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Food: An Authoritative and Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World

Food by Waverley Root: An Authoritative and Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World - Waverley Root This is a single-volume encyclopedia about all things food-related. My wife is about half-way through reading it cover to cover. If I tried something like that, the retention would be 0%, but she remembers everything (which can be a good thing, or a bad thing). There are some pretty funny tidbits in here. Did you know that Boysenberries are not a naturally occuring variety? No, they were created in the 1920's, by crossing blackberries and raspberries. More agricultural antics from the 1920's (man, that decade was a wild farmland free-for-all, wasn't it?): California avacado growers were struggling to make a profit, and tried several luckless campaigns to increase sales. They gave away little cookbooks for free, which were filled with fun avacado recipes... but sales didn't budge. They submitted articles to newspapers around the country, detailing the health benefits of avacados... but to no avail. What else was there to do? They couldn't claim medicinal properties, because none were known. Then they hired a public relations man from Madison Avenue. His solution: the Avacado Farmers' Board (AFB) put out indignant statements to the press, vigorously denying the "lurid and indecent" rumors about avacados' aphrodesiac powers. The AFB reassured consumers that the product was indeed safe for families to consume, without fear of anything wild or unseemly taking place as a result. Sales increased dramatically. What I do NOT like about this book is its rigid adherence to mysterious and unspoken taxonomic systems. Mr Root cheerfully informs us that a strawberry is not a berry, while a tomato is... but he neglects to tell us what a strawberry is, if not a berry... and more importantly, he fails to offer any actual definition of a berry. I require a definition to work with, if I am to entertain the notion that a tomato qualifies as a berry. The issue of whether grapes are berries is left conspicuously open; I'm not sure even Mr. Root knows the answer to that one. This is not the first time I've been plagued by counterintuitive systems of classification, which ask me to believe that tomatos are fruits or watermelons are vegetables, etc.. I am happy to go along with all of that, if some good reason can be shown for cataloguing things in this way. The system of classification should have some purpose, to justify rejection of the common language. Taxonomy should be about more than "gotcha!" and winning a little wedge of pie in Trivial Pursuit. You want to call a tomato a fruit?-- please tell me what useful aim is being achieved by affixing that label, and allow me to judge for myself whether I want to accept it. The terms "fruit", "vegetable", "berry" etc are after all, just human constructions. The organisms themselves don't recognize those categories.Perhaps my ire is out of proportion to the issue, but it seems that we all tend to understand each other quite well using the vernacular definitions of these words... I find tomatos in the vegetable section of the supermarket, and not among berries. If some Ivory Tower professor is going to "tsk, tsk" and correct me in condescending tones, then I will require the following from him, before I agree to go along:1) Full and unfettered access to all the definitions Professor Highbrow is using in this discussion, AND2) A logical rationale defending the classification scheme, and demonstrating why it is superior to the vernacular.Root fails to provide these, leaving the reader with a murky and nonintuitive way of organizing foods. To what end?No, Mr. Root, I'm sorry. Until you can do better that that, I will continue looking for tomatos among vegetables, and strawberries among berries. Much of the rest of your book appears to be informative and occasionally entertaining, but I am knocking off a whopping THREE stars for your subversion of the common language.Don't fuck with my taxonomy.