There are probably many reasons why activities like paintball and laser tag are so popular. Here’s my two cents on the matter: We’ve grown up on stories of battles, either factual or fictional. We love to think that conflicts are characterized by camaraderie, adrenaline, and thrilling acts of heroism that will be rehashed countless times over meat and mead. Since most of us will never be in battle, we like to try to recreate what we think battles are like at their finest.
The authors of Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar, of course, know a different side of war. Comprised of essays written by some of the world’s finest war correspondents, Mud Crabs illustrates the sober heart of war by showing how it alters or even rips away one of the core elements of humanity: food. It’s clear that the correspondents were given a very general directive — “Tell us a story from your experience that involves food” — and the collection of results is as beautiful as a stained glass window in its variety. One writer describes the patrician tastes of Kim Jong Il at a time when many North Koreans were eating grass. Another recounts how he gained access to the inner circles of the IRA through his drinking prowess. A third recalls the delicious, pillowy bread he and his wife loved to buy in Bethlehem every time they navigated bomb strikes to see their obstetrician there. Perhaps most soberingly, one of the essays was written by a journalist who died in the field before the book was published, a stark reminder that these men and women risk their lives every day to bring important stories to the public eye.
While many parts of this book were painful to read, I appreciated it for showing me a side of war I hadn’t considered before. Leader or rank-and-file, soldier or civilian, local or journalist, we all depend on food for survival, and this commonality is something that could bring us all together. With gritty, honest war stories like Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar among us, maybe there’s hope for that unity after all.
Photo credit: Battle reenactment by Stones on Pixabay.