A highly entertaining book that provides a satisfying and intriguing history of the things we use to eat. But beyond this, Wilson’s greatest achievement in this book is providing a straightforward, unpretentious exploration of technology itself.
Those of us who question technological progress–even as we use technologies–are often seen as hypocrites or crazies. Yet Wilson is able, somehow, to do just that sort of interrogation of technological progress, asking why we use the things we use, how the things we use are often counter-productive, how technologies often create new needs and new problems instead of meeting existing needs and solving existing problems, Wilson presents us with just that kind of techno-skepticism while not coming off as a hypocritical crazy.
This is, then, a wonderful fascinating book. While its stories of how and why we eat the way we do will, quite rightly, be the things that bring people to the book, and be the things that move the book along in a joyful way, its greatest achievement–and the thing I think will be its most enduring contribution to our culture in this overtly-technological moment–will be its quiet suggestion that perhaps we don’t need all the stuff we think we need. We use it, yes; but use does not imply its superiority, nor does newness, or any such thing. Technologies come about and come to be used for extremely complex reasons–and beginning to consider and think through those reasons can help us to enjoy the technologies we use in a more satisfying way, as well as prevent us from being somehow made a captive of a technological progress that exists only for its own existence, and not to make our lives better.