I had an avocado toast for breakfast topped with a peach-mango salsa. Before we start with the jokes about Millennials and avocado toast, let's take a second to appreciate the fact that it was entirely the work of one man that allowed me to have my breakfast this morning.
As a self-described food-lover - though you will never catch me calling myself a 'foodie' - I had no idea how much of the foods that I love and their propagation in American soil relied on the food exploration of one botanist.
The Food Explorer, by Daniel Stone, details the life of the man who made my breakfast possible - David Fairchild. I had never heard of him before. When talking to my mother about the book, she mentioned that she'd heard of David Fairchild in reference to agriculture, but didn't realize the extent to which he had contributed to the agricultural landscape of the United States.
The extent is that most of the food we eat today was either sent here personally by Fairchild or by the food explorers employed by the department he helped found. The United States has Fairchild to thank for avocados, a lot of citrus fruit, mango, watermelon, papaya, certain types of grapes, certain types of hops for beer, zucchini, pineapples, cashews, kale, you name it. His contributions run the gamut. He is even credited with bringing the popularity of the cherry trees to Washington, D.C., helping to create the unparalleled look of the capitol.
David Fairchild lived a very interesting life. The book is largely about his travels, but it also talks about his close personal relationship with his benefactor, Barbour Lathrop, the man with whom he did a great bulk of his traveling and who helped refine him into more of a gentleman. Fairchild apparently was a little bit of a country bumpkin, but that changed as he became a well-traveled, worldly individual. He also married the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell, Marian, which tied together bits of history that did not seem concurrent to me. That is one of my favorite things about reading profiles and biographies. Little bits of the history web start to connect and you gain a broader perspective of the outer world by learning about one person's life. In this case, it was quite an extraordinary one.
David Fairchild helped create the Office of Seed and Plant Introduction, to help broaden the palettes and diets of the average American. Before he went on his expeditions all over the world, we were eating essentially the meat and potatoes and bread diet. There was not a lot of variety. Now, we can go to the supermarket and see unimaginable abundance. Granted, a lot of these fruits and vegetables are grown around the world now and shipped to the United States so that we may eat at convenience. When we have the opportunity to buy local produce, getting to eat fresh fruits and vegetables is still a wonderful gift.
This book was also a very interesting look into the turn-of-the-century United States. At the time of the bulk of Fairchild's travels, between the 1890s and the 1920s, we were moving away from being a nation of farmers to being a nation of workers, and subsistence farming fell by the wayside. We also had more time to explore and expand our horizons and learn more about the world. People wanted the next newest thing, and new food was a great indulgence. Fairchild's explorations started to shrink the map.
The world is changing again, globalizing in a way that is not unlike the early 20th century. As food becomes even more of an indulgence and we learn more about the health benefits and properties of different foods each day, it is interesting to learn more about where our food comes from. And truly, in the United States, we can thank David Fairchild for the variety we get to eat every day.
So, thank you Mr. Fairchild, for my avocado toast with peach-mango salsa. It was delicious.