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Encyclopedia of Food and Culture

by: Katz, Solomon H., editor-in-chief

New York NY: Charles Scribner's Sons 2003, $395.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-684-80568-5


Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(4) page(s): 29

This is the third recent encompassing encyclopedic reference about food; and it is the best, by far. It is the most complete, offers the most depth of information, and is the easiest to use. It is in three volumes; they are easy to read and they detail ever so many aspects of food from the Stone Age to where foods may be in the near future.

For a whopping fee of almost four hundred bucks for all three, one gets two thousand and four pages crammed with history, anthropology, psychology, and sociology, and ever so many other essential aspects of food in daily life, and more. The volumes have many black and white photographs, illustrations, and line drawings along with maps, tables, sidebars, etc. Each entry has its own bibliography and every one of them is well-written and uniformly edited. They read as if there was only one author. Scribner has devoted many dollars to every aspect of these valuable books.

This is an opus magnus, a resource for journalists and students from junior high though post graduate. It will serve amateur and professional cooks now and in the future and it will help anyone and everyone with interests or business in food. It can even be of value for those who criticize food and agriculture, it should help them get it right before pouncing.

The contributors in this encyclopedia are a 'who's who' in the food field. Each one has provided input from one to more than a dozen entries, all are worth consulting as additional resources. They are listed among material that follows the entries. There are dietary reference intakes with selected food sources and important adverse effects of excessive consumption, a systematic outline of the contents, the directory of those hundreds of contributors with their academic or professional affiliations, and a superb cross-referenced ninety-nine page index. That almost hundred pages are an opus of food topics that expands the mind as to the reaches of food.

As to Chinese material, the index indicates about two hundred different entries, dozens and dozens more than in either of the other encyclopedic works. That speaks to the number and breadth of topics covered. There are about one-third that number for things Japanese, some of which have roots in or relate directly or indirectly to things Chinese. The Chinese entry 'China' fills twenty consecutive pages, and there are many additional places throughout, in expected or unexpected pages, to check out. All of them are sub-headings under China in the Index. That very index is so complete that there are ninety-nine (pages) times three (columns per page) times about sixty (individual listings in each column).

One might inquire, who needs to and should invest in this set of three books that can be handled comfortably? The answer, a resounding everyone who is serious about knowing about food. For those who can not afford, then badger the folks wherever they go for their reference information. That could include local, county, and state tax-financed libraries, local medical libraries, private libraries, an so forth. We did that for a few weeks until we got our own and already have used them many times. They are too good not to have easy access to.

Have two rhetorical questions: How did we do without these reference works until now? And, as these three books in the Scribner Library of Daily Life is so great, will they do an update perhaps every decade or sooner?

                                                                                                                                                       
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