Livingston: Edible Plants and Animals
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A.D. Livingston and Helen Livingston, Edible Plants and Animals : Unusual Foods from Aardvark to Zamia. New York : Facts on File, 1993. ix + 292 pages; illustrated; includes bibliographical references and index.
This book is presented in an encyclopedia format with limited information on each edible plant and animal included rather than as a useful guide for actually using them. Since it encompasses the planet, finding edible species specific to one region would require careful reading and note-taking. (A small range map next to each entry would have been a nice feature.) It is a broad look at what human cultures throughout history have eaten, covering those foods that are tasty and easy to get as well as those that are not but will allow a person to survive.
The book is written in two sections separating the animals from the plants. The tone of these two sections differed greatly, at least in my perspective as a strict vegetarian. As I read through the animal section, I was occasionally irritated by the authors’ opinion that many protein sources were not being adequately utilized to feed humans. They see krill, for instance, as a largely under-utilized food source for us land-based primates. That perspective is, of course, now dated with current climate change issues. My take-away impression from the whole animal section was to be vaguely disgusted by the impacts of the voracious appetites of man on any animal species that happened to be edible. It didn’t surprise me to see that one of the authors is a wild game enthusiast and has written several other books on that subject.
However, for those enjoying trivia, it will be an interesting read. Along with being amazed at the lengths to which some cultures have gone to capture and prepare some edible species, such as armored catfish, one can be disgusted by what others have utilized as a protein source. The most disgusting has to be snipe flies eaten by Indians of California. The female flies gather in great masses while laying eggs on branches overhanging water. Evidently, the Indians would place logs across the water downstream and then shake the fly-covered bushes to make the flies fall off into the water. They used baskets to scoop up the dead flies where they accumulated behind the log downstream, and then cooked them in their ovens. When allowed to cool gradually, the cooked dead flies would take on the consistency of headcheese (another disgusting food in my opinion) and could be cut into slices for dinner.
I was relieved to finish the animal section without losing my lunch. The plant section was more interesting but the authors did not write nearly as enthusiastically about gathering plants to eat as they were about hunting, killing, and eating animals. Instead of frequently asserting that humans should be using more animals as food sources, only fringe groups such as foragers and survivalists need worry about finding edible plants. Much of the information in the plant section was gathered from military survival handbooks and the entries seem rather sparse compared to the lists of edible plants one can find for specific areas.
Some of the edible plant information was interesting, nonetheless, such as how many trees have edible bark. I would not feel confident in taking the plant information strictly from this book into the field to survive, but it could be used as a jumping off point for researching specific regions in more depth. Careful identification is important when gathering wild plants and sometimes specific preparation is necessary to reduce undesirable components.
Overall, I can recommend the book as an interesting read, but not so much as a survival manual. It could clue you in to edible plants and animals for your area, but reading more detailed regional guides would be advisable before eliminating trips to your grocery store or farmer's market.
-- Notes by CC