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Eating Extinct Animals: Feast wins Food Book of the Year

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All of us at OUP UK are thrilled that Feast: Why Humans Share Food won the Food Book of the Year Award at this year’s Guild of Food Writers Awards in London last week. Author Martin Jones has kindly written a blog for us, telling us all about how even at the ceremony he could trace the eating trends he discusses in his prize-winning book.

After receiving my Food Book of the Year award from Prue Leith at London’s Tamesa Restaurant last Thursday, I suggested that Feast: Why Humans Share Food, may have been their first of their winning volumes whose recipes included ingredients that were extinct.

Ironic, as we had just heard from the event’s sponsor, Alaska Seafood, that none of their products were from endangered species – but my point was to highlight the sheer range of topics that had brought authors together that evening, all with the common theme of food.

As a writing archaeologist, I actually get some of the most thought-provoking feedback from readers outside archaeology; Thursday evening was no exception. It was good to share words with one of the judges about our mutual admiration of the late Mary Douglas, an exceptional anthropologist. I also got valuable advice from fellow prize-winner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on possible sources for gazelle meat, an important ingredient in a 12,000 year old meal featured in my book.

Having written about meals as bridges between our biological and social selves, I can’t help looking for new evidence of that enduring theme. At the awards ceremony, we enjoyed our seafood and fine wines as a hand-held buffet, but as with every meal since the appearance of our species, nourishment was intimately embedded within the performance, etiquette, and constant chatter of a social marketplace.

A few diners had taken their halibut goujons and Prosecco away from the chatter to the balcony, to enjoy a great view of the Thames and use their mobile phones. They had left one metaphorical ‘campfire’ to join another, something that has been happening in various ways for millennia. Our social history may be charted through the manner in we switch campfires, a theme my book follows from a Palaeolithic hunt through to a TV dinner. I didn’t actually write about the ‘mobile meal’ – surely the global campfire of the future – as I didn’t think it had yet found form. I was corrected by an American journalist, who explained her kids were already accustomed to taking their pizza to the screen, to share food with their friends on SKYPE. Perhaps you too are enjoying a bite as you read this.

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