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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
After years of nibbling packaged doodads, Gary Paul Nabhan had an epiphany: He wanted to eat at home. “The food we put into our mouths today travels an average of one thousand three hundred miles,” he groans. “I realized how deeply, how desperately, most Americans needed to go home: to hunt and to hoe, to saw and to sickle, to smoke and to cure, to sup, to imbibe and to dine on what was divinely local.” In this unusual memoir of an environmental/gastronomical experiment, Nabhan chronicles his attempt to eat only fresh, local foods for a full year. It’s an enlightening journey: From purging Cranberry Almond Crunch from the cupboards to stir-frying Arizonan caterpillars, Nabhan shows us how to be in and of our homelands.
Nabhan, an environmental activist with a MacArthur Award and a Lannan Literary Fellowship under his belt, began his quest by ridding himself of all things canned, boxed, processed, or packed. He next studied what foods could be harvested within a 250-mile radius of his own house. His friends, understandably, were curious. “My family members, friends and neighbors...ask me over and over again to explain the rules,” he admits shyly. But instead of making up a quickie list of dos and don’ts, Nabhan simply followed his gut. “The taste of homemade food was not simply the soup your parents made,” he explains. “It was an oral pleasure that rose from the flavors, the minerals, the sourness or sweetness of the very ground we walk upon.” Nabhan would experiment with all the foods of his native soil, guided only by his desire for home.
Nabhan’s free-ranging investigation takes him into the oldest traditions of American cooking: wild game preparations, camote de los medanos (an underground plant called “sandfood”), saguaro fruit, mesquite tortillas, sphinx moth caterpillars, and a roadside weed called quelites de las aguas. “Their flavors were so fresh,” Nabhan enthuses. “Within minutes of devouring them, I felt more green, as if I were on some folic acid high.” But at times, of course, Nabhan’s efforts lead him into confusion. In an attempt to kill chickens, Nabhan’s insistence on personal connection with food leads only to chaos: “You simply cannot hold a knife, two feet and two wings at the same time without a lot of practice,” he admits. “After the first ten seconds of wing-beating spasms, I was covered with blood.” Eating responsibly turns out to be more painful -- and more rewarding -- than even Nabhan had envisioned.
Nabhan’s story is told slowly, with plenty of details about the esoteric foods he discovers. And while caterpillars and road greens may not please everyone, this intense inquiry surely will. (Jesse Gale)