We are a public forum committed to collective reasoning and imagination, but we can’t do it without you. Join today to help us keep the discussion of ideas free and open to everyone, and enjoy member benefits like our quarterly books.
We hope you’re not too hungry, as this week’s reading list features some of best essays on food and eating from the past forty-six years! From a food anthropologist’s early love affair with Chinese cuisine to the farmers’ protests in India, the pieces below consider food from political, cultural, and economic perspectives. Scientists, too, feature among today’s writers, answering questions such as: Why do our ideas about nutrition change so quickly? And are GMOs safe to eat? (Spoiler alert: yes. Though, as our noted forum from 2013 reminds us, there are serious policy questions to consider.)
Another cache of pieces considers the violence behind food production. Cate Lycurgus and Colin Dayan provide creative reflections on supply chains and a childhood spent among pet chickens which were later killed. Two other essays offer comparisons on the killing of pigs: ruminating on slaughtering the animals oneself and the brutality of factory farming. Pork also forms the backbone of a new piece from John R. Bowen, who explores how halal is becoming a target for anti-Islam politics. With European politicians opportunistically capitalizing on animal welfare arguments to further their political agendas, “ritual slaughter is no longer an issue between Christians and Jews, nor Muslims, nor among cultural groups,” he writes. “It is a tension between religious and secular outlooks.”
We are also excited to bring you three essays from our early archive that have not been published on the web until now! Contributing to our very first issue in June 1975, renowned cook Julia Child reviewed a new history of American gastronomy, singing the praises of a recipe for pimiento custard spread (!) and detailing her obsession with all things corn. . . or her “corn orgy” as she calls it. Nine years later we featured the work of two renowned researchers who showed that food itself is food for thought. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the importance of “taste”—both literally and symbolically, revealing food as a class signifier—and anthropologist Sidney Mintz considered the outsized role of sugar in modern life. As our editors wrote in 1984:
“Mintz finds that sugar is an essential component in the ‘food technologist’s’ efforts to provide us with more things to eat, more times to eat, more places to eat—in short, with more incentives to consume food. Why is the three meal day giving way to perpetual snacking? Why has the ritualized meal been replaced by fast food ‘to go?’ Why have modem society’s ‘vastly more productive technologies’ resulted in our feeling that we have ‘less time; rather than more?’ Some answers, Mintz shows, lie right on our (paper) plates.”
The famine in Yemen is not simply “man-made.” Particular men are responsible, and they should be brought to justice.
The renowned cook appeared in our first ever issue from June 1975. Here she reviews a gastronomic history of American cooking, sings the praises of a recipe for pimiento custard spread, and details her obsession with all things corn.
From our Winter 1975 issue, a review of the noted cook’s new collection of recipes, her fiesty spirit, and why it took “such a woman to sell us Americans on the difficult, alien art of French cooking.”
Our weekly themed reading lists present the best of Boston Review’s archive and get emailed to members every Sunday, and sometimes make their way to our website too. Become a member to receive them ahead of the crowd.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.