Friday, May 13, 2011

Taste and See ...

"I can tell you at once that nothing you touch today will have more suffering, bloodshed, and woe attached to it than the innocuous twin pillars of your salt and pepper set."

- Bill Bryson, from his chapter on the history of the Western diet in At Home

other memorable quotes include:

'typically scurvy killed about half the crew on any long voyage.  Various desperate expedients were tried.  Vasco De Gama on a cruise to India and back encouraged his men to rinse their mouths with urine, which did nothing for their scurvy and can't have done much for their spirits either.'  ...

'It is hard to overemphasise just how important bread was to the English diet through the 19th century: for many, bread wasn't just an important accompaniment to a meal, it was the meal.

Up to 80 per cent of all household expenditure, according to the bread historian Christian Petersen, was spent on food - and up to 80 per cent of that went on bread. Even middle-class people spent as much as two-thirds of their income on food ( compared with about a quarter today), of which a fairly high proportion was bread.  For a poorer family, nearly every history tells us, the daily diet was likely to consist of a few ounces of tea and sugar, some vegetables, a slice or two of cheese, and just occasionally a very little meat.  All the rest was bread.'

“While showing off his $519,750 eighteenth-century Chteau Margaux [reputed to have once been owned by Thomas Jefferson] at a New York restaurant in 1989, William Sokolin, a wine merchant, accidentally knocked the bottle against the side of a serving cart and it broke, in an instant converting the world's most expensive bottle of wine into the world’s most expensive carpet stain. The restaurant manager dipped a finger in the wine and declared that it was no longer drinkable anyway.”[]

The book is actually organized around Bryson's investigation of the house he owns, that was originally built as a parsonage.  There are lengthy and interesting sections of discussion about the changing societal role that Christian ministers have faced over the past few centuries - primarily the loss of public esteem and financial remuneration through the years.  It was very telling.

I have a separate post for what I thought was his most trenchant observation in the entire book - about the birth of psychoanalysis arising from the disintigration of the Victorian family ie: failed parenting.

I skipped the risque' section, but overall - it was typically interesting Bryson-style history... full of non-blinking, wide-smiling espousement of materialistic evolutionary theory, but the old bait-n-switch, warm-n-fuzzy care about life and its many forms anyway version... ending in a typical handwringing session, followed by a preachy admonition to shrink your carbon footprint - and I mean now, buster!

Regardless, Bryson can tell a hi-story like few others, so I give him four of five stars here.

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