In this week when all of us turned our attention to chocolate, I’m taking a moment to talk with you about a book — and now a podcast — that have captivated me since they hit the shelves and airwaves. The book is Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love by Simran Sethi. It’s the story of Simran’s journey to uncover the origins, mysteries and politics of five favorite foods: bread, wine, coffee, chocolate and beer.
Through its pages, Simran connects a larger picture of a broken food system and the heroes that are working to repair it. She explains why we should care about where our food comes from and how it gets to us — and what will happen if we don’t.
She begins: This book is the product of years of grief, frustration and longing. Grief over the realization that the foundations of food and food itself — the most delicious, diverse varieties of food — are being lost slowly and irrevocably. What we do to food, we do to ourselves. When we all eat the same variety of apple or banana, we aren’t just losing genetic diversity, we’re losing part of what makes us who we are. Frustration that there seemed to be little I could do about it. I didn’t understand the myriad reasons for this shift or the deep origins of the foods at risk of changing. I didn’t know how to bring what seemed so far away (farmers in fields and workers in factories) up close. I didn’t realize how much my sense of well-being and pleasure was bound up with theirs. Or how we, the eaters, could be a part of the solution.
Simran’s motivation I understand deeply — my concern for our misaligned agricultural network is what has led me to garden, to cook nearly everything I eat from scratch, to support local farmers and farmers markets, to write relentlessly about vegetables and to inspire others to garden and cook. What was new to me from Bread, Wine, Chocolate were the fascinating details about foods I have long eaten and yet known so little about. From the research behind Flavor Wheels, to the descriptions of what a cacao pod actually feels and tastes like, from the chemistry that goes into roasting a batch of coffee beans to the history of the wheat grain that dominates today’s flour. This information opened doors of understanding that allowed me to wrap my head around what makes food diversity so vital. And not only for bread, wine and chocolate but also for honey and heirloom tomatoes and bananas and rice.
Simran begins her book by describing a tour she took of Northern California chocolate maker TCHO: The scent of the chocolate was so overwhelming, my mouth started to water…. I could taste the chocolate without tasting it. Her chapter on chocolate was, to me, the most fascinating and enlightening of her book. Simran must have felt an essential connection with cacao because when she sorted through what her next project would be, that’s what she chose: chocolate.
These days Simran is host, writer and creator of The Slow Melt, a podcast that covers chocolate from bean to bar — and in the process sheds light on the origins and journey of so much of our food. The Slow Melt is in its infancy, with only two podcasts released so far. But check it out — they’re captivating and informative and they’ll give you much to chew on as you unwrap the artisanal truffles from your local chocolatier that you received on Valentine’s Day.
Did you want to read more about Buddha Bowls? How to make them and why their popularity is on the rise? Well, the post I wrote for you last week didn’t get correctly linked in the Thursday newsletter. Click here to learn all about Buddha Bowls and here for the Mediterranean Buddha Bowl recipe I made for my family’s dinner — and on my local mid-day TV show, Daytime Blue Ridge.
Up next week: Ever scrambled to head on your outdoor adventure only to leave without snacks in your pack? There’s a new subscription box service ready to help. Trail Foody, based in Roanoke, collects tasty, nutrient-rich, meant-for-the-trail snacks (the kind you can’t just pick up during your weekly grocery shop) and ships them — complete with their own stuff sack — so you’re ready for your weekend adventure. Sneak preview: It’s yum!
** All images in this post come from Simran Sethi’s website.