The Enthusiasms of Food Historian Mark Kurlansky

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Mark Kurlansky writes books about how food has influenced human history. And other stuff. This is a brief appreciation of what he does, in point form.

The Food of a Younger Land-The Food of a Younger Land. In the 1930s a make-work project ("America Eats") had writers gather stories, recipes, traditions and folklore in relation to what and when and how Americans eat, from all regions. Before supermarkets, fast food, interstates, giant agribusiness, chain restaurants or freezers. The articles were to be collected December 10th, 1941. Pearl Harbor was attacked. America Eats was shelved. A few years ago, Mark Kurlansky was given access to the manuscripts. Edited them, introduced certain pieces, and put out this book. Fascinating, lip-smacking reading.

-wrote Salt: A World History, about how salt has influenced human civilization. Quite significantly, it turns out. "Salary" comes from the word salt. Soldiers were paid in salt. Advancing soldiers would take over or destroy salt works in occupied territory. Without salt there was no food preservation. No armies or navies. Gandhi led a march across India for the right for the Indian people to make their own salt. 

-was an actor and playwright before getting into journalism and history

-wrote a history of non-violence

-a few articles from The Food of a Younger Land: Maine Clambake, Coca Cola Parties in Georgia, Raising Mushrooms in Pennsylvania, Mississippi Pear Wine

Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world-wrote a history of the Basque people, whom he argues were the first Europeans to reach North America

-wrote a history of the year 1968

-wrote Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Like many of his books, it contains recipes interspersed through the history. My grandfather - a Newfoundlander - read one recipe out loud, and said "whoever wrote that sure knows what they're talking about."

-more from The Food of a Younger Land: An Oregon Protest Against Mashed Potatoes, Kentucky Burgoo, Grandma Smith's Mississippi Hoecake, Nebraska Popcorn Days, A California Grunion Fry.

Salt: A World History-wrote a history of post WWII European Jewish culture

-wrote a biography of baseball player Hank Greenberg

-wrote The Last Fish Tale, a history of Gloucester, MA, from early pilgrim times to present day, which opens with an account of a yearly festival there where the main event is men (in drag)(tough fishing guys)(drunk) trying to run to the end of a thickly greased telephone pole laid over the water.

-wrote The Big Oyster, about how that mollusc changed New York City

-Texas Chuck Wagon, Foraging in Montana, Alabama Eggnog, Puget Sound Indian Salmon Feasts, Rhode Island May Breakfasts

-has written fiction (much of it to do with food) and children's books (including kid's versions of his histories of salt and cod)

-wrote What? - about why we ask so few questions. The entire book is written in the interrogative, statement free.

-has worked as a commercial fisherman, dock worker, paralegal, and pastry chef

-Florida Hush Puppies, Kentucky Spoon Bread, Wisconsin Sourdough Pancakes, Long Island Clam Chowder, Indiana Persimmon Pudding, Funeral Cry Feast of the Choctaws, Oregon Wild Duck

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