It says much about the spirit of the times that these three fine books sing from the same hymn-sheet: the need to take a long hard look at how and what we eat by examining the lessons of the past.
Making the case for the ancestral hearth is Martin Jones, author of Feast: Why Humans Share Food, and George Pitt-Rivers, Professor of Archaeological Science at Cambridge. Anyone heading for a career in Food History would be well advised to stick to the professor like glue. His speciality is ‘the study of the fragmentary archaeological remains of early food’. His book is a passionate plea for a return to our ancestors’ animal instincts: ‘The world’s human community, by gathering around meal tables, hammers planet earth, day by day, with an environmental force comparable with the movement of glaciers, the eruption of major volcanoes, and the impact of comets.’ Absolutely. Jones likens the formality of a hierarchical dinner at High Table with the behaviour of our forefathers round a kill – women excluded of course, lest there be sexual trading. And did you ever think, when – ahem – exchanging oral intimacies with your beloved, that you were simply mirroring the kiss-feeding technique practised by most of the avian and reptilian species on the planet and several of the mammalian, including (when circumstances demand) ourselves? Wit and elegance are not usually the hallmarks of professorial punditry. Don’t be put off by the forty pages of scholarly footnotes – this is a mould-cracker of a book, as readable as any thriller.
In The Last Food of England: English Food, Its Past, Present and Future, Marwood Yeatman delivers an encyclopaedic, stylish, appropriately eccentric account of the state of our nation’s gastronomic health. Divided somewhat arbitrarily into thirty-four chapters – among them ‘The English Clearances’ (in earnest, George III onwards), ‘Green Top’ (a