Ironically, just as many of us have become passionate foodies who enjoy global edibles and markets that groan with produce, much of this Rabelaisian banquet has become endangered. In the edifying and entertaining Lost Feast, Lenore Newman chronicles the unsustainability of our farming, fishing, and industrial practices and explains complex scientific concepts for a general audience with tales of the history of some of our favorite foods. Even the footnotes are engaging and conversational, as are the enthusiastic capsule reviews of suggested readings.
Newman’s studies and travels as a cultural geographer frame the book, whether she is exploring how cows were bred from wild aurochs at an English ecodairy, or making connections about island ecologies, invasive species, and habitat defragmentation in Hawaii. Interviews with food producers and academic colleagues are full of vitality and dialogue, and while the topics are thoughtful, there is plenty of wry commentary, especially when Newman caps off her research subjects with thematic “extinction dinners.”
Newman strides through eons of history and diverse global foodways with equal aplomb. Whether discussing the Paleolithic extinction of megafauna like the mammoth, or unraveling the massive amount of tasty New World species lost after European settlement, she dispenses intriguing, if dismaying, historical nuggets about how the once seemingly infinite natural larder of the planet has been raided. The downside of the Industrial Revolution and globalization has pushed local and global ecosystems to the brink with pollution, global warming, monoculture farming and livestock rearing, and decline of critical pollinators.
Never didactic and cautiously optimistic, Newman recognizes that there is hard work ahead to recalibrate the North American diet. She builds a compelling case for us human superpredators to rethink our food choices, and to be healthier for the environment and our fellow inhabitant species. Lost Feast is enjoyable reading about a serious topic.
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