Food in all its splendor

These days food comes to us in all manner of attractive packaging: fancy foils, bright boxes, and striking wrappers. But the plants that make up the bulk of our diets can be even more beautiful than the most cleverly designed package. This fact, often lost on modern day consumers, is celebrated in the second edition of linkurl:__The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__;http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/019954946X/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=019

Margaret Guthrie
Sep 17, 2009
These days food comes to us in all manner of attractive packaging: fancy foils, bright boxes, and striking wrappers. But the plants that make up the bulk of our diets can be even more beautiful than the most cleverly designed package. This fact, often lost on modern day consumers, is celebrated in the second edition of linkurl:__The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__;http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/019954946X/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0198505671&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1KEKMQSDPQWHTFD2E4WC by plant taxonomist John Vaughan and nutritionist Catherine Geissler. According to the book's preface, the motivation for updating __The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__, which was originally published in 1969, is twofold: first, a new and "considerable" emphasis that plant foods be incorporated into healthy diets, and second, the increased availability of food plants as modern transportation has allowed the delivery of plants from all over the world fresh to the consumer. Grocery shoppers are more likely to encounter and buy unfamiliar plants or plant parts...
ulk of our diets can be even more beautiful than the most cleverly designed package. This fact, often lost on modern day consumers, is celebrated in the second edition of linkurl:__The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__;http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/019954946X/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0198505671&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1KEKMQSDPQWHTFD2E4WC by plant taxonomist John Vaughan and nutritionist Catherine Geissler. According to the book's preface, the motivation for updating __The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__, which was originally published in 1969, is twofold: first, a new and "considerable" emphasis that plant foods be incorporated into healthy diets, and second, the increased availability of food plants as modern transportation has allowed the delivery of plants from all over the world fresh to the consumer. Grocery shoppers are more likely to encounter and buy unfamiliar plants or plant parts as they peruse the produce at their local market, and this book serves as an essential guide to help make sense of it all, from star anise and star fruits to lemongrass and kohlrabi. "The purpose of this book is to provide accurate and attractive illustrations, and textual descriptions, of the plants that serve the human race for food," write the authors in the introduction to the book. It certainly does that and much more. This new edition of __The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__ is exhaustive, including the familiar as well as food plants you've never heard of, much less could imagine eating. Throughout its pages, it contains vibrant illustrations and extensive descriptions of a wide variety of plants, including sea weeds, "mushrooms, truffles and other edibles," and wild plants sometimes used for food. (My great aunt used to make a delicious pudding from a sea weed she picked from the rocks in front of her house in Port Clyde, Maine, so I can attest that sea weed is definitely edible.) Vaughan and Geissler detail herbs and spices, giving their history in preserving food -- they were initially used to mask the taste and odor of decaying food in the days before refrigeration -- as well as their present day role as flavor enhancers. The book also presents detailed nutritional information on food plants, including insight into hybridization and genetic modification, such as genetic engineering to reduce cell-wall softening in tomatoes, one of the world's most popular "vegetables." Plant foods are even rated by their usefulness in famine scenarios: According to the authors, the starchy root vegetable cassava "is a good famine reserve plant because it can tolerate adverse conditions, and its mature tubers may be left in the ground for 2 years." Details of vegetative components are given, along with analysis of "other biologically active substances" like antioxidants, flavonoids and tannins. Vaughn and Geissler explain ancient and modern methods of preservation and preparation, and include global dietary patterns and nutritional information in a comprehensive set of tables found in the back of the book. Not given over entirely to facts, charts and tables, __The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__ also contains quirky passages that entertain as they illuminate. For example, nestled into the entry for spinach: "[Spinach] was reputed to have very high content of iron but this is a myth due to the incorrect placing of a decimal point in the calculations of Dr. von Wolf at the end of the nineteenth century, although recalculated in the 1930s." All in all, __The New Oxford Book of Food Plants__ is an essential and engaging reference for everyone from casual readers and curious cooks to nutritionists and food writers. The book is due in bookstores on September 25. linkurl:__The New Oxford Book of Food Plants, 2nd Edition__,;http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/FoodWine/?view=usa&ci=9780199549467 by J.G. Vaughan and C.A. Geissler, Oxford University Press USA, 2009. 288 pp. ISBN: 978-0-199-54946-7. $39.95.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Where's the Super Food?;http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/09/1/30/1/
[September 2009]*linkurl:Aid for Poverty-and Pudding;http://www.the-scientist.com/2009/09/1/13/1/
[September 2009]*linkurl:Banana: R.I.P.;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/54710/
[30th May 2008]

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