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Offal: A Global History (Reaktion Books - Edible)by Nina Edwards
Synopses & Reviews
We spray them, pluck them, and bury them under mulch; and we curse their resilience when they spring back into place. To most of us, weeds are a nuisance, not worth the dirt they are growing in. But the fact is weeds are a plant just like any other, and it is only we who designate them as a weed or not, as a plant we will dote over or one we will tear out of the earth with abandon. And as Nina Edwards shows in this history, that designation is constantly changing. Balancing popular history with botanical science, she tells the story of the lowly, but proud, weed, a story that is just as much about the kinds of attitudes we foster toward the plants we grow and those we try to suppress.
As Edwards shows, the idea of the weed is a slippery one, constantly changing under different needs, fashions, and contexts. In a tightly controlled field of corn, a scarlet poppy is a bright red intruder, but in other parts of the world it is a symbolically important cultural symbol, a potent and lucrative pharmaceutical source, or simply a beautiful, lakeside ornament. What we consider a pestandmdash;Aristolochia Rotunda, or andquot;fat henandquot;andmdash;was, in Neolithic times, a staple crop, its seeds an important source of nutrition. Sprinkled with personal anecdotes and loads of useful information, Weeds sketches history after history of the fashions and attitudes that have shaped our gardens, showing us that it is just as important what we keep out of them as what we put in, and that just because we despise one species does not mean that there havenandrsquo;t been others whose very lives have depended on it.
At first thought weeds seem to be nothing more than intruders in a well-manicured lawn. But in reality a weed is only a weed because it has been deemed so; they spring up where they are not wanted, so they are removed without a second thought. But the idea of a weed is constantly changing, with the definition shifting based on the context. In a field of corn the scarlet poppy is considered to be a weed, because it does not belong with the rest of the crops. But in history what we now consider to be weeds once had practical uses; from Neolithic times until the early sixteenth century, the weed called and#8220;fat henand#8221; was considered a vegetable, and its seeds were used to make flour. Yet despite the idea that weeds can be helpful to our ecology, they are still considered to be harmful, a nuisance in our gardens.
Weeds by Nina Edwards discusses the history of weeds, and how certain plants come to be regarded as weeds and not others. Sprinkled with personal anecdotes and full of useful information, Weeds is a helpful resource for understanding exactly what turns an ordinary plant into a weed in varying contexts.
andldquo;Offalandrdquo; has the same pronunciation as andldquo;awfulandrdquo;andmdash;an appropriate homophone, given that offal comprises the whole spectrum of an animalandrsquo;s glands, essential organs, skin, muscle, guts, and every unmentionable in between. Yet as Nina Edwards shows in this intriguing history, offal has been consumed and enjoyed across ages and continents, often hidden by the rich variety of termsandmdash;like fois gras and sweetbreadandmdash;that have evolved to veil their origins.
Edwards dissects the complicated relationship we have with offal and the extreme reactions it inspires, asking if we can enjoy a pigandrsquo;s heart, a cowandrsquo;s eyes, or a sheepandrsquo;s brain when it reminds us so viscerally of our own flesh and blood. She explores the offal dishes that are specific to regional cuisines and holidays, such as Scottish haggis, Jewish chopped liver, and Southern statesandrsquo; chitterlings. As she reveals, offal is a food of contradictionsandmdash;it is high in nutrients but also dangerously high in cholesterol, and it can range from expensive haute cuisine to a cheap alternative for the impoverished. From tongue in Sichuan and gizzard stew in Rio de Janeiro to spicy cartilage in Calcutta, Offal sheds new light on the sometimes stomach-churning foods we consume.
About the Author
Nina Edwards is a freelance writer and actor living in London, UK, and the author of On the Button: The Significance of an Ordinary Item.
Table of Contents
1. Definitions and Ideas
2. The Offal Tradition
3. The West
4. Macho Status
5. As Ritual
6. As Medicine
Websites and Associations
What Our Readers Are Saying
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Cooking and Food » By Ingredient » Meats » General