FOOD is many things, writes historian-medievalist-anthropologist [Massimo Montanari], but don't delude yourself that it's in any way natural. It's pure artifice, humanity's domination of nature, from the choosing and growing of crops to the act of eating. "Food Is Culture" is a bit like Brillat-Savarin's famous text "The Physiology of Taste," but more digestible. Montanari walks us through the ages, beginning 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent with the birth of agriculture, and shows how we have steadily refined our eating habits and our tastes until they have become synonymous with culture and identity. The pleasure we bring to eating is rooted not only in physiological needs but also in our values and our times. In the 16th century, Montanari writes, hedonists ate salad mid-meal to stimulate the appetite, a practice many considered gluttonous. The recent prestige of thinness is fascinating in light of centuries of the fear of hunger. He writes of the practice of eating together (the coffee break, the banquet, the hermit eating with the animals), the globalization of food, and the decline in regional variety (at least in supermarkets). You are indeed, it seems, what you eat.