In the mid-20th century, the Austrian Nobel laureate Karl von Frisch provided enormous insights on honeybee communication and foraging time. He discovered that bees have internal clocks that tell them not only where the nectar is to be found but also precisely when that food will be ready. “I know of no other living creature,” he wrote in his book on bee language, “that learns so easily as the bee when, according to its ‘internal clock,’ to come to the table.”
Indeed, honeybees start their daily routines of harvesting nectar by the clock or, rather, by sun time. While studying bee routines at his lab at the University of Munich before World War II, Frisch trained bees to come regularly to lunch at strategic times when feeding stations were set up with sugar water. The bees quickly adjusted their natural schedules to Frisch’s artificial schedule. In just two days their old schedule was abandoned. Even informational nectar-finding flights were stopped.
“Civilisation is in crisis,” warned the EAT-Lancet international commission of food scientists last year. “We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200,000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature.” We face climate crisis, ecological destruction, record obesity rates and rising hunger: food is threatening our future.
Carolyn Steel recognises these challenges, but she also sees food as “by far the most powerful medium available to us for thinking and acting together to change the world for the better”. By reconfiguring our relationship with food, she argues, we can find new and better ways of living that will arrest the damage we are doing to ourselves and the Earth.
Is the natural trajectory of families toward entropy? What happens to gnawing family mysteries that travel down generations? Maisy Card raises a constellation of such questions in her debut novel, “These Ghosts Are Family.” To her credit, she doesn’t pretend she can answer them. Nor does she tidy the lives of her characters. Card, who works as a public librarian, delivers a novel overflowing with unadulterated humanity.
Synnott’s book is also an attempt to understand what drives people such as Honnold to risk their lives on the world’s most dangerous mountains. One climber describes it as a primal experience: “Everything is more intense.” Although he denies being an adrenaline junkie, Honnold clearly lives for climbing, the only thing that has ever “lit his fire”. Climbers such as Honnold are only happy when they are hanging from a fingertip jammed in a fissure of rock a thousand feet off the ground. They want, as Henry David Thoreau put it, to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life”.