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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 My 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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  • Jessica
  • WOODLAND HILLS, CA, United States
  • 12-28-13

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.

40 of 41 people found this review helpful

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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.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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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.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

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  • Marjee
  • Washington DC
  • 11-19-14

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!

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

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  • colleen
  • ANCHORAGE, AK, United States
  • 05-12-15

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.

26 of 28 people found this review helpful

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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.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Interesting - Includes Good Supporting History

Resigning myself to the Professor's lisp wasn't hard (considering the topic), and I barely noticed it as the book went on. The professor included a lot of support history, which I found valuable, though on the general history the professor threw-in a lot of his own off-hand conjectures on human dynamics (why people were the way they were or why they did what they did), many of which I found peculiar, or, from my experience, wrong-headed.

The culinary history was first-rate, however, and some of the opulent banquets described were mind-blowing (which has inspired me to embark on a philosophical piece tentatively titled "Opulent Banquets of Primitive Mind" - for people were as philosophically clueless then as they are now). Intriguing was the Lombardian etiquette system that the European elite adopted.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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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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Fascinating

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

I'd definitely listen to this again; as with most of the Great Courses, I feel that there is so much information packed into each lecture that periodically circling back for more will be inevitable.

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

Absolutely.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Fiona
  • 12-07-15

Informative, interesting and entertaining.

I very much enjoyed this book, a good mix of facts with narrative context. Easy to listen to, informative and full of interesting information. I listened to this book for the most part with my 13 year old son. We listened to chunks at a time and both looked forward to the next section.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-19-16

Oh, dear, poor America!

I find the last chapter particularly afflicting, the author's predictions, mainly for America, will no doubt cause a complete breakdown of society...

The course (as most great courses) is mainly US oriented, and as an Anglo-French European, I pick up so many inconsistencies, inaccuracies and downright errors (sometimes really funny: "Bresse bleu chicken" (doubtless he means poulet de Bresse, when speaking of AOC, or the fact that goat's cheese is always consumed fresh - he should try some of the hard, pungent, aged goat's cheeses in the Touraine...), the inaccuracies are too numerous to mention. The number of times he uses the expression "a whole slew of..." really gets on one's nerves. Well as you can see, I didn't like it, although I did learn a little.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Elizabeth
  • 12-13-16

History through the lens of gastronomy

This erudite and detailed history of culture and food both inspired and enlightened me! I cannot recommend this highly enough. I chpse this book (or lecture series as it turned out) on a whim but I have savoured the content at my leisure. It is a perfect journey companion, relax or even whilst you cook. I was delighted by the untelligent tone and range of topics. It is anthropology, science, psychology, sociology, creativity and more. Take the chance and try it...

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Banana naan
  • 10-08-16

Enjoyable and informative

Ken Alba, the lecturer, clearly loves the subject. Every now and then he chuckles at what he's saying and, annoying as that may sound, it's actually quite infectious and you wind up chuckling with him. Recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David Brady
  • 07-15-16

I loved this

I want to go east my way through history right now! An excellent listen. It will make you hungry!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • K. Pallett
  • 11-25-15

Very informative

I really enjoyed the delivery and enthusiasm.

Well worth listening to and highly recommended as a source of both education and entertainment

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Teresa Cooper
  • 11-21-15

The history of food.

A good set of lectures, for which I'm great-full as previous ones were less than engaging, which were brought alive by professor Ken Albala. All round enjoyable and reread-able.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 07-15-15

Excellent

Really interesting lectures. A bit American orientated towards the end but still relevant. Good lecture style, made them very accessible. Well worth listening too. Changed my eating habits!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Povilas
  • 10-04-17

Amusing, funny and informative

The course gives a great overview of world history through a culinary perspective - yes, there is a lot of history here, told via amusing stories and interesting facts.
Professor is a great story teller and has a deep understanding of world history and shares with the reader plenty of interesting personal insights.
Highly recommended!

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  • E. berns
  • 09-05-17

unusual, informative and beautifully narrated

highly recommended and not heavy going like some of the other lectures. I really liked the lecturer

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  • Jacob
  • 12-18-16

good for factual entertainment and global overview

I wanted more detail and discussion on a few things and it seemed to lose focus a bit at the end. Other than that, informative and enjoyable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-16-17

A wonderful series.

Once, while hopelessly lost and driving in the country, miles from anywhere, I came across a pub surrounded by dense forest and a surprising number of parked cars. We went in and found a bustling restaurant, filled to capacity. mystified, for we were hundreds of miles from the nearest city, we asked for a table. The look we received! We were told that it was usual to bookonths in advance. For a country pub? In the middle of nowhere? A table was very generously given to us, located in a far corner of the room. We scanned the menu and ordered what turned out to be the best damn meal of my life. Surprised! Absolutely. We had stumbled upon a great gastronomic secret, known to only an elite few. And what a treat! So why tell this anecdote here? Because it has to do with food, sure. But there is an analogy here, because this lecture series was also a wonderful surprise. Like that jewel of a pub, found by chance and ever after revered, this lecture series is similarly a fortunate discovery, to be treasured ever after. Do not hesitate. Purchase this wonderful series of lectures. It is so much more than what you can possibly expect. Thank you Ken, for this great and enduring gift.

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  • AndrewH
  • 07-18-17

New perspectives on food

Excellent review on all aspects of the "thing" that makes human beings tick - food! The information is so detailed and the presenter makes listening so enjoyable. His pronunciation of the different languages is excellent.

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  • Rachel
  • 05-15-17

Very enjoyable!

Fantastic course - I love histories viewed through specific lenses (art, architecture, music, medicine) so this was always going to be interesting for me, but this wasn't just interesting, it's also entertaining. Great lecturer! Ken Albala is superb! He makes all the aspects of his lecture really come to life. Brilliant!

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  • Andrew Gordon
  • 11-08-16

Hungry for more

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

My friend, you are what you eat, and what you eat is culturally and historically determined and if you want to understand this in any depth you need to listen to this series. You can eat donuts at the same time.

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

It is much like other lecture series but with the added advantage of being endlessly fascinating.

What about Professor Ken Albala’s performance did you like?

I like his pace and voice. He adds personal touches and emphases which create interest and a sense that he's talking to you, not just a hall of clapping robots.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

What has moved me is the content of the course that has stayed with me. From the earliest human diet, to the Roman feasts, migration of grains and plants, food fashion, the English diet, French court food and the restaurant code, health foods, all the hits are here.

Any additional comments?

There is no competition for fawning reviewers to get invited to one of Professor Ken Albala's dinner parties, but can I please be anyway?

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