Less than five minutes from my office are: an Italian deli, a Vietnamese pho house, a pizzeria, two Chinese, one Thai and one Indian “with a contemporary twist” (don’t knock until you’ve tried). Can such generosity extend to Earth?
Yes he can. It’s already happening. And in what amounts to a distillation of a lifetime’s work written on food, Eat Until Extinction by Dan Saladino explains exactly what price we will pay for the extraordinary achievement of the hopeful global food industry. , not only to end world hunger by 2030 (a touted UN goal), but to make California scrolls available everywhere, from Kamchatka to Karachi.
Do you think your experience of world cuisine reflects global diversity? The problem with my varied diet (if it’s Wednesday then it must be Thai red curry with shrimps) is that it’s also your varied diet, and that of your neighbor; in other words, it is quickly becoming the same varied diet across the globe. Mankind fed (admittedly not too well) on 6,000 species of plants. Today, for more than three quarters of our calories, we only eat nine: rice, wheat and corn, potatoes, barley, palm oil and soybeans, beet sugar and cane sugar. The same shrinkage is found in our consumption of animals and seafood. In short, we have learned to grow ever larger quantities of less and less food.
Saladino, host of Radio 4’s The Food, is in the business of anecdotes. He travels the Earth to meet his pantheon of culinary heroes, each of them seen retaining a rare food item for our table – a red pea, a goat cheese, a flat oyster. So far, so magazine-y. And there is nothing wrong with the adventures of, say, Woldemar Mammel who, by rummaging through the attics of old farmhouses and barns, rescued the seemingly extinct Swabian “dawn” lens; nor in the dedication of former chef Karlos Baca to rehabilitating an almost entirely forgotten Native American cuisine.
That said, it takes Saladino 450 pages (which is surely a good hundred pages too many) to explain why the Mammels and Bacas of this world are so desperately needed to save a food system that, far from collapsing, seems to feed more. and more food to more and more people.