A delightful exploration of traditional foods as well as a grim warning that we are farming on borrowed time.

EATING TO EXTINCTION

THE WORLD'S RAREST FOODS AND WHY WE NEED TO SAVE THEM

Fascinating descriptions of Indigenous and mostly disappearing foods, plus an alarming message.

Veteran BBC food journalist Saladino emphasizes that world food production exploded after World War II when scientists produced superproductive grains, plants, and livestock. Though these developments drastically reduced famine, the mechanics involved require enormous inputs of chemicals, fertilizer, and water. Relying on elite, high-yield species eliminated those that didn’t measure up, diminishing their diversity. Today, rice, wheat, and corn provide half of all human calories. Most global pork comes from a single breed of pig, and more than 95% of U.S. dairy cows are a single breed, the Holstein. Limiting food diversity has been enormously profitable for large corporations, but the future consequences make scientists uneasy. “We are living and eating our way through one big unparalleled experiment,” writes the author. Having defined the problem, Saladino chronicles his travels around the world, describing dozens of vanishing edibles and pausing regularly to deliver the history of the major foods and food production. Readers will be intrigued and educated by his interviews with experts who warn of our disastrous dependence on a shrinking number of standardized foods. Commercial barley can’t survive in the cold, infertile islands north of Scotland, but its ancestral variety does fine. Although nearing extinction in the wild, Atlantic salmon is a familiar food item because almost all of them are farm raised. Bred to be faster growing and meatier, they have become a bland domestic food animal no less than the chicken or cow. Though there are more than 1,500 varieties of banana, most markets are dominated by the Cavendish, a cloned fruit grown in immense monocultures visible by satellite. Being genetically identical, they can’t evolve and so can’t develop resistance to disease, which inevitably spreads like wildfire. One specific disease is currently devastating the Cavendish, but scientists are working to edit the plant’s DNA “to find a fix against the disease.”

A delightful exploration of traditional foods as well as a grim warning that we are farming on borrowed time.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60532-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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