: A Global History) characterizes his four volume encyclopedia as the culmination of the 20 volume Food Cultures around the World series, a project that he edited for nearly ten years. He and over a hundred food scholars, writers, and chefs expand on material previously covered by the series and add many new articles, as they attempt to summarize the world’s food culture. In large part they succeed on account of the resource’s treatment of “individual food cultures as discrete units of analysis” (x). Several high quality food encyclopedias, are currently available, but all lack this unique perspective. Katz’s Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (Scribner’s, 2003), is probably the most notable, but differs in that it is organized by topic. Albala’s work provides perhaps the only centralized scholarly resource for comparing a single food topic across cultures, making it a first stop for exploring questions such as, how does restaurant culture in Bulgaria compare with that in France?

The four volumes are organized predominantly around geographic and national distinctions. One hundred fifty-four signed, alphabetically organized entries cover Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Europe. Most entries focus on countries, but when appropriate regional distinctions are made. For example the Basque territory in Europe has an individual entry, despite the fact that it crosses national boundaries. The entries themselves follow a fairly standard format and focus on food within the cultural context of the country or region in question. Entries begin with an overview the country or region. Sections on major food stuffs, cooking, typical meals, eating out, special occasions, and diet and health are included for most entries. Each also includes an engaging “Food Culture Snapshot” that describes a fictionalized native family and how they manage their day-to-day relationship with food. Most entries include at least one recipe for often times exotic sounding dishes like stuffed camel, groundnut stew, or fresh anchovies with escarole. A list of further reading concludes each entry. These range from a few citations to sometimes substantial lists. Black and white photos appear frequently throughout the volumes.

The volume suffers from its lack of cross-referencing and an unwieldy index. A full index is included at the end of each volume that works more as a glorified table of contents than as a true index. Entries are indexed largely by country or region name with the sub-sections broken out by page number. Recipes are also included in the index, but the index does little to augment or expand the reader’s access to the work. The index also is also difficult to read, as the entries wrap, challenging the eye. Despite these drawbacks, this title represents a unique and important addition to the reference literature. It is highly recommended for public and academic libraries.

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