“Edifying and entertaining. ” — Foreword Reviews, starred review
A rollicking exploration of the history and future of our favorite foods
When we humans love foods, we love them a lot. In fact, we have often eaten them into extinction, whether it is the megafauna of the Paleolithic world or the passenger pigeon of the last century. In Lost Feast, food expert Lenore Newman sets out to look at the history of the foods we have loved to death and what that means for the culinary paths we choose for the future. Whether it’s chasing down the luscious butter of local Icelandic cattle or looking at the impacts of modern industrialized agriculture on the range of food varieties we can put in our shopping carts, Newman’s bright, intelligent gaze finds insight and humor at every turn.
Bracketing the chapters that look at the history of our relationship to specific foods, Lenore enlists her ecologist friend and fellow cook, Dan, in a series of “extinction dinners” designed to recreate meals of the past or to illustrate how we might be eating in the future. Part culinary romp, part environmental wake-up call, Lost Feast makes a critical contribution to our understanding of food security today. You will never look at what’s on your plate in quite the same way again.
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.
“Newman’s jaunts through the animal kingdom alternate with themed meals with her friend Dan as she ponders how historical extinctions are linked to our current food systems, what we can do about it, and how humans must follow the example of the famed New York ‘pizza rat,’ and adapt to the food that comes their way. ” — Booklist
“Edifying and entertaining . . . 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. ” — Foreword Reviews, starred review
“Free-wheeling look at the flora and fauna we’ve eaten into oblivion. ” — Toronto Star
“An interesting and thought-provoking adventure alongside an engaging, wry-humored narrator, the book forces the reader to consider humans’ role in historic plant and animal extinctions, as well as how we might approach food more reasonably moving forward. ” — Civil Eats
“If you've ever wondered about the impact the human appetite has had on plans and animals, Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food by Lenore Newman (2019, ECW Press, $24. 95) is for you. ” — WVNews