Book Review: Bread, Wine, Chocolate

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer.

Every day, we eat. We eat for sustenance. We eat for pleasure. We eat to heal. But how much do you know about what you’re eating? Have you ever thought about where all your food comes from?

For most of us, the answer is no. We eat mindlessly, picking food at random at the grocery store because it’s the cheapest or because it’s the same brand our parents used to by. But if you want that to change, you should read Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. The book will give you a rude awakening – but it’s an awakening we all need.

Written by award-winning journalist Simran Sethi, Bread, Wine Chocolate takes us on a journey around the world to explore this simple truth: 75% of our food comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species. We’re losing much of the biodiversity in our foods, and that could mean that many of our dietary staples (like the Cavendish banana we’ve been hearing so much about lately) could go extinct. Sethi takes us from Australia to Ecuador to Ethiopia to learn why this is happening, what that means for our futures…and how we can stop it.

The loss of biodiversity in food is a massive topic, and one that’s hard to care about at first glance. But Sethi is a master at making it both understandable and relatable in Bread, Wine, Chocolate. The book is packed full of studies on flavor and the science of conservation, but Sethi turns these findings into a story that’s accessible even to a scientific novice. It helps that she chose to focus on foods that people have strong attachments to (like coffee and chocolate). And instead of telling us about the ways of lives that our current shopping habits are destroying, she shows us. We meet the coffee farmers in Ethiopia and the cocoa pickers in Ecuador whose lives are totally dependent on our shopping habits. Plus, this is as much Sethi’s journey on understanding food as it is ours – and I loved that I felt like I was learning with her instead of being taught at.

However, I think the real genius of Bread, Wine, Chocolate is in its focus on flavor. As much as we might care about the people depicted in the book, it’s hard to care about a topic you can’t fully experience. But biodiversity can be experienced. We can taste the difference in Budweiser and a craft beer, although we might not have the vocabulary to describe that difference. Sethi gives us that vocabulary. At the end of each chapter, she provides with us with a Tasting Guide that encourages us to try and compare different kinds of, for example, wine. She teaches us to experience our food fully – not only with our tongues but with our eyes and ears too.  And in doing so, she brings her book fully to life in a way that other books about other topics cannot.

Of course, Bread, Wine, Chocolate is not without its faults. For one thing, it will definitely ruin any diet you’re thinking of embarking on, so be sure to have some good food with you as you read it. On a more serious note, Bread, Wine, Chocolate is incredibly well-organized, so I was expecting there to be a chapter at the end on actions an individual could take to help conserve biodiversity in the environment. While these actions are named in the book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate is filled with an overwhelming amount of information and such a chapter would have been helpful.

Also, I found it interesting that Bread, Wine, Chocolate didn’t talk about meat at all – especially because one of the final chapters talks briefly about how the kinds of fish we eat affects the biodiversity of the oceans. It’s entirely possible that talking about the biodiversity in the animals we eat may have made for an entirely different kind of book. However, I would have appreciated just a little bit of commentary on the topic.

Still, all in all, Bread, Wine, Chocolate was the wake-up call I didn’t know I needed – but I am glad to have had. Sethi describes it best herself in her own introduction when she writes, “…how we eat is a reflection of how we live. By sustaining agricultural biodiversity, we sustain ourselves.”

In other words? I would never have picked this book up on my own, because I would have assumed it was too scientific for my tastes. But Bread, Wine, Chocolate is as much story as it is science, and above all else it’s a story about a person who loves food. If you’re a person who loves food and who wishes to continue eating your favorites for years to come, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Liked this? Check out our interview with the author, Simran Sethi!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the writer.

Every day, we eat. We eat for sustenance. We eat for pleasure. We eat to heal. But how much do you know about what you’re eating? Have you ever thought about where all your food comes from?

For most of us, the answer is no. We eat mindlessly, picking food at random at the grocery store because it’s the cheapest or because it’s the same brand our parents used to by. But if you want that to change, you should read Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. The book will give you a rude awakening – but it’s an awakening we all need.

Written by award-winning journalist Simran Sethi, Bread, Wine Chocolate takes us on a journey around the world to explore this simple truth: 75% of our food comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species. We’re losing much of the biodiversity in our foods, and that could mean that many of our dietary staples (like the Cavendish banana we’ve been hearing so much about lately) could go extinct. Sethi takes us from Australia to Ecuador to Ethiopia to learn why this is happening, what that means for our futures…and how we can stop it.

The loss of biodiversity in food is a massive topic, and one that’s hard to care about at first glance. But Sethi is a master at making it both understandable and relatable in Bread, Wine, Chocolate. The book is packed full of studies on flavor and the science of conservation, but Sethi turns these findings into a story that’s accessible even to a scientific novice. It helps that she chose to focus on foods that people have strong attachments to (like coffee and chocolate). And instead of telling us about the ways of lives that our current shopping habits are destroying, she shows us. We meet the coffee farmers in Ethiopia and the cocoa pickers in Ecuador whose lives are totally dependent on our shopping habits. Plus, this is as much Sethi’s journey on understanding food as it is ours – and I loved that I felt like I was learning with her instead of being taught at.

However, I think the real genius of Bread, Wine, Chocolate is in its focus on flavor. As much as we might care about the people depicted in the book, it’s hard to care about a topic you can’t fully experience. But biodiversity can be experienced. We can taste the difference in Budweiser and a craft beer, although we might not have the vocabulary to describe that difference. Sethi gives us that vocabulary. At the end of each chapter, she provides with us with a Tasting Guide that encourages us to try and compare different kinds of, for example, wine. She teaches us to experience our food fully – not only with our tongues but with our eyes and ears too.  And in doing so, she brings her book fully to life in a way that other books about other topics cannot.

Of course, Bread, Wine, Chocolate is not without its faults. For one thing, it will definitely ruin any diet you’re thinking of embarking on, so be sure to have some good food with you as you read it. On a more serious note, Bread, Wine, Chocolate is incredibly well-organized, so I was expecting there to be a chapter at the end on actions an individual could take to help conserve biodiversity in the environment. While these actions are named in the book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate is filled with an overwhelming amount of information and such a chapter would have been helpful.

Also, I found it interesting that Bread, Wine, Chocolate didn’t talk about meat at all – especially because one of the final chapters talks briefly about how the kinds of fish we eat affects the biodiversity of the oceans. It’s entirely possible that talking about the biodiversity in the animals we eat may have made for an entirely different kind of book. However, I would have appreciated just a little bit of commentary on the topic.

Still, all in all, Bread, Wine, Chocolate was the wake-up call I didn’t know I needed – but I am glad to have had. Sethi describes it best herself in her own introduction when she writes, “…how we eat is a reflection of how we live. By sustaining agricultural biodiversity, we sustain ourselves.”

In other words? I would never have picked this book up on my own, because I would have assumed it was too scientific for my tastes. But Bread, Wine, Chocolate is as much story as it is science, and above all else it’s a story about a person who loves food. If you’re a person who loves food and who wishes to continue eating your favorites for years to come, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Liked this? Check out our interview with the author, Simran Sethi!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

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