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Books | September Issue

The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the World by Lizzie Collingham

The story of comestibles has had a very good run in its role of making history agreeable to readers who yawn at treaties and statutes. In the last 20 years alone, we’ve had the world traced through – to name a few – cod, chocolate, bananas, pineapples, coffee, salt, tea, sugar and any number of spices both individually and, in examples like Collingham’s own Curry, collectively. It’s not even a recent phenomenon: the 1850 Christmas edition of Dickens’s Household Words carried a piece called ‘A Christmas-Pudding’, in which one Mr Oldknow, lightly dozing after a visit to the kitchen on Christmas Eve, summons forth the ‘genii’ of the pudding’s several ingredients, and lectures them on their usefulness to the Empire. Has The Hungry Empire got anything to add? Yes, and without departing from the genre or compromising its suavity; though multiply might be a better word. Instead of tracing the...

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