Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 (a book review)

What makes a city? It is more than just the mortar and stone in its buildings, or even the very people populating it. A key aspect of a metropolis is its supply lines for food and resources, which is the very thesis of Daniel F. Doeppers’ book, Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945.

 

Doeppers, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has retold some of the most intriguing chapters of Manila’s history in terms of how its inhabitants regularly (or not so regularly) ate, drank, and sourced their basic needs from nearby provinces. The book goes into interesting details ranging from how the waterways of Bulacan and Malabon were changed to accommodate the rice trade, all the way to the rise of the popularity of chocolate as a beverage, and how it was displaced by coffee. Everything from animal and human diseases, fishing practices, and the potable water supply makes its way into the text.

Apart from these bits of trivia, Doeppers’ text also documents the rise of families and companies involved in the food industry, many of which are still big players in commerce to this day.

 

Although lengthy and at times tedious with its emphasis on economic trends and statistics, Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 provides a fresh look into life in the city of Manila, especially for the denizens who hardly get a mention in textbooks. One gets a vivid sense of the ingenuity, tenacity and good humor characterizing the residents of this old city, all the way up to the devastation that befell it during the Second World War. It reminds people that much of human history is associated with the realities of existence such as feast and famine, all of which go on despite upheavals and grand events.

 

This book is a recommended read not only for anthropologists and scholars of Philippine History, but even for foodies and culinary enthusiasts. It is well thought out and spaced under easy to follow subject headings, making it suitable for earnest study as well as casual reading. Since we at Team Glasses Food Blog are not only foodies but also history geeks, this book was a particular treat.

 

Feeding Manila in Peace and War, 1850-1945 is available from the Ateneo de Manila University Press at Bellarmine Hall, Katipunan Avenue. More details may be found at www.ateneopress.org.

(featured image from wikipedia)

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