Sharon Hudgins (ed), Food on the Move: Dining on the Legendary Railway Journeys of the World

Reaktion Books / NewSouth Books, 2019, 256 pp., ISBN: 9781789140071, h/bk, AUS$49.99

Editor Sharon Hudgins has curated nine tales of food and travel, in Food on the Move: Dining on the Legendary Railway Journeys of the World (2019).

Food on the Move brings together the elegant and the epic. In the everyday world trains are rather plain; a routine commute to work or moving frieght from ports to warehouses. Nothing particularly special. We might be grateful for an air-condtioned carriage on a hot day, or briefly consider the efficiency of rail as a train hauling containers of various goods grinds past. But there is another world. A world where train travel considers not just the upfront task of moving people from point A to point B but examines closely how we move. Hudgins and her team of food and travel writers are very much focused on the ‘how’ of train travel.

James D Porterfield, invites readers on this journey. He explains how food on trains has evolved from “consuming roadkill along the tracks, to vendors peddling food to passengers on board trains and at station stops, to scheduled twenty-minute ‘refreshment stops’ at pre-arranged sites, to the award-winning cuisine prepared and served on long-distance trainings and luxury excursions” (p. 7). Porterfield also reminiscences about a trip he once took on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, how he shared a breakfast table “with a motion picture studio executive, a young woman fleeing an abusive husband, and a man on his way home after serving five years in prison” (p. 8). It’s very much the beginnings of a golden-age detective novel. In some ways, Hudgins is presenting the pieces of a puzzle. This book demonstrates that luxury train travel is more than the superficial offerings of extravagence. More, too, than the nostalgia of a way of life that has been superceded by air travel. There is something wonderful about travelling by train. Some trips are beautiful, others quirky. There is always something to see out of a train window, from built-up industrial areas that major railway hubs spring from through to breathtaking scenery in areas difficult to access any other way. Train travel lacks the anxiety of driving or the stresses of airports and planes. There’s an easiness to travelling by train. And there’s the food.

Adam Balic looks at sandwiches and other treats on the Flying Scotsman; Arjan den Boer explores French Champagne and Turkish coffee on the Orient Express; Hudgins covers two continents on the Trans-Siberian

Railway; Karl Zimmermann tempts us with American cuisine on the Santa Fe Super Chief; Judy Corser makes her way across Canada and different types of food; Diana Noyce cuts through the centre of a continent on Australia’s Ghan Railway; Merry White eats quickly on Japan’s Bullet Trains (and profiles one of the cutest bento boxes you will ever see, p. 182); curries and teas are on the menu for Aparajita Mukhopadhyay on the Darjeeling Himalayan Line; and Zimmermann goes all aboard the luxury trains of South Africa.

Train travel isn’t for everyone. It can be very expensive and, like every complicated network of moving parts, subject to delays. (My own train journeys have been delayed by cancellations, industrial action, mudslides and the obligatory signal failure. Though having tea and toast while staring out a window watching kangaroos try and race my carriage made every inconvenience instantly worthwhile.) Yet trains literally changed the world. A stunning symbol of the Industrial Revolution, even as we often look at them through a lens of the past we can see the impact they have, and continue to have, on today.

The book offers fabulously informative narratives and also presents as a visual essay. Indeed, there are over 170 images, nearly 150 of them in full colour. There are also, for those happy to stay at home or wanting to re-live a train journey, excellent recipes.

Food on the Move is a terrific book you can read cover-to-cover or dip in-and-out of. It’s a fascinating set of stories of progress and of people: their cultures, their foods and, of course, their trains.

Reviewed by Dr Rachel Franks, March 2019

Visit the publisher’s website here.

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