Writing Hoosh, my first book, was a new way to articulate my affection for Antarctica, an otherworldly place I called home for several years. Like so many travelers to the polar regions, I found that the experience of that strange, vast icescape, under an often ethereal light and marked by traces of an astonishing history, changed me forever. Between 1994 and 2004, I returned and returned to Antarctica to enjoy the hell out of a job that took me by plane to the South Pole, across McMurdo Sound in an icebreaker, or into small tent camps at –35°F in the middle of the polar ice cap. I’ve written about Antarctica for years, publishing nearly two dozen essays and articles about the place (many available to read at Albedo Images).
Writing Hoosh has been a real joy because it allowed me to step away from my usual descriptions of landscape and experience and instead focus on the history of Antarctic exploration and settlement. More specifically, it allowed me to have some fun exploring the idea of food as a window onto Antarctic history and culture. Writing about Antarctic cuisine is an ideal way to measure the tenous relationship Antarcticans have had with their lifeless home over the last century. It provided great opportunities to sketch many of the great characters in Antarctic history – the well-known expedition leaders, their little-known cooks, and other expedition members – and to highlight the various writers – known and unknown, historical and contemporary – who have told such great stories about dining at the bottom of the Earth.
In Hoosh, I made use of the research I had already done as a natural extension of my interest in Antarctica, and then, in my quest to write a comprehensive Antarctic history, I went much deeper still. Antarctica has the least human history of any large landmass on Earth – it has been a mere 114 years since the first expedition spent a winter on the ice – and yet the drama of that early “heroic age” of exploration has spawned a sizable bibliography, one that grows considerably every year. Add to that the accounts of expeditions since then, the histories and personal accounts of the massive scientific occupation of Antarctica since 1957, the scientific accounts relevant to Hoosh (caloric needs of men and women working in deep cold; hypothermia and frostbite; comparisons of nutrition in historic food rations; scurvy and other nutritional deficiencies; dehydration), and the contemporary articles and blogs of people who, like myself, have spent months or years of their life dedicated to living, eating and thinking at the bottom of the Earth, and you can see how two years of research can go by very quickly and busily.
In the end, all of the research, the analysis, the synthesis of dozens upon dozens of sources all came back to where I began: articulating my affection for an extraordinary place with an extraordinary history, feasting upon Antarctic history so that I could then serve it up with culinary flair.