Foods thought commonplace in the United States, such as the zucchini and lemon, owe their bounty to the early 20th century global travels of botanist David Fairchild, whose efforts are chronicled in this history.
This is a story about a world in which there were no avocados until David Fairchild mailed some home, about a strange and meager period in our past in which no one had eaten a zucchini. ... Fairchild lived in optimistic times. Problems of land and crop management, he and his colleagues believed, were going to be solved in an entirely new way: 'America’s goal wasn’t just to farm; it was to construct an industrial agricultural system bigger and more profitable than any group of people had ever built.' The bloom, of course, is off that rose, but it doesn’t make Fairchild’s story, and the profound role he played in ushering us into modernity, any less fascinating.
Mr. Stone is an amiable narrator who balances botany, culinary history and travelogue with fast-paced adventure writing and a well-drawn cast of characters, although his prose is marred occasionally by a clumsy or clichéd metaphor ... From the outset, Fairchild acknowledged that collecting new plants and transporting them to the United States was the easy part of his job. Convincing consumers to get past what he called 'a persistent conservatism of taste' and try new foods was far more difficult. His success in breaking through that barrier was perhaps his most important contribution to the evolution of American cuisine.
The book retraces Fairchild’s journeys and includes enough cultural and political history to situate the reader in early 20th-century America, though Stone does not looking too closely at the ethics of Fairchild’s work, which sometimes involved stealing plants and seeds ... Despite occasionally awkward phrasing, The Food Explorer does a wonderful job bringing Fairchild’s story to life and giving this American original some overdue recognition.