Reviews of Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino

Eating to Extinction

The World's Rarest Foods and Why We Need to Save Them

by Dan Saladino

Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino X
Eating to Extinction by Dan Saladino
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 464 pages

    Jan 2023, 464 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Nichole Brazelton
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About this Book

Book Summary

Dan Saladino's Eating to Extinction is the prominent broadcaster's pathbreaking tour of the world's vanishing foods and his argument for why they matter now more than ever.

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. Just three of these―rice, wheat, and corn―now provide fifty percent of all our calories. Dig deeper and the trends are more worrisome still:

The source of much of the world's food―seeds―is mostly in the control of just four corporations. Ninety-five percent of milk consumed in the United States comes from a single breed of cow. Half of all the world's cheese is made with bacteria or enzymes made by one company. And one in four beers drunk around the world is the product of one brewer.

If it strikes you that everything is starting to taste the same wherever you are in the world, you're by no means alone. This matters: when we lose diversity and foods become endangered, we not only risk the loss of traditional foodways, but also of flavors, smells, and textures that may never be experienced again. And the consolidation of our food has other steep costs, including a lack of resilience in the face of climate change, pests, and parasites. Our food monoculture is a threat to our health―and to the planet.

In Eating to Extinction, the distinguished 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 fascinating 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. Take honey―not the familiar product sold in plastic bottles, but the wild honey gathered by the Hadza people of East Africa, whose diet consists of eight hundred different plants and animals and who communicate with birds in order to locate bees' nests. Or consider murnong―once the staple food of Aboriginal Australians, this small root vegetable with the sweet taste of coconut is undergoing a revival after nearly being driven to extinction. And in Sierra Leone, there are just a few surviving stenophylla trees, a plant species now considered crucial to the future of coffee.

From an Indigenous American chef refining precolonial recipes to farmers tending Geechee red peas on the Sea Islands of Georgia, the individuals profiled in Eating to Extinction are essential guides to treasured foods that have endured in the face of rampant sameness and standardization. They also provide a roadmap to a food system that is healthier, more robust, and, above all, richer in flavor and meaning.

Hadza Honey
Lake Eyasi, Tanzania

It was April, the rainy season. Short downpours had brought pockets of colour to the greens and browns of the East African savannah as small delicate flowers bloomed. Nectar was becoming abundant and, with it, honey. I was with a group of Hadza hunters, a scattered population of just over one thousand people. The tribe has lived in the dry bush of northern Tanzania, near the shore of Lake Eyasi, for tens of thousands of years, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. Now, fewer than two hundred Hadza live fully as hunter-gatherers, making them the last people in Africa to practise no form of agriculture. The group I was with had walked far away from the camp and deep into the bush, led by a young man named Sigwazi. As he walked, he whistled.

This wasn't a melodious tune, more a series of angular ups and downs on a musical scale, each passage finished with a high-pitched twirl. To my ears there was no obvious musical pattern to follow but something in ...

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The book is written in easy-to-understand language, and readers will finish every chapter feeling they have learned something new and valuable in an almost effortless way. What, exactly, they will learn are the histories and stories of diverse and important foods that are in danger of never being tasted again. Hopefully, with the help of Saladino's efforts, more attention will be brought to the issue of food extinction. While he offers no simple solutions, the information he provides, coupled with his brilliant storytelling, will no doubt leave readers considering the impacts of government policies, warfare, colonization and capitalism on the environment and on the indigenous people and cultures that have inhabited lands across the globe for millennia...continued

Full Review (746 words)

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(Reviewed by Nichole Brazelton).

Media Reviews

New York Times
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.

Booklist (starred review)
Into this maelstrom of climate change that all of us are now experiencing, to varying degrees, Saladino...brings more bad news, seeded with some good...A deeply saddening, too-familiar story containing yet a kernel of hope.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[F]ascinating...Readers will be intrigued and educated...A delightful exploration of traditional foods as well as a grim warning that we are farming on borrowed time.

Library Journal
Foodies and slow food enthusiasts will appreciate this deep dive into the history and diversity of global foods and the call to preserve them.

Publishers Weekly
[A]n illuminating survey of vanishing varieties of food and the people struggling to preserve them...The result is an agricultural investigation that's fascinating in its discoveries while sorrowful in documenting what has been lost.

Author Blurb Alice Waters
Dan Saladino's stories of endangered foods form a rallying cry to us all to protect the world's diversity before it's too late. But this is also a book filled with optimism; it captures the energy of a global movement of people dedicating their lives to saving the plants, the animals, the flavors, and the food knowledge we must preserve.

Author Blurb Ken Albala, professor of history at the University of the Pacific
This is a work of staggering importance. If we relinquish control of the food supply to industrial technology, we lose not only our cultural heritage and good taste, but the ability to feed ourselves in a sustainable, local and meaningful way. Dan Saladino sounds a call to action, not a swan song of bygone foodways, and it should be required reading on the lists of everyone concerned about food.

Author Blurb Paul Freedman, professor at Yale University and author of Ten Restaurants that Changed America
Eating to Extinction is an exhaustively researched and fascinating account of endangered food and drink. As a study of biodiversity and cultural creativity its message is alarming yet hopeful.

Author Blurb Paul Greenberg, bestselling author of the James Beard award-winner Four Fish
Over the course of the handful of millennia we humans have been growing food, Dan Saldino tells us in his incisive book Eating to Extinction, we have foolishly whittled down our original diet from over 6,000 species of plants to just nine. Rice, wheat and corn make up half of our calories. By digging at the roots of this top heavy arrangement Saladino delivers profound truths about our food system while taking the reader on a fabulous journey of taste, texture and provenance.

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Beyond the Book

The Hadza and the Honeyguide

Greater honeyguide on tree branch against white background In Dan Saladino's book Eating to Extinction, readers find themselves in the midst of the Hadza people. The Hadza live in northern Tanzania, in camps that average between 20 and 30 individuals.

The Hadza have been in this region for thousands of years, and they are well-known for their honey harvesting. Making up roughly 15% of their daily caloric intake according to some estimates, the honey of wild bees is a nutritional staple, but it's also a way of life and of honoring tradition for the Hadza. There are seven different types of honey they consume. Hadza women are generally responsible for collecting honey that can be found close to the ground, and Hadza men are charged with hunting the tribe's favorite type of honey, ba'alako. Ba'...

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