Food on Foot
A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild
Rowman and Littlefield 2017
Napoleon famously stated that an army marches on its stomach. Of no less importance is the food that keeps exploration moving, whether polar, desert, or on pilgrimage. Demet Guzey‘s Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017) is a history of staying alive on the edible, barely edible, and inedible. It is also a history of progress made on several fronts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: nutrition, medical discoveries, early feminism.
In the dawning days of exploration, the notion of the exploration-friendly foods was nonexistent. However, some groups had already devised travel-worthy food. Exploration owes a huge debt to the North American Cree Indians for their food, pemmican. This mixture of fat and dried meat was indestructible. Every polar expedition carried it. In the standard explorer kit (ship biscuits, chocolate, sugar, tea, powdered milk, pemmican) it was the most durable. It was not delicious. In fact, it was detested, but it was eaten. Among explorers, there was even an unofficial competition for a recipe to make pemmican better tasting. Amundsen boasted about his recipe.
Mountaineers had different problems. At 14,000 feet, the appetite decreases sharply and fatigue is a constant. Sugar decreases fatigue so the consumption of hot beverages (for heat as well) is critical. And fluid consumption combats the dehydration/altitude sickness combination experienced by climbers. For people surrounded by free water in the form of snow, shortage of water seems ironic. But at high altitudes, paraffin is the fuel used (wood is too heavy to carry) and stoves took longer to boil water, using up precious paraffin. It wasn’t until the 1950s that best diet for high-altitude climbing was understood.
When women entered the mountain-climbing arena, they did so with enthusiasm and a unique approach. Their observations and recording keeping (in the form of diaries) provide an excellent scientific record of the terrains they covered, something ignored by their male counterparts. The best mountain-climbing diet in the book is what the first woman to achieve Mt. Everest, Junko Miyazaki from Japan, in 1975, took. What is remarkable is that her mountaineering food can also be ordered in any Japanese restaurant. It takes a woman to know what to eat on Everest.
Unlike most food-related books, Food on Foot provides the reader with a list of foods never to indulge in.