Taking a cue from yesterday’s post, another recent Gastropod can be combined with a review in the New York Times of a book that fits well in our pages:
You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and his struggles to get them back home to the United States.
This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America’s place in the world.
Daniel Stone, an author I had not known of 24 hours ago, fits well within our pages as part of a mix of historical sleuthing and present-day food activism that have been central themes here since we started. Thanks to his book being the subject of that podcast, as well as its review last month, allow us to recommend that if you have an hour for the both, combine the listen with the read:
In a photograph dated Christmas 1896, featured in “The Food Explorer,” Daniel Stone’s biography of the botanist and explorer David Fairchild, his subject is sitting with his patron and friend Barbour Lathrop, in what looks like an empty saloon or a lounge on a steamship. The caption informs us that they’re off the coast of Sumatra; both are dressed in white and have mustaches that border on the extravagant.
Lathrop is wearing a bow tie; Fairchild seems to be sitting on the bar. For the picture to be any more a portrait of the Gilded Age, it would have to sing the libretto of “The Mikado.” In one memorable sequence of events, Fairchild took a train across the United States. “The Transcontinental Railroad connected New York to Sacramento at the new, exhilarating speed of 35 miles per hour,” Stone reports, adding that its passengers were fed on grouse and champagne.
When Fairchild arrived on the West Coast, he learned that the boat he and Lathrop were to board had already left, so they hopped on another train and began the two-week journey to catch another boat in New Orleans, stopping in Santa Barbara to meet Dr. Francesco Franceschi, “who cut for his visitor a slice of a curious squash — ‘zucchini,’ he called it.”…
Read the whole NYT review here.