An Edible History of Humanity
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More than simply sustenance, food historically has been a kind of technology, changing the course of human progress by helping to build empires, promote industrialization, and decide the outcomes of wars. Tom Standage draws on archaeology, anthropology, and economics to reveal how food has helped shape and transform societies around the world, from the emergence of farming in China by 7500 b.c. to the use of sugar cane and corn to make ethanol today. An Edible History of Humanity is a fully satisfying account of human history.
in 1850. Since maize could be grown in areas that were too dry for rice, and on hillsides that could not be irrigated, it added to the food supply and allowed people to live in new places. The uplands of the Yangtze basin were deforested to make way for the production of indigo and jute, for example, and the peasants who grew them lived on maize and sweet potatoes, which grew well in the hills. Another practice that allowed food production to keep pace with a growing population was that of
multiple cropping. When rice is grown in paddies, it absorbs most of its nutrients from water rather than soil, so it can be repeatedly cropped on the same land without the need to leave the land fallow to allow the soil to recover. Farmers in southern China could sometimes produce two or even three crops a year from a single plot of land. In Europe, meanwhile, the new crops played a part in enabling the population to grow from 103 million in 1650 to 274 million in 1850. During the sixteenth
was explicitly acknowledged on a poster produced in 1949 by Douglas, the maker of the C-54 planes that were the mainstays of the airlift. It shows a girl holding up a glass of milk, and hundreds more glasses floating down from passing aircraft in the sky. Under the headline MILK . . . NEW WEAPON OF DEMOCRACY, the poster explains: “In today’s diplomatic Battle for Berlin, hope for democracy is being kept alive for millions in Western Europe by the U.S. Air Force. Flying Douglas aircraft almost
weapon of Democracy” poster produced by Douglas during the Berlin airlift. Subsequent negotiations failed to reach agreement on the future of Germany or Berlin. The crisis spurred the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of Western powers, on April 4, 1949, thus setting the stage for the standoff between America and its allies on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and its allies on the other, in the following decades. The first battle of this Cold
and its geography made it vulnerable to a naval blockade. So it was in Germany that the most intensive efforts were made to find new sources of reactive nitrogen. One approach was to derive it from coal, which contains a small amount of nitrogen left over from the biomass from which it originally formed. Heating coal in the absence of oxygen causes the nitrogen to be released in the form of ammonia. But the amount involved is tiny, and efforts to increase it made little difference. Another