Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food by Lenore Newman

Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food by Lenore Newman
Published by ECW Press yesterday, the 8th October 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge read and a Book With A Vegan Character. Included in my Vegan Bookshop.
I am linking up this review with October 2019 Foodies Read over at Based On A True Story

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we humans love foods, we love them a lot. In fact, we have often eaten them into extinction, whether it is the megafauna of the Paleolithic world or the passenger pigeon of the last century. In Lost Feast, food expert Lenore Newman sets out to look at the history of the foods we have loved to death and what that means for the culinary paths we choose for the future. Whether it’s chasing down the luscious butter of local Icelandic cattle or looking at the impacts of modern industrialized agriculture on the range of food varieties we can put in our shopping carts, Newman’s bright, intelligent gaze finds insight and humor at every turn.

Bracketing the chapters that look at the history of our relationship to specific foods, Lenore enlists her ecologist friend and fellow cook, Dan, in a series of “extinction dinners” designed to recreate meals of the past or to illustrate how we might be eating in the future. Part culinary romp, part environmental wake-up call, Lost Feast makes a critical contribution to our understanding of food security today. You will never look at what’s on your plate in quite the same way again.

Lost Feast is an engaging exploration of our destructive relationships with our favourite foods. Looking back to the Romans and beyond, Newman tries to understand why, as a species, we seem so dedicated to driving what we love to extinction - and how, perhaps, we might be able to stem this trend before we literally have nothing left to eat. Newman looks at historically popular foods from mammoths to passenger pigeons, silphium to pears, and also clearly demonstrates how the imminent loss of pollinators such as bees will be catastrophic for human diets. Monoculture farming has resulted in widespread availability of cheap calories, but with such restricted choice that if our increasingly poisoned environment could no longer support, say, wheat or maize corn or soy, people en masse could well be one of the next species on the endangered list. It sounds like science fiction, but simply looking back over the past few decades, let alone centuries, shows a trend which should have a lot more of us very worried.

I am lucky to have been in France whilst reading Lost Feast so able to indulge in a spot of terroir cuisine that would have been considerably more difficult in the UK. We foraged enough hazelnuts and walnuts from nearby wild trees for a good nut roast, and a neighbour gifted us home-grown pears for poaching in spiced red wine. The French are still keen on preserving local food varieties and on the whole will pay enough to ensure growers and farmers receive a living wage. As a result I notice a much wider choice of produce available even in national supermarket chains. By contrast UK supermarkets might have thirty similar-yet-different processed pasta sauces, but only three varieties of apples, mostly flown from the other side of the world and tasteless.

I appreciated Newman's focus on not only our ever decreasing choices, but also the poor quality of mass-grown fruit and vegetables and factory-farmed meat compared to their properly nutured counterparts. We have so quickly become accustomed to subsidised, bland food that I see people horrified at the true price of real ingredients.  I remember just thirty years ago a roast chicken was an expensive treat to be savoured maybe once a month. Now I could afford to eat mass-produced chicken for every dinner if I wanted to, but I would say it's over a decade since 'savour' was the appropriate verb!

Lost Feast isn't just a disaster story though. Newman looks to the future of food by trying out laboratory-grown meat and plant-based meat alternatives, and by visiting people who are returning to traditional ways of food production. She shows how each of us really can make a difference through our purchasing choices - and it's not through trying eat a whole turducken! Lost Feast was a fascinating book for me to read. As someone who is already concerned about where my food comes from, I already had an awareness of the current issues, but not how they fit into the historical record. I loved the idea of the Extinction Dinners as a means to demonstrate Newman's research and ideas. Lost Feast is a timely book, especially for foodies such as myself.

Etsy Find!
by Vintage Papertrails in
the UK

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Books by Lenore Newman / Nonfiction books / Books from Canada


  1. I've been trying to understand my relationship with food in the last two years, so I think this book would be helpful to me.

    Thanks for the review!

    1. Lenore approaches the subject from an interesting angle, and I appreciated her humorous writing style :-)

  2. Sounds interesting. We humans never seem to learn from past mistakes and take so much for granted.

    1. Exactly the points Lenore makes. We're a depressingly predictable species!

  3. Your review makes this sound like a very interesting perspective on a topic that's concerning more and more food writers -- what will we eat after we destroy much of the food-producing capacity of the planet?


    best... mae at

    1. I learned a lot from reading Lost Feast and it helped me to think about the variety and provenance of what I choose to eat