Published: February 20, 2018
Publisher: Dutton Books
Series: Stand alone
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 397 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.0/5.0
The true adventures of David Fairchild, a late-nineteenth-century food explorer who traveled the globe and introduced diverse crops like avocados, mangoes, seedless grapes–and thousands more–to the American plate.
In the nineteenth century, American meals were about subsistence, not enjoyment. But as a new century approached, appetites broadened, and David Fairchild, a young botanist with an insatiable lust to explore and experience the world, set out in search of foods that would enrich the American farmer and enchant the American eater.
Kale from Croatia, mangoes from India, and hops from Bavaria. Peaches from China, avocados from Chile, and pomegranates from Malta. Fairchild’s finds weren’t just limited to food: From Egypt he sent back a variety of cotton that revolutionized an industry, and via Japan he introduced the cherry blossom tree, forever brightening America’s capital. Along the way, he was arrested, caught diseases, and bargained with island tribes. But his culinary ambition came during a formative era, and through him, America transformed into the most diverse food system ever created.
LOOK AT ME, I’M READING NON-FICTION! I picked up a couple food-related non-fiction books during an Audible sale last month and I was pretty excited to read this one. This is the story of David Fairchild, a young up and coming botanist that went to travel the world searching for plants to send back to the United States. This man lived an absolutely fascinating life and his travels resulted in SO MANY DELICIOUS FOODS being popularized in the United States.
I can’t imagine how bland the culinary arts were before the introduction and hybridization of many of the foods mentioned in this book. While the food is fascinating, Fairchild’s travels, acquaintances, and the political nightmare of the USDA were the real showstoppers. Originally from Kansas, Fairchild moved to the east coast to live with family and hopefully start a successful career. He ends up crossing the Atlantic, meeting the wealthy Barbour Lathrop, and beginning his career of plant piracy (it wasn’t always theft). Fairchild and Lathrop became fast friends and ended up travelling together for years, circumnavigating the globe several times and sending back thousands upon thousands of plants to the Department of Agriculture. The USDA would cultivate the plants and distribute them to farmers across the country in hopes of having successful money-making crops. Mangos, avocados, dates, new varieties of cotton, and superior hops from around the world drastically changed agriculture and diet in the US.
This was a fascinating (if not always thrilling) book documenting Fairchild’s work and I’m really glad I picked it up. I honestly couldn’t stand Barbour Lathrop for much of the book because good grief, he was bossy and self-centered. As Fairchild grew more confident during his travels and experiences the interactions between the two became more of a peer to peer thing rather than a student and mentor relationship. Fairchild eventually has mentees of his own and they were even more adventurous than he was. One guy spent years travelling around China during severe political unrest and he was robbed and beaten on SO many occasions. Wild times, man, wild times.
If you’re looking for an interesting non-fiction book to check and you like botany/science/knowing where your food comes from or are just interested in American history, you may want to check this out. The audiobook was a solid performance and helped to maintain my attention, whereas I think as a print book this may have been a little less attention grabbing.