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'Eating Mud Crabs': Food and war stories

"Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food

"Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food During Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents" (University of California Press, October 2011). Credit: None/

EATING MUD CRABS IN KANDAHAR: Stories of Food During Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents, edited by Matt McAllester. University of California Press, 214 pp., $27.50.

Food becomes enormously important in a war zone. Ask any foreign correspondent, and you will be regaled with tales of memorable meals. Matt McAllester, who covered Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflicts while reporting for Newsday, did just that, collecting stories from British and American journalists. His new anthology, "Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food During Wartime by the World's Leading Correspondents," features the kind of yarns reporters tell one another when they get together at a favorite restaurant or bar. There are even recipes thrown in.

The title is taken from an essay by the Washington bureau chief for the Sunday Times of London, Christina Lamb. As a young correspondent, Lamb covered an earlier Afghan occupation and found herself pinned down in a trench by Soviet tanks with mujahedin fighters and a young Hamid Karzai, now the country's president. As the day wore on, they became increasingly hungry until one of the fighters found a mud crab and bit into it.

"I wasn't sure how starved I would need to be to eat that," Lamb writes.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post, describes making a Christmas turkey in Baghdad, a seemingly impossible endeavor that becomes a metaphor for the fraught relationships and uneasy accommodations that defined the U.S. presence in Iraq.

In a searing account of the Rwandan genocide, writer and broadcaster Sam Kiley describes drinking tea that smelled of bodies. "No one I know who was in Rwanda then can eat roast pork or, worse still, fry chops -- they smell of death," he says.

In the age of embedded journalism, this collection wouldn't be complete without a chapter on MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat, the U.S. military rations also known as Meals Rejected by the Enemy, Meals Rarely Edible or Materials Resembling Edibles.

Tim Hetherington, who spent many weeks with troops at a remote outpost in Afghanistan to make the documentary "Restrepo" with Sebastian Junger, does the honors in a piece both humorous and poignant, especially since the author died earlier this year while covering the war in Libya.

While these tales are full of captivating detail, you get the feeling that some of the writers are stringing together anecdotes without much direction. Still, if you're the type who is curious about lives lived under extreme circumstances and the journalists who cover them, you'll find stories to savor here.

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