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Food: A Cultural Culinary History

Narrated by: Ken Albala
Length: 18 hrs and 22 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (61 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Eating is an indispensable human activity. As a result, whether we realize it or not, the drive to obtain food has been a major catalyst across all of history, from prehistoric times to the present. Epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said it best: "Gastronomy governs the whole life of man."

In fact, civilization itself began in the quest for food. Humanity's transition to agriculture was not only the greatest social revolution in history, but it directly produced the structures and institutions we call "civilization."

In 36 fascinating lectures, award-winning Professor Albala puts this extraordinary subject on the table, taking you on an enthralling journey into the human relationship to food. With this innovative course, you'll travel the world discovering fascinating food lore and culture of all regions and eras - as an eye-opening lesson in history as well as a unique window on what we eat today.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2013 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2013 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • tc
  • 2018-11-17

Amazing

I absolutely adored this series and have been recommending it to anyone who will listen.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Enthusiastic and informative

If you love cultural history, this is the book for you. Through the lens of food, you get a deep and informative look at the history and culture of peoples around the world from ancient times to the modern. Myths are debunked and surprising facts are uncovered. The narrator's presentation brings it all to life without sacrificing any of the information nor making the lectures dry and unpalatable. One of the best I've listened to from the Great Courses series.

#Audible1

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Best audiobook I've purchased on Audible to date

Very Informative, interesting, and goes into a great depth. speaker is very entertaining. loved it

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Good Background

I was really enjoying this course. Learning about the history of food, cultural dishes, spices and such was fascinating. The Author seemed to know his material. Only problem I found was that once he ventured outside of his focus he seemed to get a little unorganized.
The biggest issue I had was the later lectures on modern culture and food. There seemed to be a bit of preaching about the modern culture and food. With a little ignorance about certain things. At one point he claims that some modern fast food franchises just heat up pre-cooked (as in that's how the restaurant received them) for each order. There were a few other things along that line that seemed to be half baked as well.
As a general historical piece I do recommend it,

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Love it! I wish all my courses are like this!!

Really like his voice, the organization of the course content, and the storytelling way of historical events. Wish I was there for the class to see him making food. Excellent course and would recommend it to everyone!

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This is a Western food history course

This audio presentation is really two courses spliced together. The first is an academically rigorous course on Mediterranean, Western European, and American culinary history. It is properly contextualized in its social, cultural, political, economic, and even medical background, but this completeness often makes it plodding, especially in the first half. It will teach you everything you wanted to know about the history of Western cuisine, and then some.

By contrast, the second, much shorter course offers the briefest of surveys of non-Western food cultures, with minimal consideration of the possibility that they may change over time or differ across communities. The pace is quick and the tone is glib, essentialist, and occasionally entertaining. The purpose seems to be to add context to the first course, and conclusions are often limited to those which had an impact on Western eating patterns. This second course is well-suited to the listener who wants some interesting anecdotes, written from a Western perspective, and nothing more.

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Wonderful and enlightening

This course was engaging and so full of unexpected connections . Good pacing, speaker has a great sense of timing and humour!

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  • Jessica
  • 2013-12-28

One of my top 3 favorite courses!

Would you consider the audio edition of Food: A Cultural Culinary History to be better than the print version?

I love the audio editions of these courses, but would love to have access to some printed materials to go along with it.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I thoroughly enjoyed all the chapters. Some of the stand outs included the chapter on how agriculture and food gathering gave rise to civilization; the section on food in Greece and Rome, and the first cookbooks; the section about food in the Muslim culture, how animals must be humanely killed and a prayer said over them, basically thanking them for sustaining humans by giving up their own life; and the section on French cooking. I really like the way he explained GMOs, making the science simple and easy to understand. Prof Albala also did a great job wrapping up the course with "food for thought," discussing what the future might bring in an world whose resources are dwindling and whose population is growing.

What does Professor Ken Albala bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Prof Albala is an exceptional narrator and storyteller. Very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He really pulls you into the story. And he has a great sense of humor. You never get bored.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. Not that it wasn't riveting. It's just that it is very, very long, more than 30 hours. And it was packed with a ton of information, giving an overview that begins with hunter-gatherers, on through to the various ages and cultures, and closing with present food trends and what the future might have in store. I usually listened for 2 or 3 hours at a time and then had to stop and digest the information. I wrote down some of the names of the people and cookbooks he mentioned so that I could do further exploration later on the topics that interested me most.

Any additional comments?

If you love food and you love history, you will love this course. I'm a huge fan of the Teaching Company and have purchased about 20 courses from them and Audible over the years. This one ranks up there as one of my top 3 favorites.

112 of 116 people found this review helpful

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  • colleen
  • 2015-05-12

A history class reinvented.

I bought all "The Great Courses" when they went on sale and this one is my favorite so far. Great narrator, interesting facts, and packed with history. Easy and engrossing listen. If you liked Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" you'll probably like this one.

54 of 57 people found this review helpful

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  • Marjee
  • 2014-11-19

What an enjoyable lecture

I'm a vegetarian and a foodie and I adored this course. There are so many connections Albala made that I had wondered about before. For instance, I've noticed that preparing Middle Eastern cuisine uses many of the same spices I'll pull out for when we're making Mexican food. I *just* made the connection that this has so much to do with the Arab presence in Spain. I also loved learning about the changes in diet and cooking habits from the time of ancient Greece throughout the Middle Ages and thinking about cuisines I don't normally think about, like what the Vikings ate and where in the world those foods persist.

This lecture is a blast and I've already started to re-listen to it and use what I've learned to regale colleagues and make small talk at parties. If you love food and enjoy cooking, you'll love this one!

34 of 36 people found this review helpful

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  • Rick
  • 2014-08-03

Have listened multiple times

Would you listen to Food: A Cultural Culinary History again? Why?

Yes, this lecturer is very accessible - easy to listen to and draws you in. The content is rich, and I particularly enjoyed the example recipes he shared across the cultures and time periods described.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Doris
  • 2014-06-03

A Little Over-ambitious

Food: A Culinary History covers foodways from the Stone Age to the modern vegetarian and organic movements. I enjoyed this quite a bit, and Prof. Albala certainly covers a lot of ground. For me, it was a bit too much ground. At several points, I felt I was listening to a rapid-fire list of foods, as he attempted to provide as complete an overview of each culture's foods as possible. Peacock's tongues! Pickled goldfish! Gold leaf! Overwhelming detail.
I think I would have enjoyed it more if he had talked a little less in each culture about the exotic foods the upper classes ate and picked one or two foods that each culture contributed or excelled in and talked in detail about that (as he did with French haute cuisine). More depth, a little less breadth. I've just finished the lecture series, but I would be hard pressed to remember many important details - it seemed like a flood of details, with no strong focus. He clearly knows his material, I'd like to read more of his writings, but preferably on a single topic.

40 of 43 people found this review helpful

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  • SamanthaG
  • 2013-09-02

Very interesting course

Wish I'd had college professors like this one. Prof. Albala was animated and enthusiastic about his subject and held my attention. I especially enjoyed the portion about food in ancient Rome and the very early recipes that still exist from there and other places a s well. His discourse puts a human face on the people who preceded us and brings them to life through the very human process of nourishment.

37 of 41 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 2013-08-10

This is a fabulous lecture series

I have been a fan and customer of the attaching company for years. I like this format better.
dr. Albala has a great command of history, and science. he is an expert guide to a world view of food throughout the ages. I enjoyed his lectures immensely.

My only complaint is that the chapters are not well separated as usual for the iPhone version.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Kathryn
  • 2016-08-29

Great information, terrible finish

The professor is extremely engaging, interesting to listen to, and full of knowledge. He does a great job at weaving culinary trends and changes into traditional history. He does assume a fairly solid background knowledge; you might be lost if you're not strong in history.

He visits Asia and Africa briefly - the touch is nice, but as he admits, it's a very shallow overview.

Unfortunately, as he moves into the 20th & 21st centuries, the lectures begin to resemble a soap box. He goes off against "so-called labor saving devices," large industries, and modern conveniences (like cans). He has good information still, but it's much harder to take in amidst all the anti-progress views.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan C. Lawhorne
  • 2014-06-06

Excellent history of world through lens of food

If you could sum up Food: A Cultural Culinary History in three words, what would they be?

Informative and entertaining

Any additional comments?

An intriguing, panoramic trip through the history of the world through the story of food

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • s healey
  • 2016-01-14

Great survey of a history from a unique lens

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I really enjoyed this survey of history from the perspective of food. As Professor Albala notes early on, we often attribute advances in society to revolutions in warfare or even individuals, but rarely do we think about the driving factor of food. It was a great perspective and showed the interplay of how food changed history and history changed food.

What other book might you compare Food: A Cultural Culinary History to and why?

For me it suffers from comparison with John McWhorter's lectures on "The Story of Human Language." Both are surveys of a important topics that we deal with everyday but arguably know little about. Both are done by energetic and engaging lecturers, but McWhorters lectures are better both in his delivery as well as logical packaging of the different topics.

Have you listened to any of Professor Ken Albala’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but I definitely would again.

Any additional comments?

Overall a great lecture series and would definitely recommend, but my two big critiques would be that:

1) It suffers from the normal pitfall of surveys in that it is often rushed and that because his structure is largely chronological and geographic his comparisons across times or cultures are limited. I would have really enjoyed more comparisons or contrasts between different times or cultures to see what themes tend to reoccur or stand out as truly unique. He does highlight it occasionally, but I would have enjoyed more focus there.

2) Toward the end, his lectures become much more one sided. His view on the modern industrialization of food is understandable given his passion for food but it often seems one sided. He additionally makes a lot of small but obvious comments on politics toward the end such as the negative impacts of capitalism that aren't backed up with any real analysis. This is probably just another time limitation of historical surveys, but they felt a lot more like personal opinions than analysis.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful