Lost Feast NPR coverage of Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food by Lenore Newman. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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Lost Feast

Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food

by Lenore Newman

Hardcover, 304 pages, Ecw Pr, List Price: $24.95 |


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Lost Feast
Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food
Lenore Newman

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An engraving dating from the 19th century depicts passenger pigeons, once one of the most common birds in North America but now extinct because of overhunting and deforestation. Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty hide caption

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Lost Feast

To understand these culinary extinction threats, imagine a feast. It can be any feast: a Las Vegas buffet, a family holiday dinner, a South Pacific pit BBQ, or an Indonesian rijsttafel, the classic meal of many small dishes, served for special occasions. Imagine a meal with many dishes and more food than can possibly be eaten at once. There are two things in that feast, aside from a great deal of hidden labour. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of species of plants and animals, a sort of culinary menagerie. There is also a huge body of culinary knowledge, the accumulated knowledge of growing, harvesting, processing and preparing foods handed down and improved upon over generations. A feast is a bit like a book, but a tasty book we read through eating. Now imagine that the dishes start to disappear one by one. The raspberries for the waffles, the sage on the Thanksgiving turkey, the poi or the pisang goreng. Gone. Slowly the table becomes less interesting, less captivating, and as each species disappears, the accompanying cultural knowledge vanishes with it.

This is the paradox of the lost feast. Even as we enjoy a time in which food is cheaper, more diverse and more available than ever before, the spectre of extinction threatens to radically challenge how we eat. In fact, it is already happening.