Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book: Twain's Feast

This wonderful summer read is a quest by Berkeley-based author, Andrew Beahrs. While Twain was on an extensive tour of Europe he had a terrible bout of home sickness. He expressed this by denigrating the food he was served throughout the continent and by creating an imaginary American menu, the feast referred to in the title (he included the list in his "A Tramp Abroad", 1880).

What is amazing about this recounting is that more than a century later, Twain's Feast should strike such a relevant chord. Most of the items he fondly desires are rooted in a specific place and would have been eaten only fresh and in season. It reminds us that we are not so much inventing a new way of sourcing our food - rooted, fresh, and limited in geography - but returning to what was. It is a view to a time before freight trains and refrigeration homogenized our American palate.

It is also a reminder that food was one of the most important way in which place was distinguished. Not mussels, but San Francisco mussels steamed in their shell. Not just bacon, but Virginia bacon, broiled. Twain was not just day-dreaming of taste but also the flavor of a place.

It may seem obvious to say that this connection between place and food must in part be driving our impulse to local food. In choosing to eat a more rooted cuisine we are helping to distinguish our city, town, village, etc. I, for one, celebrate this renaissance of difference.

Taking off from this idea Beahrs dives into an investigation of a select few items from Twain's menu. It has been quite a treat to go along for the ride.

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