Foods That Changed History: How Foods Shaped Civilization from the Ancient World to the Present. By Christopher Cumo. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015. 451 p. Acid-free $100 (ISBN 978-1-1108-3536-0). Ebook available (978-1-4408-3537-7) call for pricing.

Foods that Changed History: How Foods Shaped Civilization from the Ancient World to the Present, is an expansive work with almost 100 entries that cover a wide range of foods that have had a major historical impact. The entries summarize the origin of the foods and then cover the periods in time that they were culturally significant to different societies for a variety of reasons.

It is important to note from the start that this work is intended as an introduction for students to the food studies field. Arranged in an encyclopedic format with alphabetic entries, it is easy to navigate and the entries receive equal treatment throughout. Students from a variety of disciplines would consider this a valuable tool when beginning their research because Cumo has done an excellent job of balancing the dry factual information with the more interesting analysis of how the different foods helped shape different cultures and at times served as the catalyst for major change or discovery. An example of this would be Cumo’s entry on cinnamon that details its role in the spice trade that led to greater exploration on other continents by Europeans. He treats the topic objectively and describes both the positive effects these developments had on European society and the terrible injustices many of the native groups in the new world suffered at the hands of the European explorers.

While this work is interesting and does an admirable job of covering a large number of foods, it is certainly not the only book to cover this topic published in recent years. Fifty Foods that Changed the Course of History, by Bill Price, was published in 2014 (Firefly Books), and covers several of the same foods as this book. The major difference between the two works is that Price uses a chronological format to frame his work, he has a lighter tone throughout, and he covers fewer foods. Each has its strengths, and selection should be based on your patron groups, potential audience, and budgetary constraints.

Overall, this work is an easy to use reference resource that provides an interesting historical overview of a wide range of foods that have directly impacted the development of modern day civilization. Considering the cost and the number of books recently published on this topic, I would recommend this work only for community college or university libraries supporting relevant majors.—Marissa Ellermann, Head of Circulation Services Librarian, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, Illinois


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