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Book Report

The Food Explorer

By Joe Sugarman
Dietary History
The Forgotten Art of Love book cover
Photograph by Will Kirk

The lineage of many American-grown fruits and vegetables, just like that of most Americans themselves, often begins somewhere else. Pistachios come from Greece. Haas avocados originated in Chile. Italians were munching red seedless grapes long before we were. We can credit one man, David Fairchild, with bringing all of these tasty treats here.

Fairchild was born in 1869 and grew up in Manhattan, Kansas, during a time when Americans’ palates were about as monotonous as the fields of corn that grew throughout his home state. But Fairchild, a trained scientist, possessed an insatiable case of wanderlust, which he combined with a talent for botany. During his lifetime, he traveled the world, while introducing thousands of new plants to American farmers.

In his book The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats, Johns Hopkins alum and National Geographic contributor Daniel Stone tells the story of Fairchild’s international adventures, starting at the age of 22, when he created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For the next 37 years, he visited every continent except Antarctica, bringing back a bevy of exotic vegetation, including mangoes, Tuscan kale, soybeans, dates, bamboo—even the famed Japanese cherry trees that blossom every spring in Washington, D.C.

Not all of his “imports” caught on immediately, however. His greatest miss? The mangosteen. As Stone tells it, Fairchild dubbed it the “queen of tropical fruits.” But, alas, American farmers found the Southeast Asian fruit too hard to grow. “He was disappointed until the day he died that mangosteens never caught on,” Stone writes. A rare miss among a cornucopia of hits

“We tend to think of food from the ground as a type of environmental entitlement that predates humans, a connection with the raw planet itself. But what we eat is no less curated than a museum exhibit. Fairchild saw the opportunity in a bare canvas to add new color and texture.”

Diabetes Head to Toe book cover

Diabetes Head to Toe

Rita R. Kalyani, Mark D. Corriere, Thomas W. Donner, and Michael W. Quartuccio

Written by Johns Hopkins experts in diabetes care, this book contains concise and accessible information on prevention, symptoms, dietary needs, drug interactions, and the latest in treatment options. The authors provide more than 50 illustrations to drive home key points.

The Inpatient Dr. Lange book cover

The Impatient Dr. Lange

Seema Yasmin

A powerful tribute to one of the greatest scientists, activists, humanitarians, and social entrepreneurs in the world of HIV/AIDS. The author faithfully reconstructs key scenes from the Dutch doctor’s life and the history of the AIDS epidemic.

The Environment book cover

The Environment

Paul Warde, Libby Robin, and Sverker Sörlin

Will our lifestyles impoverish the planet for our children and grandchildren? Here, three environmental historians trace the emergence of the environmental movement following World War II, and offer perspective on the ongoing efforts to protect the Earth from the numerous threats it faces today.

Alicia Ines Arbaje portrait

Portrait by Tina Berning

5 Picks

Alicia Ines Arbaje’s's must-read books about aging.

Alicia Ines Arbaje, director of transitional care research at Johns Hopkins, is an associate professor of medicine and an expert in clinical geriatric medicine.

  1. The 36-Hour Day, 6th edition

    Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins
    Johns Hopkins University Press (2017)
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    Atul Gawande
    Picador (2017)
  3. The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness

    Dave Ramsey
    Thomas Nelson (2013)
  4. Retire Inspired

    Chris Hogan
    Ramsey Press (2016)
  5. How Not to Die

    Michael Greger
    Flatiron Books (2015)

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