Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar

Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food during Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents, Matt McAllester (Ed), University of California Press, $29.95.

War correspondents face dangers most journalists will never encounter. Wearing flak jackets, avoiding injury or death while still getting to the heart of the action, and often living in some very barren conditions, these reporters willingly submit themselves to some of the roughest work conditions in the media business. But we all know about that, and expect it from them. What’s often less thought about is how they go about the basics of life; food for example. This series of short stories collected and edited by Matt McAllester presents a fun and interesting view on the experiences of down-to-earth journalists obtaining food during wartime. Despite being put up in one of the best hotels in Sarajevo at the time, Janine Di Giovanni describes her meals at the Holiday Inn as “simply something grainy and salty.” Scott Anderson talks about the training he went through in order to infiltrate the IRA (spoiler: he drank his way in). But not all suffer during wartime; Barbara Demick describes Kim Jong Il as someone with the attitude deficiencies of a foodie rivaling even the most spoilt New York hipster: “his palate was so sensitive that he could detect if the kitchen added a few grams too much sugar to the sushi rice.” The writing style of the articles makes light of the often inhuman conditions endured by the correspondents, and the differences of perception based on the authors’ nationalities bring some delightful variety to the stories. McAllester describes their essence: “food can be a rare source of comfort on the road.”