Food nourishes us not only physically, but intellectually, emotionally and spiritually too.
Don George, Introduction, A Moveable Feast.
A month ago I decided to take my friend’s advice of setting up an account on Goodreads and its 2014 reading challenge. I picked a minimum of fifty books as I didn’t want to feel too much pressure or guilt in case I couldn’t keep up with my meager 4 books per month goal.
While browsing the kindle store a particular book caught my attention: A Moveable Feast of the Lonely Planet Travel Literature series. As some of you may recognize, the title is reminiscent of Hemingway’s book A Moveable Feast, the writer’s memoir of his experience in 1920s Paris. This obvious homage to the American writer was so intriguing that I then decided to buy the book without reading the summary of the back cover. I’ m glad to say that it was a very good choice as I enjoyed this book enormously.
Seemingly inspired by Hemingway’s alternating of touching and entertaining portraits of the Parisian capital, A Moveable Feast is a collection of thirty-eight tales written by well-known food critics, poets, chefs, and travel writers on the beauty of food and its role within our lives. Travel and food are inseparably intertwined, says Don George in his introduction to the collection, and together they are great teachers of complex and oftentimes life changing lessons.
While some of these stories consists of reflections on the culinary world, others give us detailed descriptions of the authors’ incredible and oftentimes hilarious journeys in the most remote places of this earth. Taken perhaps from a larger narrative piece, these sketches of unusual expeditions and culinary adventures are incredibly vivid and certainly leave you with the desire to book the next flight for a random destination, pack a couple of T-shirts and live a life-changing adventure.
I find travel literature a stimulating genre and, for a foodie like myself, this celebration of foods adventures left me with a big smile on my face. Who wouldn’t laugh at Lawrence Millman’s A Feast on Fais descriptions of his farewell dinner of ‘flying foxes’, which are actually bats, on Micronesia’s most remote island? Equally, who wouldn’t be mesmerized by Henry Shukman’s recollection of his banquet in Crete in Dinner with Dionysus? There is something fascinating about his detailed descriptions of the stewed lamb cooked in olive oil ‘made from trees growing up the dry hill just above the restaurant’ and the brown wine that only minutes before he wasn’t able to drink. His conclusive reflections summarize perhaps what all the travel writer experience during their journeys. ‘There is nothing on this earth I’d rather be drinking’, he confesses, ‘than this small glass of brown liquid… It’s as if it has become an emissary of the land all around us, and by letting it in, I’m letting the whole landscape in too.’
I’m closing this review with a brief reflection on Pico Iyer’s tale Daily Bread which in my opinion, together with Shukman’s, summarizes what this book is all about. More than a descriptive narration about his peculiar experience, this text offers an insightful understanding of the universality of food and of what it really means for travelers.
Reminiscing on his stay at a Benedictine hermitage tucked into the central coast of California, Iyer describes what food has come to mean for him: ‘Sometimes, when I don’t intend to, I think about what I seek at mealtime. It’s not the tastes I savour; it’s not the setting, the circumstances, the company. The food is a way of happiness, a sense of peace.’ For Iyer eating has a deeper meaning than as fuel or of trying new and different things. It’s voyage deep inside oneself that brings more understanding of the world surrounding us.