A New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Selection
“An intense and illuminating travelogue... offer[ing] a corrective to the patriarchal white gaze promoted by globetrotting eaters like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern. La Cerva combines environmental history with feminist memoir to craft a narrative that's more in tune with recent works by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Helen Macdonald and Elizabeth Rush.” —The Wall Street Journal
Two centuries ago, nearly half the North American diet was foraged, hunted, or caught in the wild. Today, so-called “wild foods” are becoming expensive luxuries, served to the wealthy in top restaurants. Meanwhile, people who depend on wild foods for survival and sustenance find their lives forever changed as new markets and roads invade the world’s last untamed landscapes.
In Feasting Wild, geographer and anthropologist Gina Rae La Cerva embarks on a global culinary adventure to trace our relationship to wild foods. Throughout her travels, La Cerva reflects on how colonialism and the extinction crisis have impacted wild spaces, and reveals what we sacrifice when we domesticate our foods —including biodiversity, Indigenous and women’s knowledge, a vital connection to nature, and delicious flavors. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, La Cerva investigates the violent “bush meat” trade, tracking elicit delicacies from the rainforests of the Congo Basin to the dinner tables of Europe. In a Danish cemetery, she forages for wild onions with the esteemed staff of Noma. In Sweden––after saying goodbye to a man known only as The Hunter––La Cerva smuggles freshly-caught game meat home to New York in her suitcase, for a feast of “heartbreak moose.”
Thoughtful, ambitious, and wide-ranging, Feasting Wild challenges us to take a closer look at the way we eat today, and introduces an exciting new voice in food journalism.
“A memorable, genre-defying work that blends anthropology and adventure.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, New York Times-bestselling author of The Sixth Extinction
“A food book with a truly original take.” —Mark Kurlansky, New York Times bestselling author of Salt: A World History
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About the Author
Gina Rae La Cerva is a geographer, environmental anthropologist, and award-winning writer who has traveled extensively to research a variety of environmental and food-related topics. A National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, La Cerva holds a Master of Environmental Science from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a Master of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Originally from New Mexico, she lives in New York, NY.
Read an Excerpt
I am in the test kitchen of the “best restaurant in the world” and I’m on the verge of throwing up. Around the room, chefs are bent over their culinary investigations. A soundtrack of downbeat reggae plays overhead.
A tall, handsome Australian chef named Brad has just taken me on a tour of Noma’s four kitchens and the private dining room where Metallica ate the week before. At the back of the restaurant, we paused to watch a man in a small shed sweating over a nine-hundred-degree fire cooking charred fish, a bandana obscuring half his face, and I thought about him standing there all day, sixteen hours, full of pride and secret doubts that intensified with each tiring hour.
Noma only uses ingredients sourced within the Nordic region (Scandinavia, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands). No lemons. No olive oil. It is a challenge to prepare a meal without such basic staples. The chefs must find similar flavors in wild ingredients. The menu changes about five times each month to keep up with the seasonal changes in ingredients, and the restaurant employs a full-time forager.
Now in the test kitchen, Brad and I stand next to shelves lined with jars of experimental foods. “These are the scallops. This is how we dry them,” Brad says as he opens a jar, “and then we emulsify them—with the wax of bees. And that’s how you get that fudge.” The things in the jar look of indeterminate origin and stink something like rancid, dirty laundry. The smell travels through my nose and into my brain, and there in the neocortex it meets signals from my stomach that say I am quite too full from the twenty-six-course lunch I’ve just eaten, and quite too nervous in the presence of this tall man, for such a smell. I start to retch. René Redzepi, the master artist himself, turns around from the photo shoot he is conducting and stares in horror. How dare I gag in his test kitchen. How dare I, indeed.
Table of Contents
Prologue-Heartbreak Moose xiii
Part 1 On Memory and Forgetting
1 Herbs and Insects 3
2 Heavy Beasts with Mushrooms and Wild Honey 37
3 Fish, Fin, Shell, and Claw 61
4 Salmis of Roasted Fowl 85
Part 2 Subjects of Desire
5 Forest Flesh with Roots and Tubers 113
6 Stewed Antelope in Tomatoes and Spices 151
7 Smoked Game and Fake Caviar 201
Part 3 Seasons of Feast and Famine
8 Moose with Chanterelles in Cream Sauce 215
9 Nests and Blooms 243
10 Wild Grass 287
Selected Bibliography and Further Reading 307