Environmental Anthropologist and “Feasting Wild” Author Gina Rae La Cerva’s Media Diet
Geographer and environmental anthropologist Gina Rae La Cerva spent three years journeying around the world in search of undomesticated food for her new book, Feasting Wild: In Search of the Last Untamed Food (Greystone Books). We recently caught up with La Cerva, currently stationed in Santa Fe, to ask about her media diet. (For more with La Cerva, check out Ep. 39 of At a Distance.)
Do you have any morning routines to kick off your day?
I am not a morning person, and I’ve really been trying to get into a better morning routine. I try to keep my phone out of my bedroom, but then the first thing that I do when I get up is go into the other room, get it, get back into bed, and read the news, and look at email and Instagram. I’ve been finding that’s not the right way to start the day. [Laughs] The goal is to wake up and drink coffee outside instead of jumping to look at my phone, just to give myself a moment before inundating myself with all the crazy in the world.
What are some of your go-to, indispensable daily reads and/or listens?
I tend to look over The New York Times and NPR in the morning, on my phone. For a while, I was good about listening to NPR’s Morning Edition regularly, and earlier this year, I also really appreciated BBC podcasts for giving a global perspective on the pandemic.
Any favorite writers or reporters that you’re following?
I’ve been loving the work coming out of Civil Eats and also recently discovered Whetstone magazine, which is wonderful. Right now, one of the books on my list is Michael Twiggy’s The Cooking Gene, which is sort of an anthropological look at his own identity through food as a Black, gay, Jewish man.
What do you make of the ongoing media reckoning, particularly in food media?
It’s obviously way past due. Women, and particularly women of color, have been the keepers of so much food knowledge for so long, and not getting credit for it. I compare it to crop diversity. We’ve basically all been eating the same kind of, let’s say, Granny Smith apple for a long time now. And really, we’d be doing much better to be eating lots of different varieties of apples, and there are so many kinds of apples—some that are good for baking, or making jam, or sauce. Elevating certain voices doesn’t mean we don’t want the Granny Smith; it means we have that diversity of flavor, and nutrition, and information. With social media, even if you attempt to diversify your media consumption, it’s very easy to get siloed into just hearing the same kinds of voices.
For your own work, where do you look for inspiration and research?
Inspiration can come from totally unexpected places. For example, I recently read an article about Barcelona’s opera house holding a concert for an audience of nearly 2,300 houseplants! I also love looking at historical material, so anything on archive.org, or the open-access section of Project MUSE. I’m such a history nerd and love reading these old-timey adventure and natural-history accounts of places and people and things.
Any outlets you still prefer to read in print?
I always love to read stuff on paper, but I recently moved, so I haven’t gotten any of my subscriptions back in place quite yet. I recently found an old copy of Utne Reader from 1995, and a bunch of other magazines when I went through my storage unit. It’s fascinating to see what was happening back then, and how close we still are to so many things—like, there was a book review for Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information. Well, we did not do a good job resisting that! I also read the local news, the Santa Fe Reporter. But it’s been hard for me to read these days. I just want to watch bad TV right now.
Okay, maybe enough news talk. What are you watching or reading for pleasure?
I’ve been watching Killing Eve and reading [Gabriel García Márquez’s] Love in the Time of Cholera. Sometimes I’ll watch Avatar, which is a cartoon for children—a friend of mine recommended it, and at first I thought, This is not for me. What is this? Then, Ed Yong did an interview in The Atlantic and said he was watching it, so I thought, Okay, if Ed Yong likes it, I’ll give it a try.
Speaking of food, what’s on your actual plate these days? Cooking anything in particular?
My grandpa passed away about a year ago, and I recently got gifted this enormous book of Italian recipes—his family’s from Sicily—and it’s literally a foot-and-a-half thick. I’ve been getting a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture delivery] and avoiding the grocery store as much as possible these days, and sometimes it’ll include items I don’t usually cook, like zucchini, so I’ve been looking into the book for ideas and was able to adapt one of the recipes for that. It’s been a nice way to connect to him. I’ve also just got some kefir starter from someone in town, so I’m excited to experiment with thinking about the microbiome, making some kimchi and other fermented things. I tried sourdough and it was an absolute fail, so I decided to move on to other foods.