Food Fights & Culture Wars: A Secret History of Taste by Tom Nealon, Overlook Mar. 2017. 224p. illus. Overlook, hardcover, $30 (9781468314410). 641.
Tracing the history of culinary practice, Nealon uncovers some fascinating and significant relationships between food and seemingly disparate historical events. Diverse elements, from carp to chocolate to barbecue, each turn out to have significantly influenced historical eras and episodes. Recounting the history of plague, Nealon observes that seventeenth-century Paris largely escaped the devastation that depopulated London, Venice, Milan, and Rouen. This fortunate anomaly may well have arisen due to Parisians’ obsession with lemonade, as discarded fruit rinds acted as a natural insecticide. Nealon keeps his prose lighthearted, but never to the point of undermining his deep historical and cultural research. Those who’ve hosted less-than-successful dinner parties need not berate themselves. Nealon notes that table arguments between Robespierre and Danton set in motion some of the French Revolution’s most sanguinary chapters. Nealon’s ever-entertaining text wraps around lavish, copious illustration, drawn in large part from the collections of the British Library, and they deserve closest scrutiny.