Daniel Stone: 2019 National Book Festival

Daniel Stone: 2019 National Book Festival

>>Bonnie S. Benwick: My
name’s Bonnie Benwick. Until about a month ago, I
worked in the food section at the Washington Post, a
long-time employee there. Really happy to and honored to still be a part
of this festival. You’re all here to learn
about David Fairchild, the man whose work brought
kale and mangos and dates and nectarines and so
much more to America, giving us the botanical
diversity that we take for granted today. I know I do. But, first, I get to tell
you about Daniel Stone, the guy who has brought
him to life in the pages of “The Food Explorer”. Dan’s interest in botany began
much earlier than his research for the book, of course. As he says in the book, he grew up in southern California
living near fruit farms. He worked on a peach farm
in college near Sacramento where he, unsurprisingly,
at a lot of fruit. And, before he moved to
Washington to write, as he says, he almost took a job
picking and selling it. He also took a reporting
fellowship in 2009 at the National Tropical
Botanical Garden in Hawaii where he learned more about
the magic of tropical plants and the rich history of people
who worked to spread them and keep rare ones alive. And, as he discovered more and
more about Fairchild’s travels, the roots of Dan’s own
fruit-inspired journey were nourished. Just this May, and
you’ll welcome me in congratulating him, he married a most understanding
woman name Alana who signed on for a four-month honeymoon
tour around the world that includes some of
Fairchild’s favorite places. And, he’s come back just
for the festival today. Let’s give him a
round of applause. [ Applause ] The couple began in
Portugal and then went, they went on to Morocco, Italy,
Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan,
Thailand, and Vietnam. In southeast Asia,
they got to feast on ripe mangosteens
in their peak season. Who’s had a mangosteen here? That’s amazing. I’ve never had. I think I’ve had one, but
apparently, according to Dan, it wasn’t a very good one. This is a fruit that fascinated
Fairchild above all others, and, as Dan will show you,
and he’s got slides which I’m really excited about. These days, you can
order mangosteens online, and I think Dan said you
could get them at H Mart, but I bet they’re not as
good as the ones that he has. And, they’re trip will end
next month in New Zealand. I have to tell you how
much I enjoyed reading “The Food Explorer”, not
just because it made me stop and think about how citrus
came to be an industry in my home state of Florida,
but about the crucial role that patronage played in governmental discovery
just a few hundred years ago. I now understand why Japanese
cherry blossoms frame the Tidal Basin, the real story, and how
Meyer lemons got their name. When I see personal
sized pineapples, which have just cropped up
recently in the produce section, they register as
yet another example that David Fairchild
was right about them, but he was just ahead
of his time, I think. For his good work, Dan’s book
made national best seller and was optioned earlier
this year for film and TV. And, it won, of course,
the 2018 Book of the Year from the American
Horticultural Society. When Dan finally gets back,
he will continue his work on a second book and serve as a
contributing writer for NatGeo. Please join me in thanking
him for making the trip so he could be here today. Daniel Stone. [ Applause ]>>Daniel Stone: Thank you. Thank you, Bonnie. Thank you, Sara. Thank you, all of
you for being here. This is really a thrill and truly worth flying
around the world for. I’ve spent years coming to this
festival, and it’s a real treat and honor to be able to
speak and talk about books with fellow book lovers. So, thank you so
much for being here. I want to tell you about David
Fairchild and about this book and really tell you a
story about our lives today and what we eat and why we
eat just those things compared to the millions of other
things out there in the world. This is a map here. You can see on both
sides that we published in National Geographic
probably about four years ago. And, it ran with a story about
food origins, where our novel, where our fruits and
vegetables come from. And, you can see some of, you
know, it’s an incomplete list, but you can see some
of the major hits. Apples come from
central Asia, Kazakhstan. All citrus, oranges and
grapefruits and lemons from China and east Asia. The bananas that are
in every supermarket. Bananas are actually the single
most sold item at Wal-Mart. Bananas come from New Guinea. And, we’ve truly
globalized them to be grown and sold all over the world. Strawberries and most
berries from the south, from the west coast
of South America. Avocados, many of us
know, from Mexico. And, the lowly sunflower,
right, from North America. That was the point of the
story is to point out that most of the things we think of as
American, right, apple pie, Florida oranges,
Washington apples, are not actually American. Sunflowers come from North
America along with a few things like cranberries, some
varieties of wheat and alfalfa, but not many. And, certainly not the
ones that we eat today. This is the world
of David Fairchild that he came into, right? This is most of human history
that the things from most of the world were not
eaten in our country. That our food, by
comparison, was pretty bland. It was pretty brown. A lot of corn. A lot of oats. Barley, livestock. That was the American
diet for the vast majority of our country’s history until
the days of David Fairchild in the 1890s when he looked at
a map like this, and he thought, “What else is out there?” Right? Now, this is where
David Fairchild worked. This is what used to be the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was a comparably small
building on the National Mall. Same spot where the
modern USDA is. But, it was just a
four-story brick building. Fairchild worked on the
top floor where scientists and government bureaucrats tried to meet the needs
of American farmers. And, there weren’t many
government workers. There were many farmers. There wasn’t really that
much Washington could do to solve these problems. And, I’d like to show this
photo of David Fairchild. This is his kind of young
yearbook photo in the USDA in a time where all of
the young men who worked for the department got
their photos taken, got put in the yearbook
each year. They had their mug shot, and then they had their
kind of action pose. I, to this day, I
do not know what’s in that tank that he’s wearing. But, I don’t think
it’s anything any of us would want to
spray on anything. Here’s an editorial that kind
of gives you some context. I’ll read it be I know
it’s kind of small. This ran in a journal called
“The Progressive Farmer” that kind of spoke to
the needs of farmers. This was in 1887, right, a couple decades
after the civil war. And, you really get a sense for how farmers were
struggling, right? “There is a screw loose. The railroads have never
been so prosperous, and yet, agriculture languishes. The banks have never
done a better or more profitable business,
and yet, agriculture languishes. Manufacturing enterprises
never made more money or were in a more flourishing condition,
and yet, agriculture languishes. Towns and cities flourish and
boom and grow and boom, and yet, agriculture languishes.” Right. There’s a real sense of
frustration that in this kind of reconstruction gilded
age, people are making money. The country’s doing well,
and yet, the little guy, who’s growing the
corn and the oats and the barley can’t get ahead. And so, that’s what fuels
David Fairchild to think, well, maybe what we need is more
supply, greater crop diversity. We need to give farmers the
opportunity to grow more things, and we can get those things
from other parts of the world where farmers already grow them
and can give us ideas and tips of how we can grow them,
how we can integrate them into our diet and
into our markets. Fairchild had this idea, and he
pitched it to the USDA Secretary who was skeptical, but also, an idea like this is
pretty cheap, right? Send one man around
the world, a young man. He doesn’t need to be paid much. And, see what he finds. And so, this was the first
steamship that Fairchild took. This is a ship that was called
the Fulda, and Fairchild took it from Washington D.C., from
Baltimore, really, to Italy. It was his first overseas
voyage, and on this boat, he meets a man who will direct
his destiny, who will fund him and his travel for
several decades to come. It was one of those
chance meetings that sort of we all have in our lives,
and if you’re paying attention, it could transform your life. And, if you’re not,
it just gone, right? Disappears as though
it never happened. And, this man Fairchild
meets is a fabulously wealthy globe-trotting playboy
bachelor named Barbara Lathrop who has all the money in
the world, inherited it, and no purpose for it. He just loves to travel, and he
sees in young David Fairchild that maybe he can
invest in something, in someone that if he can
direct Fairchild’s travels and Fairchild’s hunting
for novel foods, that maybe it’ll yield some
return on his investment and make his travels and
his money worthwhile. And, in the book, I refer
to Barbara Lathrop as one of the great patron saints of
American food because, you know, he was that initial investment. He was kind of the
first investor in American food diversity,
and he had no kids. And, he had, obviously,
no grandkids, and not much family to speak of. And so, his legacy
sort of fizzled away. But, we could see his impact
through David Fairchild. I want to tell you
just a couple stories of things Fairchild picked up, some of his kind
of greatest hits. This is Fairchild’s first
assignment for the USDA. He’s in Italy, and he gets a
telegram from the Secretary of Agriculture that says, “We
want you to go to the middle of the Mediterranean, the island
of Corsica and get us citron, little citrus fruit similar
to a lemon that is grown out in California, but
it’s really old variety. And, we need better citrus in
California to revive the market. The Corsicans grow the
best citrus in the world, the best citron in the world,
and we want you to go there and acquire it,” right? “However necessary.” And, Fairchild is
in his, you know, he’s about 24 years old here. He’s very excited. He gets the assignment of being
kind of a government agent for the first time,
and he goes to Corsica. He goes to the small town
where they grow a lot of citron nearby, and he’s
trying to kind of blend in, not make himself stand out. But, he has one of those
big Eastman Kodak cameras where you put the
curtain over your head. And, he, you know,
he passes the time. He’s taking some photos. He photographs these women
standing in the street. And, immediately after he takes
this photo, he’s arrested. Right? Very bad at his
job from the first moment. He gets arrested. He gets interrogated. They think he’s a spy, right? And, he is, right? He’s an agricultural spy,
which is not very common in those days or
these days, right? But, they think he’s
a military spy. They think he’s scoping out the
island so America could take over Corsica from France. And so, he gets interrogated. You know, he can’t
answer any questions, and they realize very quickly that he has no idea
what he’s doing. And, they let him go. And, they say, “Don’t come back. Just leave.” And, he leaves Corsica. He leaves this town,
and on his way down the mountain,
he’s on a donkey. He looks over his shoulder. He realizes he’s not
being followed or pursued, and he sees a grove of citron. And so, he dismounts the donkey,
and he darts into the field, and he takes three
cuttings and three fruit and goes down the mountain. And, he sticks the
cuttings in potatoes, so they’ll be nourished on the
ship ride back to the U.S. And, those citron buds make their way
to Washington, and eventually to California where they have
the impact that was intended. They revive the California
citrus market and grow it to the point that a
couple decades later, citrus is such a big
business in California that people start growing
more than lemons and citron. They start growing
oranges, right? And, that’s really the
foundation of the orange groves of southern California
and Orange County, just south of L.A. Many of
them linked to this episode and this idea of finding
things that can be integrated to improve America’s economy. This is, by the way, what a
Corsican citron looks like, and I’m going to show you a
couple of these paintings. These are watercolor
paintings produced in that era from novel crops that were
coming in from Fairchild and other fruit hunters in a day
before photography could really capture the full color
of a lot of these fruits. Many of us are familiar
with this fruit. Avocados are from
Central and South America, and avocados had been grown a
little bit in North America, but Fairchild was tasked
with finding better ones. Right? What makes
a better avocado? Right? Its skin is thick. Its flesh is creamy. Its pit, its stone is small, relatively that there’s
substantial fruit. And, Fairchild is sent around
the coast of South America. All of his travels
are on steamships. So, none of them are fast. To go find novel avocados. Avocado, by the way, comes
from the Aztec word “ahuácatl” which means testicle for the
way that avocados grow kind of in pairs from trees. Fairchild finds novel avocados
all down the south coast of, the west coast of South America. And, it’s in Chile that he
finds even better avocados than he’s ever seen, right? A lot of those qualities. Less stringy flesh,
thicker skin. They ripen slower, and
the pit is even smaller. And, he sends. He thinks these are the best
avocados he’s ever seen. He thinks they can
be transformative in tropical fruit growing
regions like Florida and Texas, southern California. And so, he sends about 1000 of
these avocado seeds by steamship up to Washington, D.C.
These avocados are received. Many of them are moldy. A lot of them are dead,
but some of them survive, and these seeds are sent
out to southern California where they’re grown and start to
grow their own avocado industry that gets bigger and bigger
through the early 20th century until people start growing
them just for fun, right? The way that many of us
grow herbs in our windowsill or lemon trees out
back just for kicks. People start growing avocados. And it was really that kind
of personal experimentation, not the scientists, not the food
companies, not the engineers, but the amateurs who
start growing avocados and start mixing and
matching different varieties, hybridizing their seeds and
grafting onto new rootstock. That a man in the 1920s
sees in his back yard. This man is a postal
worker, right? He’s not a scientist. He sees in his backyard an
even better avocado that grows that has thicker skin,
right, creamer flesh, all of the great qualities. And, it grows very fast. And, a friend of his says, “You
should patent this avocado.” Patenting a fruit had
never really been done, and so this was one of the
first fruit patents ever. And, this man who
grew this avocado, his name was Rudolph
Hass, right? And, here on the
right is the patent for the first Hass avocado. And, this is, you know,
there’s some words that go along with it, but this is mostly it. It was a very simple
patent, and the Hass avocado, all of us know, still looks
remarkably like it did in 1935 when Hass patented
this fruit and ended up making a lot of money. Fairchild went to
Baghdad, right? The crossroads of civilization
for many centuries, right, center point of the Silk
Road, east meets west. Everyone went through
there for centuries. And, Fairchild goes there
to find novel crops, not just that have
passed through Baghdad but have grown there
in that climate, right? Really hot, arid climate
that has a few analogs in the U.S. Namely
Southern California, the Mojave Desert, right? If you could find a fruit or a
crop that does well in Baghdad, odds are, it’ll do
well in California. And so, he latches onto dates. He really likes dates. They require so little water. They’re so easy to grow. They’re nutritious, full of
sugar, right, full of syrup. And so, he picks up more
than 30 varieties of dates from some of these men. By the way, his method was
not always theft and espionage like it was in Corsica. He sort of got to know that
the better way to get people to help you was to
befriend them. So, he’d go to men like this. He’d go to markets, and
he’d butter them up. And, he’d say, “I’m an American. I’m looking to learn what
you have to teach me. I want to see what you
do, and I want to see if we can take your
wisdom back to America.” Right? Really flatter
them and lay it on thick. Fairchild is able to pick up
more than 30 varieties of dates and sends back the date suckers, these small little date
plants back to Washington. And, again, southern California
which becomes this, you know, this region that has some
of the greatest climate and climate diversity
on the planet. These dates help
fuel an industry. This is a date tree
that’s growing right around Palm Springs, and if any
of you have been to Palm Springs or the Inland Empire
or Coachella, right, you know that dates are a big
industry and you could get a lot of dates and date
type snacks and foods. My family gets one date
shake every year when we go to Palm Springs, and it’s
because this date industry that started as a result of
Fairchild’s introduction. This is actually taken in a town
near Palm Springs called Mecca, California, right? Mecca that renamed itself
in general appreciation and admiration for the
region of the world that made this great
agricultural contribution to its economy. Right? And, I always
like to point out that Mecca is not really
that close to Baghdad, right? They’re pretty far, but
thematically, you know, for an American in those days, it’s sort of, it
was good enough. And, the high school
in this town, Mecca, renamed in the 1930s its
mascot the Arab, right? Again, in general
respect and appreciation for where this industry
had come from. And, in many ways,
we’re ahead of our time. In many ways, we’re behind, but
it’s hard to imagine something like that happening now and
how it would be received and how it would
be covered, right? Something like an agricultural
gift and cultural appreciation. This is one of the great
stories that I came across in researching Fairchild that Bonnie mentioned
in her introduction. Fairchild goes to Japan in 1901. He spends a whole summer
living near Tokyo in Yokohama. And, it’s there that
he sees a tree that really captures his eye
and his, its sense of beauty. Right? This is the catalog cover
for the Yokahama Nursery Company in 1901, and their big crop,
and a big crop in Japan for a long time, the
sakura tree, right? Also known as cherry
blossom tree. It’s beautiful, but it’s,
for Fairchild’s mission of finding crops
of economic value, there’s not much of allure here. There’s not much
usefulness, right? Cherry blossom trees
don’t produce cherries, so there’s no fruit, right? There’s no crop. There’s nothing to sell. It’s just something
nice to look at. And so, he kind of
bypasses this tree, and he doesn’t think
too much of it. Until about a decade later
when he gets back to Washington and he kind of limits
his travels a lot more. And, he buys some property up in
Chevy Chase, and he imports some of his favorite plants,
starting with sakura trees. Right? He calls his friend, he
writes to his friend in Yokohama and says, “Please
send me a few trees. I want to plant them
on my property.” And, he plants these
trees in Chevy Chase. These are the first sakura trees
in North America, and he starts to notice that people come to
see them, right, in the spring, the same way many of us
go to the Tidal Basin. People come to his property
just to gawk, right, at how magical these trees are. And, people start coming who
are notable people, right? Including President
Roosevelt and President Taft and Helen Taft and other
people who had been fascinated by these trees for a long time. And so, they sort of hatched
this plan that, you know, Washington is not a very
beautiful city in those days, and maybe this could be one
strategy to beautifying the city and particularly the part
of the city around what used to be called the speedway,
right around the Tidal Basin. Right? It was a lot of mud. The river kind of
came and lapped up. You didn’t really want
to spend much time there. Maybe we could plant some
pretty trees down there. And, Fairchild is tasked with
making this happen, right? So, he writes to, you know, the
Japanese government and says, you know, “I think if you
were willing to make a gift, we would love to receive it. And, it would be a great form
of friendship between us.” And, he writes this
because he thinks, you know, it’s a good sales pitch. And, the Japanese also think,
wow, what a great idea. Yeah. Here’s a symbol of
our culture that is going to be planted in
the capital city of the rising superpower
of the world. Right, that’s, we could
live with that, yeah. Pretty low cost. Pretty high reward. And so, Fairchild, he sells it,
and the Japanese government, they grow about 2000 trees. They dig them up. They put them on a steamer. They put them on a rail car across the continent,
and they get here. And, they’re inspected. This is on the National Mall,
just down the road here. And, they are found to have
six varieties of scale insects, four types of fungus and
bacteria in their roots, and this is one of the
first issues that might come to your mind with
introducing plants from different parts
of the world, right? The biological risks
that come with them. This was a big debate,
especially in this day. This is in 1910. Of is this worth it. Are we introducing things that could demolishing our
existing industries, you know, just so we can try out maybe
building a new industry? And, Fairchild makes the
case, well, it’s worth it, and we can inspect these things. We could do our due
diligence and make sure that we’ll keep anything
bad out. But, it’s not really
good enough, especially for the
entomologists, the people who study
insects at the USDA who say, “You know what? No. Even if you comb
out all of the roots, you’re still going
to have bacteria. You’re still going to
have biological risk.” And, as a result of that debate,
this first shipment of trees that were sent relatively
contaminated are burned. They’re burned on the
National Mall, very publicly. This image and a story about
it appeared on the front page of the New York Times, right? And, it was seen as a big
diplomatic mistake, right? Couldn’t we have
done this better? Right? Fairchild was
mortified, as anyone would be in his position, and he
goes to grovel to the, apologize to the Ambassador,
the Japanese Ambassador and says, “You know what? This whole thing was my idea. I’m so sorry for how
embarrassing it is for both of our countries. We could have handled
this better. Please forgive us.” He thinks the relationship’s
over between the two countries. And, to his surprise
and to my surprise when I was researching this, the Japanese Ambassador
says, “No, we are sorry. We sent you a gift that, of
course, you couldn’t plant. What were you going to do? You had to burn it, and you had
to make it clear that, you know, this type of risk is not
acceptable in any country. Please let us try again.” And, because of that kindness, the Japanese government
grows about 3000 trees. They grow them in what
they call virgin soil which isn’t really a thing. But, they grow it in what
they consider clean soil. And, they ship them
again on a steamer and across the continent. And, it’s those second shipment
of trees that are planted in a very small, very quiet
ceremony by Helen Taft, David Fairchild, a woman
who had also been supportive of this cause for a long
time named Eliza Skidmore. Not a public ceremony. They put a few dozen trees
in the ground, and over time, these trees were surrounded
by even more trees to get. This is taken in the 1940s. The view that many of us
are familiar with today and that we go and brave
the crowds with to see because they’re so beautiful. These trees last
about 25 to 35 years. That’s their lifespan. So, most of those original trees
have been replaced by cuttings of the originals,
replaced by cuttings and planted as new trees. However, there are still
four originals that are down at the Tidal
Basin, and next spring when you go see them,
if you do the walk of the whole Tidal Basin,
you’ll notice you can see, if you’re looking,
which are the originals. Because, you know, the new ones
are very thin and skinny, right, very prim, and the old ones
are, you know, maybe 20 feet around in diameter and their
circumference, scraggly, and they got a lot of back. They look like they’ve
been there for about a century,
and they have. People ask me if the U.S. ever
reciprocated for this gift, and the answer is
yes, about a decade after the Japanese
government made this gift, the U.S. gifted a series
of American dogwood tress that are still growing
in Tokyo and Yokohama. And, just about five years ago,
maybe about ten years ago now, when Hillary Clinton
was Secretary of State, it was the hundred-year
anniversary of that gift, and we gave even more dogwoods
from Virginia to the Japanese. Over time, you get kind
of this greatest hits list from Fairchild, and this
is a map that we had made for the book that shows some
of the top finds of Fairchild. And, some of them
I mention, right? The citron in Corsica. Fairchild picked up more
than 50 varieties of mangos that really fueled
the mango industry in Florida throughout
the early 20th century and influenced genetically
the mangos that we eat today. Most of them are grown in
Central and South America. He picked up the dates in
Iraq there, in Baghdad. He picked up hops in Bavaria that fueled American beer
brewing at that pivotal time when the big American brewers,
right, Budweiser, Miller, were looking for better
ingredients to brew better beer. And, some of those
ingredients came from hops that Fairchild picked
up in Germany. Fairchild picked up
seedless grapes just outside of Venice in Italy. He picked up papayas in
the Indian Ocean there, and on the very right, you see
the sakura cherry blossom tree that has become an economic
symbol just of friendship between the two countries. Now, people ask sometimes
about failures, right? He had all these
great successes. Did he have failures? And, there are a few on
this map that he did. Notably on the bottom,
I don’t have a laser, but the very bottom in the
middle is the personal pineapple that Bonnie mentioned. Fairchild thought this
was a brilliant fruit. This was, who wouldn’t want
their own pineapple, right? The same way you would eat your
own banana, your own apple, who wouldn’t want
their own pineapple? And, he was surprised to
find that growers said, “No, we want big pineapple. We want bigger and
bigger and bigger. That’s where the money is. That’s what people want. That’s what we can sell.” And so, the personal
pineapple never caught on. Same with Fairchild’s
favorite fruit. Of all he had tasted
all over the world, his favorite was this
little purple fruit on the bottom right hand side
known as the mangosteen, right? Bonnie mentioned it. Here’s a better painting of it. Mangosteen on the left, personal
pineapple on the right painted by government artists. The mangosteen was his favorite, and a few of you said
you had tried one. In my research for the book, I
really tried hard to find these, and it’s very difficult. And, even if you find
them in America, you know, they’re extremely expensive,
and they’re not very good. Right? That’s sort of how
tropical fruit goes here. Fairchild loved it because
he thought it tasted like custard, right? It was unimaginably sweet,
and it had this great texture, kind of like a lychee
but much bigger. He described it. He almost wrote love
letters to this fruit because he thought
it was so magical. And, he tried desperately
to get it introduced. He said, “We could
grow tropical fruit. We could grow mangos, right? We could grow pineapples. Why can’t we grow mangosteen?” And, I think the
mangosteen explains and tells pretty well the story
of why we eat the fruits we do, why, when you walk
into a supermarket, there are maybe 15 fruits
you can choose from. That’s it. And, the mangosteen
explains why, right? So, just look at it. Like, the fruit is
delicious, but is rind, it’s skin there, is very thick. So, there’s a lot of kind of
empty weight that you have to ship around, that you
don’t eat, and you throw away. The fruit, once you
get it, is great. But, inside each of those white
wedges are, is a little pit that you kind of got to
chew through and get out. There’s a lot of work involved. It bruises very easily. It ripens very quickly. So, you really only
have about a day or two after you get it off
a tree to eat it. Then, it starts to decline. So, relatively, compared to
kind of the powerhouse fruits: bananas, apples, oranges, right? The mangosteen has
a very thin resume. It doesn’t really hold up to
the scrutiny that’s required for globalized food. And, same thing with the
personal pineapple, right? The growers said they wanted
big pineapples, but also, it doesn’t really make
much financial sense to ship this small
fruit that you have to shave down the sides. By the time you do that, there’s
really not that much left. And, does it make sense to
ship it with all of its kind of plumage, right,
around the world just so you can have maybe three
or four bites of a pineapple. And, the market really
answered, “No.” Right? Now, Bonnie mentioned
I’ve been traveling for part of the summer with my wife,
and you could find these things in southeast Asia
everywhere, right? This is me buying mangosteens
from a woman on the street. There are many women
on the street who sell fruit just like this. I’m holding some
mangosteens in my hand. These things are delicious, and
they’re extremely cheap, right? You can get like, you know,
eight of them for a dollar. And so, you really got
to get your fill there. And, we did. Boy did we? Yeah. This is also a woman
selling personal little pineapples, right? This is in Thailand. First one was in Vietnam. This is in Thailand. These are tiny little
pineapples. You pay her 30 bot, right,
30 bot’s about one dollar, and you get a whole bag. It’s about maybe six
pineapples in this little bag. So, we got a few bags, right? But, compared to this woman
selling them for so cheap and so good and delicious,
this is Whole Foods. I took this about a year ago. Right here on P Street. These are personal pineapples
that appeared one day. My jaw dropped to
the floor, and then, I saw the price tag, right? These are $5 each. And so, you think about
the market dynamics of why we eat what we do. You know, we have to try to
introduce new foods like this, but I don’t think these are
catching on anytime soon. I think it’s very difficult
to take something like this and get people to buy it,
get farmers to grow it and really grow it into
its own new industry. There are mangos on the right of
the pineapples so you could see for size just how
small they are. Now, this is a festival
of books and book lovers, and so I just wanted to
mention briefly about kind of the research for this book
and what went into finding a lot of these stories
from a man who many of us had never heard of, right? I had not heard of him
before about a decade ago. Fairchild is so influential in
so much of our food, and yet, he’s not kind of this major name
of industry and history, right? Not an Alexander Graham Bell,
Henry Ford, Nicola Tesla, right? These big names who
changed the world. Fairchild, this is
not a great photo, but this is a photo
of his archive. And, most of the people like
Fairchild whose legacy are, you know, well documented
but not very well known, are kept in little
storerooms like this. And, when you hear other
authors today and elsewhere talk about doing their research,
it’s usually in, you know, taupe colored rooms like this
with file cabinets just going through hundreds of letters
trying to find details of what happened, who said what, and how did someone
else respond. And, you do that
enough, and finally, I started to get
these conversations down of things Fairchild
thought about, where he went, who he asked, and
what they said. And, then, what he learned. I noticed his pocket notebooks, and they were hugely
influential. He was a scientist, right? Many of us love science. He kept these pocket
notebooks his whole life, his little red pocket notebooks, and there are boxes
and boxes of them. And, I read all of them,
and you could see sort of his general observations. A lot of us don’t keep these
sort of running impromptu notes of our observations, but
he wrote everything down. And, that’s really what makes
a book like this possible. I even found his love
letters at a, in a family box up with his grandchildren
who live in Nova Scotia. And, that allowed me to
see kind of the courtship of his growth and his marriage. The married the daughter
of Alexander Graham Bell, and the two of them, you could
follow kind of how people fell in love in the early 20th
century, what it meant to court someone, what it meant
to ask them out on a date, right, and how he eventually
got up the nerve, at age 37, to finally talk to a woman
because he had been traveling for so long and didn’t
really get that skill. So, I try to sort of wrap that
into the book also of his growth as not just a food hunter
and scientist but as a man and a person and a
husband and father. This is one of my
favorite notebooks of his that he probably never
intended for anyone to see, and he writes his
notes on the left side. And, on the right,
he had this habit of just drawing little diagrams,
right, very poor drawings, but they sort of only had
to communicate with him, what he saw and how to
remember them later. And, in these drawings, it
took me forever to figure out what are, are these seeds? Are these bacteria? What? You know, what
is he drawing here that has to do with plants? And, I realized he was
so curious about science and about the world that he
would easily get distracted when he was, you know,
digging in the dirt. And, he, these are
actually termites. And, he went on a whole
termite researching kick to realize how they
grow, how they reproduce, how their colonies work, in
hopes of understanding even more about the world in this
endless quest for answers, for understanding
about the world. The last story I
will tell you is about Fairchild’s replacement,
and a lot of people ask if this work is still done. You know, Fairchild kind of hit
some resistance with this kind of work, certainly around
World War I when people started to ask, “Do we really
want foreign things from around the world? Do we really want all these
things coming into our borders with all of their
inherent risks?” And so, Fairchild slowed down, but he did hire a couple young
men to continue this work, right, to continue
chasing danger to find novel foods,
novel crops. And, he hires one young
man to go to Guatemala to find more avocados. He hires another man to go to
Russia to find better wheat, and he hires this man,
this is Frank Meyer. Who has the job of
quite literally walking across China, right? That’s what Fairchild
wants him to do. Go to China. Go especially to the inside
where white men don’t usually go and see what you can find. They’ve been farming
there for centuries. See what you can find there
that’s helpful for us. And, Meyer goes, and Meyer is,
frankly, a book on his own, but Meyer has these harrowing
adventures of being robbed and beat up and attacked
by wild animals. He, you know, sleeps in guest
houses, roaming with bedbugs. I mean, really has these
unimaginable adventures. This is in, like, 1911,
and Meyer has sort of a harrowing adventure,
and I won’t give it away because it’s kind of
the climax of the book. But, he really goes
far and has that impact that Fairchild imagines for him. Find things that no one has. He finds wild oats,
new varieties of pears, and a lot of the
persimmons that we eat today. Soybeans, which are one of the most popular populous
crops grown on American soil, come from Meyer’s varieties
that he had picked up in China. It’s Meyer’s most famous find
that really stayed with him. He had brought back endless
crops, thousands of crops. He even brought back a pair of
monkeys for the National Zoo which he greatly regretted because of how difficult
they were. But, his most famous is the
only one that ever got named after him, and Bonnie
mentioned it. He finds this fruit, this crop,
a variety of citrus growing in a family’s doorway, right? And, he sees it’s this
bright yellow fruit. It’s the color of an
egg yolk, and he says, “That’s a novel citrus,” right? There’s a lot of
citrus grown in China, but this is a different one. And, he tastes it,
and it’s sweet. It’s sweet and tart,
sweeter than a lemon, more tart than an orange. And, he thinks it’s a
natural hybrid of the two, which genetics have later
revealed that is true. It is. And, he decides he’s
going to talk some cuttings just like Fairchild did about 30
years earlier in Corsica. And, he sends those cuttings
and some of those fruits back where they’re grown
in California, first in Chico just
north of Sacramento, and eventually all the way
down into Orange County. And, eventually, this fruit
is grown all over the world and really becomes
this popular fruit, especially of celebrity
chefs, right? This becomes known
as the Meyer lemon. Many of us have heard of,
many of us have tasted. It is a favorite of Martha
Stewart and Alice Waters because it’s very
easy to cook with and it’s perfect for lemonade. Meyer, just like Fairchild,
was a very modest man, right? These men never really
sought much glory. They never got much credit, much
acclaim, but both of them kind of had this feeling that if
their work was as impactful as they thought it would be,
that long into the future, people would be enjoying really
the efforts of their travels, their adventures and
their harrowing struggles. And so, Meyer and Fairchild
wrote letters back and forth for many of the years that
Meyer was in China, and it’s one of those letters I found
which I put in the book. It’s my favorite, and Meyer,
you know, he explains, you know, I found this, I found
that, I found that. And, by the way, I think
these things are really going to transform our country. And, he says, “By the way,
one day, I think this is going to be a big deal, and I
think people are going to remember our name. And, I think it’s going to have
the same effect we intended.” He says, “I will
be famous one day, just wait a century or two.” Yeah. Thank you very much. I’m happy to take
some questions. [ Applause ]

local_offerevent_note November 7, 2019

account_box Matthew Anderson


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