Food on Foot: Demet Guzey Shares the History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild

by Nancy Zaffaro
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The stories Demet Güzey shares in her new book, Food on Foot: A History of Eating on Trails and in the Wild take us through time and around the world—and always entertain and inform. Güzey moves seamlessly, covering the eras of picnics in the Canadian Victorian years, grueling Arctic and Antarctic polar expeditions in the first half of the nineteenth century, walkabouts and exploration in the Australian Outback, military rations during times of war, pilgrimage food supplies in rural Japan and Europe, caravan travel in the Sahara Desert, strolling down Coney Island with a hot dog at the turn of the 20th century—and so much more.

Ms. Güzey’s accounts and portrayals from diverse time and places flow smoothly, looking at what food and drink worked and what didn’t, what proved essential to survival and what little things made all the difference in terms of little comforts.

Many of the stories are of survival (or perish) during early exploration of new lands and other history-making events, while others portray life and journeys of everyday peoples during a particular time, at a particular place in the world.

Covering present times, I particularly enjoyed what Güzey had to say about traveling the Inca Trail today, where porters and guides can outnumber the tourists and the care taken so as not to break breakfast eggs. Likewise, what she has to say about mountain expeditions in terms of early versus present day food provisions.

Demet Güzey is a food and wine writer with a penchant for trekking high mountains. Her PhD in food science certainly doesn’t hurt in discussing the finer points of the foods consumed en route to wherever. It’s the perfect skill set for writing on this topic and she does so with aplomb. Her writing is factual and detailed, yet conversational and evocative.

Coney Island hotdog Library of Congress

Coney Island hot dog, between c. 1910 and c. 1915. Photo from Foot on Foot, courtesy Rowman & Littlefield. Library of Congress.

The Big and Small Stories of Food on Foot

Food on Foot touches on how we view comfort and hardship and how these differences play out when we are a visitor or a local. She manages to touch on aspects of gender, class and nationalism, while also showing us how being outdoors has moved more towards personal sport shared by more of the population.

Güzey writes, “In our daily lives, we may have lost the vulnerability of being in a place and not knowing where we will end up. Still, we all seek the sense of adventure out of our doorsteps…When being ‘the first, fastest, or the most’ seem to be titles reserved for historic expeditions, what is there to experience for the rest of us? We all can certainly have our own heroic personal experiences on trails and in the wilderness. We can do this by connecting to our environment not only as who we already are but also as who we can become, with genuine curiosity, humble respect, and a selfless wish to conserve and share, with food as our companion.”

Anyone interested in food and food customs will enjoy this book, as will those who relish stories of travel and adventure. (It’s a great gift item. But be sure to pick up a copy for yourself too.) I put this book down with the desire to get out there and explore yet another new place—in my own time and in my own way.

Excellent historical photos further depict the experiences described: British solders eating hot rations from tin during WWI, a pilgrim’s scallop shell and gourd used during the Middle Ages on the Camino Francés, a New Hampshire camping  club enjoying S’mores (a recipe originally published as Some More by the Girl Scouts) in the 1930’s, and others.

An added bonus: Chapter-by-chapter notes, an extensive bibliography and an index are included for further reading.

“Food on the Go” is the name of a book series from Series Editor Ken Albala. He’s helped bring books on similar themes to fruition, including Food on the Rails: The Golden Era of Railroad Dining, Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine from Ancient to Modern Times, and Food in the Air and Space: The surprising History of Food and Drink in the Skies.

Food on Foot

Book cover photo courtesy of Rowman & Littlefield, publishers.

For More:

-All photos courtesy Rowman and Littlefield. The photo cover photo caption from Foot on Foot is: “The camp wagon on a Texas roundup.” Library of Congress.

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