The Secret History of Food: Strange but True Stories About the Origins of Everything We Eat (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Vanilla ice cream, breakfast cereal, corn, tomatoes, and several other foods become the jumping-off point for Matt Seigel’s meandering and quirky food history. Why is British pie crust traditionally inedible? How is honey kosher if most samples likely have traces of unkosher insects? And while we’re on the subject, why do vegans eschew honey, but not all the foods that bees pollinate? Why did Nathan’s Famous employ college students who dress like doctors? Could it possibly be true that the USDA is responsible for open-faced sandwiches, but the FDA monitors closed-faced ones? So much food ephemera! Best of all, there are often interesting points to be made about human nature slathered between the easily transportable iceberg lettuce and tasteless-but-great looking tomato. Be warned that The Secret History of Food pretty much uses all secondary sources (over 40 pages of notes!), but what other kind of book are you going to write during COVID?  A multi-course feast of delights! 

— Daniel Goldin

Siegel explores some of the history behind our culinary tastes and food's role in forming civilization. He tells some hilarious stories, as well as a handful of what I can only call horror stories, about things humans have put in their mouths in the name of food - some fairly ancient and some frighteningly recent. Giggles and ‘ewws’ guaranteed. And you just might find yourself removing a thing or two from your diet.

— Kay Wosewick


An irreverent, surprising, and entirely entertaining look at the little-known history surrounding the foods we know and love

Is Italian olive oil really Italian, or are we dipping our bread in lamp oil? Why are we masochistically drawn to foods that can hurt us, like hot peppers? Far from being a classic American dish, is apple pie actually . . . English?

“As a species, we’re hardwired to obsess over food,” Matt Siegel explains as he sets out “to uncover the hidden side of everything we put in our mouths.” Siegel also probes subjects ranging from the myths—and realities—of food as aphrodisiac, to how one of the rarest and most exotic spices in all the world (vanilla) became a synonym for uninspired sexual proclivities, to the role of food in fairy- and morality tales. He even makes a well-argued case for how ice cream helped defeat the Nazis.

The Secret History of Food is a rich and satisfying exploration of the historical, cultural, scientific, sexual, and, yes, culinary subcultures of this most essential realm. Siegel is an armchair Anthony Bourdain, armed not with a chef’s knife but with knowledge derived from medieval food-related manuscripts, ancient Chinese scrolls, and obscure culinary journals. Funny and fascinating, The Secret History of Food is essential reading for all foodies.

About the Author

Matt Siegel has written about food and culture for publications including the Atlantic and the Paris Review. Previously an English professor, he now lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he writes full time and consults with brands in the food and beverage industries. His dog’s name is Waffles.

Praise For…

"Idiosyncratic essays that will give foodies much to digest." — Kirkus Reviews

Product Details
ISBN: 9780062973214
ISBN-10: 0062973215
Publisher: Ecco
Publication Date: August 31st, 2021
Pages: 288
Language: English