If you're tired of rereading your sauce-spattered copy of Eat, Pray, Love — or if you left it at the movie theatre, or on your flight back from Bali — you might try picking up a new book with slightly larger, or at least less personal, horizons. Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, by Leeds University agricultural researcher Evan Fraser and Boston journalist Andrew Rimas, was published in June and is already #21,270 on the Amazon bestsellers list.
While it will probably not be made into a Julia Roberts vehicle any time soon, Empires of Food does, according to Publisher's Weekly, “survey a range of premodern civilizations, including Sumer, Han China, and medieval Europe, to distill the common features that allowed them to feed large urban populations: farming specialization, surpluses, trade, transportation, and food storage.” Right. Or just toggle on over to Salon and read today's somewhat more lively interview with Fraser, who says, among other things, that “one of the first signs that things were about to go wrong in the medieval period was that food prices started rising. It happened with the Romans too. Demand began going up, and yields stagnated. We have a strong parallel with that today.” According to Fraser, “our system looks a lot like Rome in the year 250.” Not, according to my 12 year-old daughter and Latin student, a good sign at all.