If this book has one message, it’s this: diversity is resiliency. It’s a message that applies to human cultures, natural ecosystems, and even the microorganisms in our bodies. And where can we find the most culinary and nutritional diversity? Not in the food we eat today. And probably not in the future, which, if we choose to pursue lab-grown meat, patented transgenic produce, or some as-yet-undeveloped version of Soylent Green, is bound to be even less varied than what we eat today. We need to look to the past, to the huge variety of foods we’ve eaten through the course of our species’ existence, a diversity that we are now at risk of losing.
— emp. 275

Quel est le point commun entre l’engrain, le garum, le silphium, le cerdo ibérico, l’ahuautle, le wensleydale et l’huile d’olive ? Nous avons oublié ces aliments, ou presque1, alors qu’ils nous ont nourris pendant des siècles. Bien qu’il enchaine les monographies gastrohistoriques., Taras Grescoe n’est pas Mark Kurlansky, cuisinier narcissique dont la morue était trop salée. The Lost Supper est une authentique œuvre d’archéologie gustative, tournée vers le monde (même si, comme souvent, le continent africain est pratiquement ignoré) plutôt que vers elle-même (au point d’avoir été largement éventée dans l’infolettre du même nom), servie par une plume piquante et savoureuse.

Grescoe mange du « caviar mexicain » et des vers, flaire la sauce de poisson et le fromage bleu, tâte les cochons noirs et les oliviers gris, prépare du pain et du kimchi. C’est une histoire naturelle, faite par des graines et des bactéries, c’est une histoire humaine, faite par des chasseurs-cueilleurs en pagne et des chercheurs en blouse blanche, c’est une histoire économique, faite et surtout défaite par les révolutions industrielles. C’est notre passé et j’espère que c’est notre futur, parce qu’il est infiniment plus excitant — et gouteux ! — que notre présent emballé en barquettes.

Reste que le problème de notre alimentation n’est pas un problème d’aliments, mais plutôt un problème de culture(s). Nos cuisines sont devenues des laboratoires, environnements stériles et aseptisés, où nous assemblons des ingrédients en suivant une recette comme d’autres assemblent des pièces en suivant une ligne de production. Nos réfrigérateurs sont pleins de choses mais vides de sens : nous ne savons plus les saisons, nous ne savons plus les terroirs, nous ne savons plus les mains qui sont venues avant notre bouche. Nous devons redécouvrir nos cultures, réécrites par le complexe agro-industriel, en même temps que les cultures, celles qui sortent de la terre comme celles qui flottent dans l’air.

Il est bien difficile de grignoter les larves d’un insecte dont nous avons détruit l’habitat, de moudre le grain d’un blé que nous ne produisons quasiment plus2, de presser les fruits d’oliviers desséchés par les étés caniculaires et rongés par un parasite importé. Nous sommes ce que nous mangeons, nous ne mangeons plus ce que nous avons empêché d’être. C’est la limite de l’approche de Grescoe, qui reconnait qu’il y a quelque chose de paradoxal à cramer des tonnes de carbone pour parcourir le monde en avion afin de recommander la redécouverte d’aliments qui sont loin dans le temps… mais proches, si proches, dans l’espace.


L’autre trinité :

Cornstalks could also be intercropped with, or grown between, rows of squash and beans, a practice that continually replenishes the soil’s nitrogen. Such fields, still common in highland areas, are known as milpas. (“Three Sisters” farming, in which climbing beans are allowed to twine around cornstalks planted in piled soil, with squash planted between the mounds, spread as far north as modern-day Quebec and Ontario, where it’s still practiced in traditionally Iroquoian-speaking Nations.) Unlike fields of wheat and other Old World cereals, milpas don’t have to go through fallow seasons to restore their fertility. Up to a dozen crops, including chiles, avocados, tomatoes, and melons, are typically grown at once. While industrial agriculture can degrade topsoil in a matter of decades, some milpas have been continuously farmed for four millennia.
— emp. 607

La surproduction, c’est aussi pour les insectes :

It’s unfortunate that the most delicious, wild-caught bugs tended to be the ones most vulnerable to overharvesting. Redon agreed this was a problem, but added it wouldn’t stop him from encouraging visitors—gringos like me—from sampling ant eggs and ahuautle. These were the gateway bugs, the indulgences that could encourage people to look at sustainably harvested and farmed species as food to be enjoyed rather than pests to be exterminated. “Don’t be scared,” he advised, with a smile. “Eat more bugs. If you don’t like them, that’s fine. But you have to try.” I told him that when I got home, that was exactly the approach I was going to take with my son Desmond.
— emp. 834

Le monde « moderne » :

A decade ago, Smithfield Foods, which contracts with two thousand CAFOs in the United States, was purchased by WH Group, or Wanzhou Guoji, the Hong Kong–based multinational, of which it’s now a wholly owned subsidiary. The $7 billion takeover, the largest-ever acquisition of an American company by Chinese buyers, met a pressing need: China, which holds only 7 percent of the world’s farmland, now consumes half of the world’s pork. The triumph of fast-growing, garbage-eating Chinese pig breeds is now complete: the world’s largest producer, source of most of the pork eaten by Americans, is now Chinese. The CAFOs of Duplin County produce as much waste as Guangzhou, a megacity with eighteen million residents. In China, where the majority of pigs are still raised outside on small farms, cesspools are strictly forbidden, as is the practice of spraying manure on fields. American hog farmers supply the middle class of China—who, like Americans, have come to expect meat at every meal—while fouling the environment and ruining the lives of their neighbors. That is the irony of eating barbecue, pulled pork, and ribs. In the South, barbecue is almost always made with cheap commodity pork, bought at a Sam’s Club or a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, with no thought given to the breed or its provenance. That’s why I believe seeking out good meat, from heritage breeds, isn’t a niche pursuit for the privileged few. It’s the decent, healthy, and just thing to do. And because it’s costlier, eating quality pork is something I can’t afford to do often—and eating less meat is certainly better for my well-being and the planet’s.
— emp. 1 389

J’essaye aussi de parvenir à cet équilibre :

After years of noncarnivory, I’ve come to a place where I think it’s ethical, and healthy, to eat meat raised this way. It’s not a foundational part of my diet, but something I enjoy every now and then. For that reason, I’m willing to go out of my way for good meat and pay the true price for it when I find it.
— emp. 1 477

Les Japonais ont un mot pour tout et c’est fantastique :

There’s a lesser-known Japanese term that describes the role flavorful small fish can play in cooking. Kakushi-aji, or “hidden taste,” refers to something added to a dish to enhance the flavor of the main ingredients. Examples include the diaphanous bonito flakes that get shaved into miso broth, a bit of coffee or chocolate added to a curry sauce, or the splash of mirin—sweet wine made from glutinous rice—in a salad dressing.
— emp. 1 514

La nature n’existe plus, il nous revient donc de la préserver :

Our species, whose origin stories lie in lost Arcadias, has always sought to re-create paradise on Earth. In places like Puglia, we actually succeeded. But many of us have forgotten that these Edens didn’t just happen: they are the product of millennia of care and toil. If we really value them, the responsibility to preserve them falls on us.
— emp. 3 024

Extinctio rebellio :

Just as the Amazon rainforest is now felled to pasture cows, Libya was deforested to provide more pastureland for Roman sheep, increasing soil erosion, reducing rainfall, and kick-starting the process of desertification. As the population of Cyrenaica peaked at 135,000, farming estates expanded south of Cyrene, into the narrow band where silphion grew. Since Greek times, cutting the plant’s root, rather than harvesting it, had been forbidden, but by allowing their sheep to get fat—and delicious—on silphion, the farmers found a way to get around the law. […] Faced with warmer winter temperatures, the destruction of its habitat, and foraging sheep, silphion didn’t stand a chance in Cyrenaica. “Silphium not only represents the first recorded instance of species extinction at the hands of humankind,” one recent study has concluded, “but also the first instance of such extinction induced primarily by climate change of any cause or scale.”
— emp. 3 285

Voyager en mangeant :

The secret to time travel, it turns out, is that humans today are identical in physique, intelligence, and problem-solving abilities to just about anybody who has lived in the last sixty thousand years. When confronted with a problem—like how to build a shelter or assemble a meal—our prehistoric ancestors drew on the same set of innate capacities that we possess. The challenge, I realized, was seeing the world through their eyes. Once I knew that, the only things I needed to travel in the past were my own curiosity and imagination. This has changed my day-to-day relationship with food, in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Before this journey began, I flattered myself that, with my diet heavy on small fish, vegetables, grains, and pulses, I was one of the world’s responsible eaters. My thoughtfulness, though, was limited to my consumer choices—the items I picked off the shelves of local stores and markets. Thinking about the past of food has made me think harder about what I eat in the present, and every trip has changed the way I cook and eat.
— emp. 3 500

Le meilleur régime alimentaire :

Bread is often poetically called “the staff of life,” but the label is inaccurate. Wheat could sustain life, except for the fact that it lacks lysine, one of the nine amino acids essential for building the proteins we need to survive. Humans can almost—but not quite—live on bread alone. […] We could, however, survive solely on a diet of grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza bianca, or Welsh rarebit; cheese, like eggs, soybeans, and red meat, is an excellent source of lysine.
— emp. 3 741

Les liaisons gastronomiques :

The archaeologist responsible for the slow, methodical excavation of Çatalhöyük, Ian Hodder, uses the term entanglement to describe the complex of technologies, tools, and plants and animals that come to enmesh people in different societies. I had a hunch that food, in particular grains and bread, was key to the mystery of why the hunter-gatherers of the Konya Plain chose to stay put in one of history’s first proto-cities. They were entangled with those stands of emmer that grew nearby, with the obsidian-bladed scythes they used to cut it down, with the volcanic-rock querns next to the hearths, with the clay they fashioned to make the ovens. They were entangled, in other words, with their daily bread, and curious enough to stick around to see what tomorrow’s loaf would taste like.
— emp. 4 900

  1. Les Espagnols n’ont jamais oublié leurs cochons (même si la dehesa recule) et leurs olives (même si la diversité recule). ↩︎

  2. Mais pas impossible : la ferme de la Girodière, qui nous fournit d’excellentes farines de blés anciens (Florence Aurore et Rouge de Bordeaux), s’est enfin décidée à semer une parcelle d’engrain. ↩︎