The Gastronomica Reader

The Gastronomica Reader

The Gastronomica Reader

The Gastronomica Reader


Described in the 2008 Saveur 100 as "At the top of our bedside reading pile since its inception in 2001," the award-winning Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture is a quarterly feast of truly exceptional writing on food. Designed both to entertain and to provoke, The Gastronomica Reader now offers a sumptuous sampling from the journal's pages--including essays, poetry, interviews, memoirs, and an outstanding selection of the artwork that has made Gastronomica so distinctive. In words and images, it takes us around the globe, through time, and into a dazzling array of cultures, investigating topics from early hominid cooking to Third Reich caterers to the Shiite clergy under Ayatollah Khomeini who deemed Iranian caviar fit for consumption under Islamic law. Informed throughout by a keen sense of the pleasures of eating, tasting, and sharing food, The Gastronomica Reader will inspire readers to think seriously, widely, and deeply about what goes onto their plates.

Gastronomica is a winner of the Utne Reader 's Independent Press Award for Social/Cultural Coverage


Women Who Eat Dirt

Not too long ago, I received a package from a village in Nepal, high in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was from the brother of the shipping clerk in my husband’s office, and it contained, as clearly written on the outside, two kinds of mud: red and white. These are the muds that the inhabitants of that faraway village use to plaster their houses, red for the bottom and white for the top. They are also the muds that the women of that village are known to snack on, especially during pregnancy. Victor Ghale, my husband’s shipping clerk, knew I was interested in people who include dirt or clay in their diet, and so he asked his brother to send samples of these muds to me in New York.

The package arrived, fortunately, before fears of anthrax had made us all suspicious of envelopes containing powdery substances. So I had no reservations about opening it and deciding to give these two chunks of hardened clay a try. the first was the white one, which was gritty and gummy-tasting as it dissolved, very slowly, in my mouth. It was hard to swallow and seemed to give me an almost instantaneous allergic reaction, since I itched all over for about an hour. the red mud, which I waited a day to try, was also gritty and gummytasting. But in some ways, it was like a good wine. While it dissolved, I sensed on the back of my palate the smell of fresh earth just after a rain.

As I savored the smell, I remembered the words that Victor had used when he told me about this gastronomic habit from Nepal. “The clays smell so good when it rains,” he had said almost enviously.

“How handy to be able to snack on your own house,” I had joked. “Every woman has her own twenty-four-hour convenience store.”

“Nobody gives it much thought,” he said with a shrug. “It’s just something women do.”

But the first thing that everyone should know about these women who eat dirt—and about this widespread habit of snacking on special clays or muds that has been reported among women in almost every part of the world—is that it’s not just women who eat dirt. Dirt or clay eating is more usual among women, especially pregnant women, in many parts of the world, in Nepal, Africa, India, Central America, and the American South. But in other parts of the world, and at other times in history, entire populations have been known to consume dirt. in Northern California and in Sardinia, where acorns used to be the . . .

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