Book Review: Moveable Feasts

Moveable Feasts:  From Ancient Rome To The 21st Century, The Incredible Journeys Of The Food We Eat, by Sarah Murray

It may be said fairly that the author is perhaps the exact opposite in her views to that of the locavore movement.  There are of course a great many people who celebrate the idea that people should grow food locally as much as possible because of the supposed negative effects of the transportation of food, but the author reminds the reader that transportation expenses are far from the only ways that food has an effect on energy, and that using excessive water for irrigation is by no means an advantage over shipping one’s food from a long way away.  And in looking at the ways that food has been shipped, the author puts attention on some of the most important aspects of logistics in terms of the preservation of food as well as the way that food storage had an impact on the way that areas were able to develop their agricultural resources as well as their trade, and also shape the way we eat to this present day.  As someone who cares a great deal about logistics and is interested in the movement of food, it is obvious this book had a lot of interest for me.

In a bit more than 200 pages the author discusses some of the essential aspects of food transport in twelve chapters.  After an introduction the author begins by talking about how the amphorae helped deliver olive oil to Rome and allow it to feed its hungry populace (1).  After that the author looks at the travel of Norwegian salmon to China (2) and also the way that battlefield food (namely the tin can) fueled packaging technology (3).  The author looks at the plain/plane fair of the Berlin Airlift (4) and then examines the travels of curry (5) in India.  The relationship between bananas and the politics of Central America (6) is then explored, as is the biochemistry of fermentation in Mongolia (7) and the importance of the oak barrel in wine production (8).  The author then looks at tea clippers (9) and the travel of strawberries on jet planes (10).  Finally, the author concludes the book with a discussion of buffalo grain and its impact on architecture (11), the use of old war weaponry in food development (12), along with an epilogue, acknowledgments, select bibliography, a note on sources, as well as an index.

There is a great deal of interest in this particular volume, not least the fact that the author demonstrates the importance of food storage and transportation technologies to our daily life in ways that are immensely complex and that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  Whether that involves making wine and artificially putting oak sticks inside the wine to give it the proper bouquet to transporting fruit in container ships or airplanes and examining what food gets tagged by people on plane trips, the author has a distinctly interesting and varied interest in the transportation of food from the ancient world to today.  Indeed, the author ponders how it was that the amphorae were able to transport olive oil without having it spoil on the ships of the time given the lack of sealing that was present in the ancient world’s transportation items.  The author’s profound respect for the ways that food is transported leads her to be generally optimistic about the way that foods will likely to continue to be imported, whether that means Spanish oil growing regions starting to cooperate so that people are happy to buy Spanish olive oil instead of having it shipped to Italy first to borrow Italy’s (often undeserved) reputation for olive oil quality, or whether it means pondering over the 1954 removal of Arbenz as president of Guatemala and its relationship to United Fruit.


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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