The usual suspects are here, sometimes in triplicate: Brilliat Savarin on gourmets, female food-love, and how to gain weight; M.F.K. Fisher on bachelor cooking, the dislike of cabbage, and dinner at France’s famed Monsieur Paul’s in the 1940s; Elizabeth David on the folly of the garlic press, the glories of toast, and English pizza. But Kurlansky’s trail starts much earlier with Plato on cooking (food as a branch of medicine, a notion shared by many modern advertisers), Heroditus on Egyptian dining, and, resoundingly, Mencius, a student of Confucius who, in the third century B.C., implored Chinese leaders to observe saner food and environmental policies.
There is a great deal to digest here, but readers can take small bites at their leisure. Enjoyed in this way, the book provides an endlessly fascinating glimpse of humankind’s second–or is it the first?–greatest pleasure.