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Raymond Sokolov: "Why We Eat What We Eat"

Subtitled: "How the encounter between the new world and the old changed the way everyone on the planet eats"

This is the story of "the Americanization of eating." Sokolov uses this phrase, slightly startling in the context of Chinese and French cooking, to refer to the global culinary revolution that started in 1492, long before fast food. He shows how the many-way trade instigated by Columbus created the cuisines whose timeless "authenticity" we so often take for granted.

Some of the American exports are relatively familiar: the round-the- world journey of the chili pepper at the hands of the Spanish that made possible modern Indian and Sichuan cooking, or the tomato's long haul from poisonous plant in 1666 to the USA's number-one vegetable. But there are also transplants in other directions, such as the West African fritters of black-eyed-pea flour cooked in palm oil that eventually became "hush puppies" in the American South.

(Yes, this is an excellent opportunity for British readers to brush up on American gastroterminology. Sokolov sees the opposite problem: "English potato chips, in the American sense, are always called crisps...")

This is a colourful and coherent story, but also wonderful browsing: dip into it for the background on anything from chocolate and strawberries to chowder and cherimoyas.