Simran Sethi has the most tempting titles for her book. Who does not love Bread Chocolate Wine? And Coffee, and Beer? The answer is Me! I do not consume any of these products – ok, maybe occasionally bread and coffee. So why did I pick up this book Bread Chocolate Wine to read? To be honest, I wanted to know what is behind or inside these foods that make people go mad after them – especially Chocolate, Beer, and Wine. I wanted to know if these are acquired tastes or are they artificially created demands. I wanted to know the plants that ultimately become these obsessions. Did the book live up to expectations – partially yes, and that means partially No?
What you would definitely admire about this book is the way author brings out the history of these foods. She takes you behind the scenes in fields, in jungles, in laboratories, in factories and just about every place that touches the food before it reaches you. I assume like me most of us would not know how and where our coffee/bread come from and definitely not where the ingredients come from as there is no labeling requirement to put geographical origins of the products on the packaging. Simran Sethi has traveled the world to bring out these stories but I loved her description of Ethiopia the most. It almost made me feel like packing my bags to go there. I remembered visiting Araku Valley Coffee Chocolate Museum that traces the journey of coffee from Ethiopia.
The best part of the book Bread Chocolate Wine, though is how she highlights the spread of uniformity demanded by large organizations. How the diversity of basic food is being killed so that at a coffee shop you can be served a standard experience for a standard price. I believe the aim of this book was to bring out this issue and share its implications on the biodiversity and on the lives of people involved in the process. It was almost an academic experience for me to learn about the processing of each of these items and the sensory maps associated with them. Simran Sethi has done a great job to bring this out.
I loved her quotes on all these 5 items, and her personal journey to knowing and admiring them. I always like writings where the author brings in a bit of herself into the writing – it brings some Rasa to the otherwise dry non-fiction. Look at these facts:
- 3-4th of the world’s food comes from just 12 plants and 5 animal species – Ouch! Is that all 7 Billion of us are consuming!
- Traditional food is considered ‘low status’ while processed food ‘Modern’.
- Cheap processed food has changed the world – Wonder if we would become clones of each other if we all consume same food.
- Processed foods are engineered for hyper palatability, a kind of uber-deliciousness that comes from a combination of fat, sugar, salt, and flavors that can only be cooked in the labs – they are addictive.
- Focus of production of grains has shifted from ‘feed-grade’ mentality to food-grade one
- Industrialized food is designed for efficiency and yield – not nutrition, taste or diversity
However where I felt a bias creeping in, is in her advocating paying a high price for a boutique experience. She is constantly advocating boutique shops and I assume these are the people who helped her to do all the research for the book. So it is obvious that their point of view creeps in prominently. I would have wanted her to go to the regular big guys selling things in mass across global markets and hear their point of view as well and then compare them. She also advocates paying many times over for the same product – now I know in some cases the prices do go up as productivity is low and so are volumes. However, we do know of lot more cases where the word ‘Organic’ is used to hike up the prices.
Now what I would have liked is little more emphasis on acceptance of non-standard experience. Diversity really means that you cannot really have the 100% replicable experience. Once we realize this and start demanding authentic experiences, businesses will respond – hopefully!
Her lessons on how to taste Chocolate, Wine, Beer, Bread, and Coffee can be invaluable for those of us who want to develop a taste or some competence in identifying different varieties of them.
Simran Sethi, these words made me smile:
- We are what we eat, and we eat what we are.
- In ancient Greece, the wine was so highly esteemed that it held a place above food.
- Smell is first of our senses.
- The Jahai tribe from Malaysia speaks in a language rich with smell descriptors.
- Chocolate – A calm stimulation, a culinary oxymoron
- Do you know – Chocolate is a fermented food!
- Cacao can only grow in a narrow belt 20 degrees north or south of the equator.
- What we think or dream or do is determined by what we eat and what we drink!
- Do you realize that you have coffee/beer/wine with friends and family and chocolate more often than not ‘Alone’
- People drink wine to get out of their day and get into the night. Coffee brings you into the day.
- Despite the worldwide popularity of coffee, Ethiopia remains its past, present, and future.
- Ethiopia has never been colonized. Ethiopia belongs to no one but itself.
- Coffee passes through at least 18 pairs of hands to get to our cup.
- Beer does not belong to a single culture or geographical area. It’s democratic and belongs to everyone.
Language is, let us say ‘Delicious’. The author of Bread Chocolate Wine, obviously grew up speaking English as her first language and that shows Her storytelling is nice, she brings in a lot of emotional element to the narrative that keeps the reader hooked. The pace is most of the times steady and narrative flows from one place to another seamlessly. The cover design is brilliant – another word for it would be tempting, the kind that comes from familiarity.
You may buy Bread Chocolate Wine – Slow Loss Of Foods We Love by Simran Sethi from Amazon.