Chinese food is one of the most recognizable and widely consumed cuisines in the world. Almost no town on earth is without a Chinese restaurant of some kind, and Chinese canned, frozen, and preserved foods are available in shops from Nairobi to Quito. But the particulars of Chinese cuisine vary widely from place to place as its major ingredients and techniques have been adapted to local agriculture and taste profiles. To trace the roots of Chinese foodways, one must look back to traditional food systems before the early days of globalization.
Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China provides an account of the development of the food systems that coincided with China's emergence as an empire. Before extensive trade and cultural exchange with Europe was established, Chinese farmers and agriculturalists developed systems that used resources in sustainable and efficient ways, permitting intensive and productive techniques to survive over millennia. Fields, gardens, semiwild lands, managed forests, and specialized agricultural landscapes all became part of an integrated network that produced maximum nutrients with minimal input – though not without some environmental cost. E. N. Anderson examines premodern China's vast, active network of trade and contact, such as the routes from Central Asia to Eurasia and the slow introduction of Western foods and medicines under the Mongol Empire. Bringing together a number of new findings from archaeology, history, and field studies of environmental management, Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China provides an updated picture of language relationships, cultural innovations, and intercultural exchanges.
"This is a marvelous book, a long-view description of China's basic geography, the advantages and constraints imposed by climate and terrain, human conservation and despoliation of the natural environment, and the effect of all of these on food customs."
– Paul Freedman, Yale University
"Anderson's book is, as surely intended, provocative, challenging much inherited wisdom and at the same time extremely wide-ranging, placing China's foodways in a broad comparative framework."
– Thomas Allsen, Professor Emeritus, College of New Jersey
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E. N. Anderson is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside, and author of numerous books, including Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture.