Twain’s Feast

Andrew Beahrs

Though it’s not the first thing people think of when they think of Mark Twain’s oeuvre, food is often present—descriptions of things he ate that, in far too many cases, can’t be eaten any longer. Species have disappeared, or become endangered, and industrial farming has pushed aside many varieties of plant and animal life to create a less diverse range of edibles than Twain knew in his lifetime. Andrew Beahrs, a Berkeley writer, set out to find what was left of the foods Twain once knew, traveling the country in search of local delicacies, and writing this book on his travels. The prose is occasionally self-conscious, but the book’s concept is fascinating, mixing the literary with the culinary, and offering insight on what we’ve done to the national environment. In Wildlife in America, a book written some 40 years ago, Peter Matthiessen included a menu served at a Denver hotel in the 1880s, a dinner that was notable for the range of species that had gone extinct since those Colorado diners sat down to eat. Twain’s Feast continues to spread that bad news while giving us a glimpse of the past from an angle seldom seen.