The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats
By Daniel Stone
2018, Dutton, 978-1-10199-059-9, $17 pb.
Reviewed by Tom Verde on January 15, 2020
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries botanist David Fairchild was a “plant explorer” for the United States Department of Agriculture. His mission: “to scour the planet for new foods and plants and bring them back to enliven his country.” Americans who today enjoy avocados, mangos, dates, pistachios and papayas, consume foods made from soybeans or sleep on Egyptian cotton sheets, have Fairchild to thank. This book traces his journeys. In Egypt he was “as eager to see the place where farming was invented as a matador might find a pilgrimage to Spain,” though cotton, a crop introduced in 1800, was of particular interest to him. In Baghdad he “amassed hundreds of dates” as well as new strains of wheat, barley, chickpea and maize. Indonesian mangosteens—cousins of mangos—were among his favorite fruits, but their thick skins and meager flesh were too much trouble for American consumers. This is an entertaining, informative culinary armchair read.