Sex, Death and Oysters

A Half-Shell Lover's World Tour

By Robb Walsh

This is noted food writer Rob Walsh’s quest to understand the oyster cultures of the world, and to taste every oyster-producing nation’s half-shelled treasures. To this end, he travels from the Gulf Coast, where most of America’s oysters come from, to the coast of Ireland, where he drank Guinness and ate thoroughly decent oysters with “a bunch of crazy Irishmen.” It is through his travels that he began to understand the place of oysters in Western history. “Oysters were important in the Roman Empire, they’re in Shakespeare, there’s this symbolism in English literature of oysters as vulnerability,” Walsh says. “They’re a part of Western civilization. We only stopped eating them in the Dark Ages, but then ate them again in the Renaissance. And then we had another dark age of oysters right after the Industrial Revolution because we polluted the water and poisoned them.” In the past century or so, Walsh says, oysters have experienced their own renaissance. They may not be the bounteous and available food of the people that they were in Colonial times, but they have returned grandly to public consciousness. Writing in the San Antonio Express-News, Ariel Barkhurst concludes her review saying: “If you love oysters, this is the book for you. And if you don’t, try a Gulf Coast oyster between November and March, when they’re sweetest, says Walsh, and then see how you feel.”

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