Armchair Traveler

book collageThroughout this blog, I have tried to help bring diversity to my own (and hopefully others’) reading practices, to show new ways reading diversely can enrich your life, and teach how readers can do their part to try to influence publishing to stimulate diversity in the industry. Studies show that reading literary fiction helps to hone empathy and compassion by seeing the world from the point of view of people unlike ourselves. However, there is another side to this in addition to honing empathy. Many books set in different countries or even different communities within our own country offer a unique perspective of the world and can give readers the sense of having traveled to a new place from the comfort of our own chair. Enter: book tourism, or armchair traveling.

One of my favorite forms of armchair traveling is through food writing or food tourism. My very favorite food tourism writer is the late, greatly-missed Anthony Bourdain. He summed it up wonderfully in his book Medium Raw when he said, “Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go” (Bourdain 56). Food writing encompasses the best of both worlds, showing readers a new part of the world geographically as well as introducing them to new foods and the cultures that cook them. In addition to the canon of Bourdain’s writing, which is elegant, witty, and achingly poignant, the works of Bill Buford, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Fergus Henderson are also well worth a read. One of the best I have read is Climbing the Mango Tree by Madhur Jaffrey, which introduces readers to the influences of spice, dining al fresco under the mango trees, and learning to cook surrounded by your family matriarchs while growing up in the Indian Himalayan foothills. Who wouldn’t want to grow up climbing mango trees?

Fiction that prominently features food in some way also inspires wanderlust. A vivid scene over a meal or in a kitchen evokes the sights and aromas that truly bring a setting to life. The kitchen is the heart of the home for a reason, and it is over a meal where we can learn the most about people and cultures. Breaking bread is a traditional way to meet new friends and to make peace with enemies. When reading a book like Chocolat by Joanne Harris, you can taste the chocolate as well as feel the cool air of the small French village, smell the bakery up the road, see the cobblestones of the ancient streets. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel gives readers a taste – pun intended – of life in turn of the century Mexico along with characters who can imbue their food with their emotions. One of my favorite novels of recent years is Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King, a historical fiction set in ancient Rome about Marcus Gavius Apicius, the author of the oldest cookbook in the world. This not only makes readers want to travel to Rome and see all the places referred to in the novel, but many passages from Apicius’s cookbook are included in the text as well. Ancient Roman cooking at its finest!

Below are some books, fiction and nonfiction alike, which have inspired wanderlust and food cravings in one way or another. What books would you recommend to instill wanderlust?

Julia Child (My Life in France)

Michael W. Twitty (The Cooking Gene: A Journey through the African American Culinary History in the Old South)

Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate)

William Bostwick (The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer)

Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun)

Bill Buford (Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany)

Fuchsia Dunlop (Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China)

Fergus Henderson (The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating)

Marcus Samuelsson (Yes, Chef)

References:

Bourdain, Anthony. Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. London, Bloomsbury Publishing Group, 2010.

Stillman, Jessica. “New Study: Reading Fiction Really Will Make You Nicer and More Empathetic.” The Inc. Life, 2019.

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