Over the past several decades, globalization has homogenized what we eat, and done so ruthlessly. The numbers are stark: Of the roughly six thousand different plants once consumed by human beings, only nine remain major staples today. In Eating to Extinction, BBC food journalist Dan Saladino travels the world to experience and document our most at-risk foods before it's too late. He tells the stories of the people who continue to cultivate, forage, hunt, cook, and consume what the rest of us have forgotten or didn't even know existed.
Eating to Extinction is a celebration in the form of eclectic case studies ... Most of all, Saladino wishes to showcase the treasures we risk losing ... Saladino proves that one path to a reader’s sustained attention is through her stomach. Dwelling on local and individual stories is also a way to counterbalance the ghoulish pessimism that can overtake a person when she confronts more than 350 pages’ worth of evidence about our unfolding ecological crisis. The book is explicitly and passionately pedagogical, but it opts for the carrot over the stick. Look at all these earthly marvels! Saladino cries ... What Saladino finds in his adventures are people with soul-deep relationships to their food. This is not the decadence or the preciousness we might associate with a word like 'foodie,' but a form of reverence. And yet his book is also a form of dark tourism, with doom hovering over each edible miracle. That Saladino is able to simultaneously channel the euphoria of sipping pear cider that smells of 'damp autumnal forest' or tasting an inky qizha cake in the West Bank while underscoring the precariousness of these foods makes for a book that is both disturbing and enchanting.
At a time when many of us are staying closer to home, it is exhilarating to join the author on a pilgrimage to some of the last strongholds of traditional food culture. The book is an immensely readable compendium of food history, cultural lore, agricultural science, and travelogue. There are new flavors to imagine and places to visit on every page ... Saladino is not suggesting that we should go back to the diets of the past. But he does say we can learn from our forebears that food is more than just a commodity. It is ultimately a connection to the earth. Eating to Extinction is a plea to become more mindful of this inestimable gift.
Saladino’s method is digressive, and all the better for it ... The effect, as in so many chapters, is to ground the local instance in a rich and wide-ranging context ... Eating to Extinction operates on parallel time scales, as a polemic on the urgent need for action on agricultural diversity, and as a deeply researched, if accessible, history of food and drink production ... [Saladino's] prose: brisk, unornamented, yet rich in the sort of visual and anthropomorphic metaphor that helps to shed light on sometimes complex botanical and phytomorphological material ... The larger argument: vivid, but with the reportorial discipline of the radio journalist. Its satisfactions come from Saladino’s ear for a human story and the breadth of the landscapes, and ecosystems, it covers ... The effect of this is to give the reader more than just the vicarious pleasure of travelogue. Compared to the dry, statistic-heavy utilitarianism of many books on the modern global food system, Saladino’s study is immersive, evocative on a planetary scale, and appropriately so if we are to consider how best to protect the planet’s resources.