Sunday, April 25, 2010

weekend reading

A visit today to the Toowong Library resulted in some fascinating finds. The more reading one does on the history of where things of a botanical nature come from - especially now familiar and common edible things - the more intriguing and dense the stories seem to become. Books have been written about coffee, chocolate, portatoes, nutmeg and the list goes on. Plant derived foods that are now everyday kitchen items once sparked wars and gambling with lives to obtain.

Mark Kurlanksy, in  book I found a few years ago titled "Choice Cuts" says
      "Food is about agriculture, about ecology, about man's relationship with nature, about the climate, about nation building, cultural struggles, friends, enemies, alliances, wars and religion."

This is pretty much a short list of directions for consideration and research in relation to seeds - not just concerning food. Science definitely needs inclusion on this list - now more than ever! Out of curiosity I borrowed all these books below in order to see if and where seeds might feature in the discussion. This first title looks like be a must read...a short book...but possibly a good introduction to this topic. By the way, any reader who knows of these or other worthwhile related reads please do email or comment - It would be good to know more on this!

Whilst at the dinner table discussion over some gems from Brillat-Savarin made for an interesting exchange. Particularly enjoyed his experiment with coffee making but so much more awaits the reader of this text! 
An Aphorism from the Professor:  "The pleasures of the table are for every man, of every land, and no matter of what place in history or society: they can be part of all his other pleasures, and they last the longest, to console him when he has outlived the rest."

A quick peek into Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic world was both seductive and peppered with interesting tales.

Not yet gleaned anything about this title below!

The Bunya Cookbook below I was particularly curious about as it was produced here in Brisbane specifically for the Aboriginal and Islander communities featuring indigenous ingredients where possible. I would like to elaborate more on this later.

Perhaps the most remarkable book in this collection for its gritty future thinking WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM has a first chapter titled The Art Museum and the Seed Bank

Before dawn on July 6th , 1941 a half million drawings, paintings, artifacts and ornaments from the great Hermitage were boarded onto the first train leaving Leningrad for sanctuary away from Nazi invasion which was eminent in this city. Six days it took in the planning and execution to get ready to send the Hermitage Art Collection into hiding - a collossol effort by hundreds called in to help - including the artists. Three blocks away on Saint Isaac's Square lay hidden a 2nd treasure trove - a Seed Bank of more than 380,000 samples of seeds, roots and fruits of some 25,000 species of food crops that had been collected by Russia's world class cadre of plant explorers since 1894.
The story from here appears to be truly astonishing - the fact that the Bureau of Applied Botany is still there today and was not bombed in the 900 day seige by the Nazis that cost 1,500,000 lives. Known now as the N.I.Vavilov All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Plant Industry it still harbours seeds and scientists. The Vavilov story is riveting - of a plant scientist who travelled to 5 continents in search of crop diversity and its importance in staving off famine - who met his end starved to death by Stalin despite or because of his legacy of plans for food democracy. Its a must read if the topic is of interest.

Much more could be said of all these books. The last one above is a sobering story of one man's vision for dealing with the issue of farmer's rights, food democracy and food security 70 years ago. The future of seeds requires we address the quality of our global environment and the democratic right for all to access our global seed heritage.

Click on text below to open and read about this book and the American based author who just won a Russian medal for this work which you can read about at and see more at his website

Below: this document of about 20 pages in length was produced around 2003, and if I recall accurately, presented at Terre Madre - the International Slow Food Conference/Convivium in Italy. Please correct this is you have further information!


Altoon Sultan said...

A fascinating post, Sophie, on all this literature around food and seeds. A few years ago I read a book on the origins of agriculture; it was interesting to learn the origins of our modern plants and how early farming societies began to improve on wild varieties.

sophie munns said...

Thank you for your comments Altoon.
The book you refer to sounds quite wonderful. To live in a region and know what is of local origin and what has been tranplanted from afar, when and how is a most useful thing to learn.

Being able to improve a variety, and preserve biodiversity, through dilligent cultivation is knowledge we have been losing at an alarming rate - yet now we are seeing a huge wave of earnest desire globally to retain what is so unique. This activity has such a positive flow on - renewed hope and effort and in communities where struggle for food and income is huge some to the most inspiring stories focus around seeds.!

em said...

sohpie, do you know what those wacky red pods are?

sophie munns said...

I do indeed Em.
I took this little beauty with me to my show opening and had the book there it could be identified with. Having the senior plant identification person from the Gardens on site meant he pointed out the exact one it was.... he has one growing in his garden to which his surprised wife noted she had not seen it - to which he commented it takes 7 years before it flowers or should I say fruits. Archidendron lucyi or scarlet bean is classified as a rainforest fruit. The seeds are black and in certain light like satin.. very striking against the yellow and red!

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