Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat

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Macmillan, Nov 13, 2007 - Business & Economics - 256 pages

Today the average meal has traveled thousands of miles before reaching the dinner table. How on earth did this happen? In fact, long-distance food is nothing new and, since the earliest times, the things we eat and drink have crossed countries and continents. Through delightful anecdotes and astonishing facts, Moveable Feasts tells their stories.

For the ancient Romans, the amphora---a torpedo-shaped pot that fitted snugly into the ship’s hold---was the answer to moving millions of tons of olive oil from Spain to Italy. Napoleon offered a reward to anyone who could devise a way of preserving and transporting food for soldiers. (What he got was the tin can.) Today temperature-controlled shipping containers allow companies to send their frozen salmon to China, where it’s thawed, filleted, refrozen, and sent back to the United States for sale in supermarkets as “fresh” Atlantic salmon.

Combining history, science, and politics, Financial Times writer Sarah Murray provides a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary odysseys of food from farm to fork. She encounters everything from American grain falling from United Nations planes in Sudan to Mumbai’s tiffin men who, using only bicycles, carts, and their feet, deliver more than 170,000 lunches a day.

Following the items on a grocery store shopping list, Murray shows how the journeys of food have brought about seismic shifts in economics, politics, and even art. By flying food into Berlin during the 1948 airlift, the Allies kept a city of more than two million alive for more than a year and secured their first Cold War victory, appealing to German hearts and minds---and stomachs. In nineteenth-century Buffalo, the grain elevator (a giant mechanical scooping machine) not only turned the city into one of America’s wealthiest, but it also had a profound influence on modern architecture, giving Bauhaus designers an important source of inspiration.

In a thought-provoking and highly entertaining account, Moveable Feasts brings an entirely fresh perspective to the subject of food. And today, as global warming makes headlines and concerns mount about the “food miles” clocked by our dinners, Murray poses a contentious question: Is buying local always the most sustainable, ethical choice?


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User Review  - MarthaJeanne - LibraryThing

This book was interesting, but there were a lot of jumps where it was not clear why the author thought that two paragraphs belonged next to each other. The book includes a lot of UK information. More ... Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

I only read the first chapter on olive oil trade and marketing. I was impressed with her level of research. It was pleasant to read and interesting. I would have liked to see a bit more about the origins of the olive oil trade in Anatolia (modern Turkey).
Kind Regards,
Dennis McGee
I would like to hear from the author to ask a question or two.
My email is


The Ancient Amphora Delivers Roman Riches
The Norwegian Salmon Pays a Visit to China
Battlefield Food Fuels Packaging Technology
The Berlin Airlift Secures a Cold War Victory
Curry Catches the Corporate Imagination
Refrigerated Ships Shape
Mongolian Nomads Practice Mobile Biochemistry
The Oak Tree Leaves Its Mark
Commercial Competition Speeds the Racing Tea Clippers
Jet Planes Dispatch a Strawberry for All Seasons
Buffalo Grain Feeds Bauhaus Inspiration
Cold War Weaponry Finds a New Purpose

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About the author (2007)

Sarah Murray is author of Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat. A longtime Financial Times contributor, she lives in New York City.

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