(Image Credit: Greystone Books)
Whether it be prowling the streets of Mexico City in search of ahuautle, a delicacy made from the eggs of a tiny water strider, and supposed to be an Aztec royal fare, or traipsing the isolated stretches of Ossabaw off the coast of Georgia hunting down one of the finest pork (“Ossabaws are considered the closest thing to the acorn-fed pigs of western Spain, whose ham is counted among the treasures of European gastronomy”), award winning author Taras Grescoe attempts to instill the practice of diversity when it comes to culinary preferences. Diversity according to Grescoe is resiliency.
Grescoe, during his singularly unique travels, comes up with facts which are more in the form of revelations than just information. For example, he shares with his readers the jaw dropping fact of 90 per cent of all milk coming from “freakishly productive Holstein Friesian cows all of whom are descended from only two bulls.” But the key and quintessential message propagated by Grescoe throughout his fascinating book is the striking fact that sustainable and rejuvenating eating is not an outcome of looking to the future but in looking back to the past. Looking back to the gastronomic fare which nourished and nurtured our ancestors and humanity in general through its half-million-year existence as a species.
Grescoe’ s adventures represent a paradoxical combination of sheer culinary derring-do and a methodical scientific dissection into the health aspects of such bravado. This includes trying ingrain into his family the multiple benefits of entomophagy by persuading his son to pop a roasted cricket (or two) into his mouth! The book is also tinged with measured humour contextualized to the situation on hand.
In a poignant and evocative passage, Grescoe appeals to the world to leverage on the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (“TEK”) possessed by the indigenous populace, and the adaptation and adoption of which would work wonders for the preservation of not just the environment but also enhance and embellish the relationship of man with nature. TEK includes techniques of controlled burns that serve as both a fire prevention method and food management technique. Grescoe even tracks down a potato like vegetable Camas, cultivated by the Coast Salish people by using the method of controlled burns.
Human intransigence finds unashamed expression in the aged and monumental olive trees of Puglia, where an insidious bacteria going by the name of Xylella threatens to fell magnificent olive trees that have stood the test of time and circumstances for centuries. Instead of instituting quickfire damage mitigation measures, politicians’ bicker over motives while conspiracy theorists across the country produce theories ranging from the outlandish to the outrageous.
The Lost Supper is a marvelous journey into the wide and diversified world of food, a world which the current phenomenon of monoculture is threatening to decimate. “Human appetite is completely capable of usurping species in the wild,” writes Grescoe. “Species are disappearing at rates hundreds of times higher than at any other point in the last 10 million years”. As responsible citizens it is up to us to reverse this alarming trend by taking informed decisions on how, what and where we consume our food. Lest any doubts arise, each of us is perfectly capable of making such studied decisions. Here is hoping that we do just that!