Nothing brings people together these days quite like good food and good company. Dinner with Darwin does an incredible job of inviting the reader to dinner but with a heavy side of science, specifically evolution, and does so in such a way as to invite Darwin himself to your table for a deeper conversation. While the book is not a collection of recipes and aperitifs, it weaves a story line through the evolutionary history of much of the food and drink we enjoy. The chapters run like courses at the table, addressing the cook and guests (“A Cooking Animal,” “Feasting”) as well as the courses that have become staples at the modern table (shellfish, bread, soup, desserts, wine, etc.). Each is written through an evolutionary lens of discovery and development, answering the questions of where our tastes for these elements originated, the pathways by which we have learned our trades in food, and the mechanisms that drive some of the traits that make our choices unique.
I love the concept of “evolutionary gastronomy” because food truly is something that brings people together. As I was reading this book, I was able to share a good deal of it with my two sons (self-proclaimed foodies), talking about the scientific background of the things we ate as we traveled, and about how humans have changed along with our diet and command of elements in nature through breeding, domestication, and habits. In those interactions (my boys are seven and 17) I could really see the application of the chapters to conversations with my students across the spectrum of ages and how each part tells a little bit of our story as well as the role of science in our history and daily lives. I must also add that as a person who frequently has these wandering scientific conversations with colleagues and friends over dinner, this book has greatly expanded my own repertoire of topics!