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The Secret History of Food: Strange But True Stories about the Origins of Everything We Eat

Gabbi Cisneros

August 23, 2021

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The Secret History of Food is a wild ride through history and the human body—how food has impacted them both and, in turn, how food has been impacted by both.

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The Secret History of Food: Strange But True Stories about the Origins of Everything We Eat by Matt Siegel, Ecco Press 

You are what you eat, but you're also, to a surprisingly large degree, what your parents ate. The Secret History of Food begins with what we consumed in the womb and our inherited genes that not only affect our taste preferences as adults but also affect our experience of taste altogether! Do you have the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap? Do you know if you're a "supertaster" who is bothered by the bitterness in coffee, wine, and dark chocolate? Does your stomach get upset by lactose? All these traits seem inconvenient nowadays (especially when you're lactose-intolerant and living in a state known for its dairy products), but they all stem from ancient human bodies' survival methods. 

The Secret History of Food is a wild ride through history and the human body—how food has impacted them both and, in turn, how food has been impacted by both. For example, cereal was created to be bland in the late 1800s but by 2014, "the average children's cereal was 34 percent sugar by weight and adult cereal, 18 percent." Luckily, we have choices. A lot of choices. So, if you're craving a bowl of cereal, you don't have to buy one with 20 grams of sugar. The desire for choice began before build-your-own style fast food: 

So food brands are basically doing the same thing medieval hosts were doing when they offered nobles the choice cuts of meat and the 'upper crust' of bread during banquets, except these honors are now given to everyone. Not only can we choose to hold the pickles and hold the lettuce, we can even get limited-edition toys thrown in if we order an aptly named 'Happy Meal' (a relic, of course, of Kellogg's free cereal prizes). 

The overlaps and connections in food culture are fascinating to see, and I will definitely try to remember some of these facts for future trivia competitions. Matt Siegel writes accessibly and with a touch of humor, making the surprising histories of vanilla, pie, fast food, tomatoes, spaghetti plantations, soda, and more easily digestible (pun intended). The Secret History of Food likely answers a lot of the random questions you had about food and even the ones you never thought of asking. 

About The Author

Gabriella Cisneros is usually ‘Gabbi.’ She is a recent graduate of UW-Milwaukee, with degrees in Film and Spanish, and she’s a new addition to Porchlight Books. It’s kind of a dream job for someone who has a 55 page, indexed document of interesting words she’s found in books. Gabbi regularly makes time for taking photos, traveling, attending concerts, trying new restaurants, listening to the podcast "Ologies," blogging, filmmaking, fitness, and—of course—reading.

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