Hamburgers in Paradise: 12 Facts

FrescoDepictions of paradise can be found throughout the centuries, portrayed as an impossible, unchanging ecosystem in perpetual motion that provides an abundance of food, water, and shade to sustain humans and animals in perfect harmony with no effort required. In Hamburgers in Paradise, Louise O. Fresco argues that the idea of paradise as an impossibly stable, diverse, and productive ecosystem has had a profound effect on our thinking about nature, farming, and food, and remains a powerful influence even today. Despite secularization, paradise is a frame of reference for what we think and do in relation to food.

Today at 2:30, Fresco will be presenting her book to Kenneth Quinn, the World Food Prize ambassador, at the 2015 Borlaug Dialogue, hosted by The World Food Prize. You can view the live stream online, and you can join the conversation online using #WorldFoodPrize.


A few facts from the book that may surprise you:

  • In most Western European countries, life expectancy tripled in the period 1750-2000, when food began to be available in large quantities.
  • The history of tens of thousands of years of food scarcity explains our preference for foods high in calories, proteins, and other essential nutrients.
  • All religions attribute moral and psychological properties to food. For example, the kingfisher has been seen as a symbol of abundance and prosperity, and so it was not to be eaten. In many religions fasting, or the resistance of temptation for food, is seen as the highest virtue.
  • In the U.S., the tasteless bun of a hamburger is not the norm because Americans don’t know how to bake bread, but because a certain consistency is needed to bring out the juiciness of the meat. The bun is wrapping, plate, and napkin first and a source of carbohydrates to balance out the protein of the meat second.
  • The earliest archaeological evidence of farming comes from 9,500 years ago.
  • Dependence on food introduced from elsewhere is an ancient phenomenon, reflected in the names used and the confusion surrounding them. For example, in Italian corn is called “grano turco” or “Turkish grain,” the word “Turkey” signifying oriental or exotic and not its actual origin since corn comes from Central America.
  • Without the influence of humans, neither wheat, corn, apples, nor lettuce would ever have evolved from their wild ancestors.
  • 30% of the surface of the earth is used as farmland or pasture.
  • Bread can be a symbol of plenty, but it can also be a symbol of want. There are countless examples in literature of the proverbial poor thief who steals a loaf for his family. Victor Hugo used this trope to great effect in Les Misérables.
  • Bread was so important in Ancient Rome that the killing of a baker was punished three times as severely as the killing of an ordinary citizen.
  • Archaeological remains of sieves suggest that cheese may have been made in the Alps more than 5,000 years ago.
  • In the Netherlands no more than 4.5% of people are vegetarians, in Germany perhaps 9%, and in Italy 10%.

Hay Festival – A Literary Vacation on the Welsh Border

Hay Festival is truly a highlight in the bookworm’s calendar. On a typical day at Hay, you might spend the morning sipping coffee on a sofa in the café marquee with a newspaper and croissant on your lap, followed by a talk on Shakespeare’s Women, then a journey into the future of science with the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, before tripping along to a live lunchtime recording of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb (don’t laugh too loudly or your cackle will be heard by millions!). Over lunch you might catch a glimpse of Stephen Fry walking along in the sunshine, or meet a fellow bumble-bee enthusiast at the next table. Whilst admiring the myriad display of colourful wellies everywhere you look, you rifle through your programme deciding what to go to next. You make a last-minute decision and rush to a talk about homo sapiens, followed by a browse in the books tent and an ice-cream and a read in a deck chair in the sun. Next up, a talk about a better future world and a glimpse at a real page of the Magna Carta, hosted by Stephen Fry and the hilarious Sandi Toksvig, before ending your day dancing at one of the wonderful concerts held in the large Tata Tent.

Hay Festival

Hay Festival gets underway

Princeton University Press has a strong and long-standing relationship with Hay Festival, and we are proud that this year proved to be no exception. Our week was kicked off by the wonderful Beth Shapiro, on the subject of her new book, How to Clone a Mammoth. Is it possible to bring back the mammoth, the dodo, or the sabre-toothed cat? Why would we want to? And, much more importantly, should we? If you’re wishing you could have been there, fear not, as Beth Shapiro gave the same talk at the Royal Institution earlier in the week, and the whole thing can be watched online, here.

Hay Festival Shapiro

Beth Shapiro at Hay Festival

Best-selling Irish novelist Colm Tóibín spoke about his new novel, Nora Webster, and his Princeton book On Elizabeth Bishop at Hay’s opening weekend. Despite covering themes of loss and death that recur in Bishop’s poetry, he had the whole audience of 1100 people roaring with laughter.

Toibin at Hay

Colm Tóibín amusing the crowd at Hay

On Saturday evening, Beth Shapiro and Colm Tóibín were joined by historian Yuval Noah Harari and novelist Owen Sheers to record a live audience programme for Start the Week, to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4. A fascinating discussion encompassing pre-historic animals and humans to 20th century poetry and everything in-between. You can listen to the programme online here.

Toibin on Start the Week

Colm Tóibín on Start the Week

Other Princeton author events, which this Princeton publicist would love to have attended but had to go back to her day job (perhaps I should take a week-long vacation during Hay Festival next year…) were talks on dark matter and dark energy by Katherine Freese, director of Nordita, the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics and author of The Cosmic Cocktail, and a talk about the process by which artists such as Michelangelo, Dürer, and Titian became early modern celebrities by Maria Loh, author of the beautiful Still Lives.

Who knows who next year will bring to delight the crowds on the Welsh borders. One thing is for sure: it’s worth blocking out your calendar even before you’ve seen the line-up.

Economist Amartya Sen to speak at Free Library of Philadelphia

Nobel Laureate in Economics and Princeton University Press author Amartya Sen will speak at the Free Public Library of Philadelphia on Thursday, April 24 (tomorrow). As part of the Sandra Shaber Memorial Lecture, Dr. Sen will address topics presented in his new book, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions.

In this important book, Dr. Sen and co-author Jean Drèze argue that India’s main problems lie in the lack of attention paid to the essential needs of the people, especially of the poor, and often of women. There have been major failures both to foster participatory growth and to make good use of the public resources generated by economic growth to enhance people’s living conditions. There is also a continued inadequacy of social services such as schooling and medical care as well as of physical services such as safe water, electricity, drainage, transportation, and sanitation. The deep inequalities in Indian society tend to constrict public discussion, confining it largely to the lives and concerns of the relatively affluent. Sen and Drèze present a powerful analysis of these deprivations and inequalities as well as the possibility of change through democratic practice.

Hear more about Dr. Sen’s argument and findings by attending the lecture. Purchase your tickets here.


Amartya Sen | An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions
Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 7:30PM

Central Library

1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(between 19th and 20th Streets on the Parkway)

(Cost: $15 General Admission, $7 Students)