Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom: Excursions into Eating, Culture, and the Past

Overview

Food is a central element of expression in all cultures. What and how we eat, and with whom, reveals much about our desires and relationships. In Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, Sidney W. Mintz shows how our choices about food are shaped by a vast and increasingly complex global economy. Taking as examples everything from sugar's ascendance over honey as the most commonly used sweetener to the worldwide distribution of Coca-Cola, Mintz demonstrates how our consumption of a food can be shaped by a variety of ...
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Overview

Food is a central element of expression in all cultures. What and how we eat, and with whom, reveals much about our desires and relationships. In Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, Sidney W. Mintz shows how our choices about food are shaped by a vast and increasingly complex global economy. Taking as examples everything from sugar's ascendance over honey as the most commonly used sweetener to the worldwide distribution of Coca-Cola, Mintz demonstrates how our consumption of a food can be shaped by a variety of external forces, including moral judgments and the demands of war. Mintz goes on to argue that even under the most severe constraints, our choices can hold enormous significance for us. The title essay explores the way enslaved Africans' creative adaptation of their cuisine to New World conditions offered a symbolic hope of freedom. Other essays probe contemporary American eating habits: Why does the average weight of Americans keep increasing, even as dieting and healthy eating become more popular? Is there such a thing as an American cuisine? Should it matter to us?
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Editorial Reviews

Courtney Weaver

Sidney Mintz is a consummate academic -- he teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins -- and reading his new essay collection, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom, it's easy to poke fun at his dissertation-like chapter titles ("The Conquest of Honey by Sucrose," "Food and Its Relationship to Concepts of Power") and his slightly giddy excitement at how food provides an interdisciplinary thread between the wide worlds of anthropology, semiotics, class and politics. Like a favorite college professor, Mintz can wax enthusiastic on everything from the power of a soft drink to the type of person who prefers Gallo to Lafite Rothschild.

A few rough patches aside, Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom is far more than a dry, tenure-driven exercise. Mintz is particularly effective when he addresses the title topic: the act of choosing what and how one eats. Why, he asks, do some food habits change easily and swiftly -- as in North America's readiness to accept sushi? Why are others enduring, such as Russia's predilection for black bread instead of maize? What did it mean when World War II servicemen wrote home that they were "fighting for the right to drink Coca-Cola?"

Just as interesting are the essays that attempt to define the word "cuisine" (Mintz bravely asserts that there is no such thing as American cuisine), and those that dig into the class ramifications of our tastes. What makes one food -- say, a potato -- less elegant than ginger root? Mintz would believe that history is stepping in, urging us to link "potato" with "famine," and thus, "peasant." Food fads are connected to class as well, he notes. Remember blackened redfish? Mintz disdainfully sniffs: "[the] swift vulgarization of its preparation, substitution of other fish for redfish, cheapening of the recipe. . . another fad soon forgotten."

For some readers, Mintz's book might occasionally seem myopic. Feminists, for example, may be annoyed that he barely glances at the links between food and body image. Yet as Mintz himself would point out, his subject is so all-encompassing that several books of varying lengths could be written on each chapter subject alone.

Inadvertently, Mintz brings up another curious class-related point: What class of person has the time, the money and, most importantly, the freedom to dedicate him or herself to speculations on the multiple meanings of marzipan? If you're in that lucky minority, Mintz's book just may be your cup of tea. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this collection of scholarly essays, some of which have been published previously, Mintz (Sweetness and Power) examines aspects of the intricate relationship between food and human culture. In several interesting articles, he discusses the symbolic power of food as shown by the case of Africans, who though forcibly transplanted to the Caribbean in colonial times, succeeded in creating a cuisine for themselves and their masters, even under the oppressive conditions of slavery. Mintz traces the complex rivalry between honey and sugar as the primary sweeteners and how the ascendancy of sugar was tied to economic development in Europe. In one controversial piece, Mintz argues that there is no such thing as an American cuisine. According to the author, although patterns of immigration peculiar to the U.S. have resulted in regional diets, a national cuisine that is cooked, eaten and talked about has not evolved (yet). (Aug.)
Library Journal
Mintz has drawn on his academic training as an anthropologist, his father's interest in food, and his mother's interest in politics to produce this relatively short yet scholarly analysis of "what modern life has meant, in relation to food." His central thesis is that food is an essential fulcrum in the leverage of power. He examines history, eating rituals, cuisine, and cultural behavior, convincingly extracting supporting evidence. Eight eclectic chapters resembling meditations consider slavery, power, sugar and sweets, and the concept of cuisine in general and an American cuisine in particular. Because Mintz wrote each chapter at different times, there is a somewhat patchwork quality to the book, but that is more a matter of style than content; readers curious about food history and anthropology, world hunger, and our own eating habits will find valuable information here.Wendy Miller, Lexington P.L., Ky.
Barbara Jacobs
With these seven succinct and well-argued essays, a noted Johns Hopkins anthropologist could conceivably have the power to change attitudes about our dietary habits. At the very least, Mintz's thought-provoking prose offers a new way to look at U.S. consumption. Each scholarly essay presents a research-supported conclusion bound to amaze if not to startle. Among the revelations: Coca-Cola became a global beverage of choice because of World War II, the question about sugar's inclusion in diets seems to center on moral not just nutritional issues, and no national cuisine exists in any country (the cooking history of a nation is merely a composite of regional cuisines). For those for whom the subject of food represents mind over matter.
Booknews
Mintz (anthropology, Johns Hopkins U.) writes provocatively and engagingly about eating as it defines our nature as living creatures--our choices hold enormous significance for us. He shows how eating is influenced by a variety of external forces, including moral judgments and the demands of war. The eight essays include some that have been published before, and some new ones. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807046289
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 8/1/1996
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Introduction 1
2 Food and Its Relationship to Concepts of Power 17
3 Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom 33
4 The Conquest of Honey by Sucrose 50
5 Sugar and Morality 67
6 Color, Taste, and Purity 84
7 Cuisine: High, Low, and Not at All 92
8 Eating American 106
Notes 125
Works Cited 135
Index 145
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