Demonstrators angrily protesting against globalization have often concentrated on what can be called the McDonald’s Travesty, the supposedly premeditated gastronomic trashing of sublime national cuisine cultures by tasteless American mega-corporate predators. But José Bové—to recall the most infamous of the McDonald’s Travesty warriors—and his angry associates would be better served by spending their time reading the delightful work of Kenneth Kiple. They might then begin to understand that the migration of food and recipes—as well as resistance to it—has been going on for thousands of years, certainly well before the era of refrigerated transport and modern American capitalism.
In the aptly titled A Movable Feast: Ten Millennia of Food Globalization, Kiple traces the origins of virtually all foods and their remarkable dispersion through the centuries and through different countries. A Movable Feast contains any number of fascinating stories under chapters with titles like “Promiscuous Plants of the Northern Fertile Crescent”, “Faith and Foodstuffs” and “Producing Plenty in Paradise.” Kiple takes the reader from the invention of agriculture some 10,000 years ago in what we now call the Neolithic Revolution to the genetically modified (and fast) foods of the 21st century. As he does, it becomes strikingly obvious that most foodstuffs—plants as well as animals—appear to have had extremely peripatetic and interesting individual histories, particularly over the last several hundred years.
Much of the material for A Movable Feast is based on an earlier two-volume work called The Cambridge World History of Food (2000), which Kiple co-edited. A Moveable Feast is not only more compact than its encyclopedic predecessor, but, as the name suggests, it gives the storyline of food globalization. While World History is more of a botany-based reference text, A Movable Feast examines the human social dimension with more avidity. It takes up the influence of monks and missionaries and explorers and traders, right through to today’s biologists, who have given us genetically modified crops and myriad other advances in biotechnology.Spuds on the Move
Consider, for example, the humble white potato, Solanum tuberosum, the fourth most important of the world’s food crops today, even if much criticized for its modern incarnation as a large serving of fries.
The white potato was probably domesticated in the neighborhood of Lake Titicaca in the Andes about 5,000 years ago. By the time the Pizarro expedition reached Peru in the 1530s, this potato was widely cultivated throughout the Andean region and known for its health-giving properties. The Aymara people even calculated time by how long it took to boil a potato.
As Kiple relates,...