“To be a Victorian Englishman was to possess the power to eat the world.”

One afternoon in 1748, the Latham family sat down to dinner. They ran a small farm in Lancashire, and their menu was satisfying — beef and vegetable stew, beer, doughy fruit pudding. They grew wheat and barley to make bread, their cows supplied them with milk and cheese, and from their crops (and the women’s cotton textile work) they made enough profit to buy beef.

Of the 20 meals outlined in Lizzie Collingham’s The Taste of Empire, this is the one that seems, on the surface, free of empire. Of course, it isn’t. The Lathams’ cotton was part of an economic quagmire that spanned three continents; their land was an exception to the English gentry’s habit of enclosing common hunting and grazing land. But this ideal of bucolic self-sufficiency sparked an insatiable appetite, and The Taste of Empire traces the English (later, British) history of trying to remake the world in this image — at any cost.

NPR.org: ‘Taste Of Empire’ Shows Us The World In Our Kitchen Cupboards