Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid - Tim Ecott

Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream OrchidSo, I have a thing about food.  It's no secret.  I have a fabulous metabolism now, but let me tell you, when I get older, I am going to be so fat because I love to eat.  A lot.  Vanilla was just my latest foray into the world of books about food.  And let me tell you, if you're looking for a book about food to read on vacation, this is a great one.  I took it with me to Maine, which was lovely but was nonetheless a far cry from the tropical areas where vanilla is grown, and I spent the entire time pining after after the perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream.

That said...this isn't much of a history of vanilla.  I mean, there's a history of vanilla there, but it's interspersed with all kinds of other stuff.  There's an entire chapter about life on the island of Bourbon/Reunion that doesn't touch on vanilla at all.  Really, it does come across as Ecott traveling a lot and writing a book about vanilla to justify it.  Not that it's a bad thing--I loved reading his descriptions of Mexico, Tahiti, Madagascar, and all the other stops along the way, and his interactions with the people who make up the vanilla industry.  My biggest complaint was that the narrative had a weird sort of organization.  While I would have liked to see vanilla go from the vine to the processing and then onwards, in order, it bounced around a lot, going from vine to processing back to vine to the food it goes into and all around in a manner that wasn't confusing, per se, but certainly seemed a bit discordant.

This book wasn't a really "dense" history, if that makes sense; the history is really just glazed over, for the most part, with a few more in-depth pieces about individuals who made a real impact.  But, like I said before, that made it a great, easy vacation read.  and it made me want to travel, too, and eat vanilla ice cream all the while.  The book barely went into the modern industry at all--apparently the modern vanilla industry is full of deep, dark secrets that no one is willing to disclose--but I still found it thoroughly enjoyable.  Overall, it reminded me a great deal of Rachel Louise Snyder's Fugitive Denim, which deals with the modern denim industry and travels about in a manner similar to Ecott's.  I really enjoyed Fugitive Denim, so it's not really a surprise that I liked Vanilla, too.  This isn't a book for someone looking for a detailed, scientific look at vanilla, but it is a book for someone like me who likes food and travel and good writing, and I would definitely recommend it on those aspects.

4 stars out 5.

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