In his book Political Gastronomy, Michael LaCombe takes up an element of early American history and culture that is still poorly understood—the function of food and its various ancillary activities such as the growing, eating, and exchanging of victuals. LaCombe focuses on the early English settlements around the Atlantic before 1660, which in his study means Roanoke, Jamestown, Bermuda, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay. Although LaCombe emphasizes the special status of food as both dietary necessity and symbolic value, the book primarily studies the symbolic meanings that English settlers and native peoples located and negotiated in their political actions, especially their continuous “struggle for precedence” (8), authority, and leadership. In order to sidestep debates about the alleged dysfunctionality of early English settlements, LaCombe asserts his interest in “what contemporaries envisioned as an appropriate social order, how that order should be manifest in everyday life, and how to respond when experiences...

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