Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Few Books About Food

Michael Pollan changed the way I buy food, and has increased my need to read about food and the environment. And, summer is a good time to do this, considering all the great farmers markets and fresh, local food around. I am more aware of buying local (I joined a CSA for the 3rd year in a row) and the need to support local organizations that are rooted in my community. In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan has a great line that says: "If your parents or grandparents would not recognize what your eating as food, then don't eat it." That is a rough quote, not exactly verbatim. Pollan would like people to think about local, sustainable avenues for food consumption; and no, buying from the local gas station does not count. The quote hark ens back to a time when people had no choice but to buy and eat locally. Which leads right into a new book by Mark Kurlansky called The Food of a Younger Land.

Back in the 1930's the WPA sent out a group of writers, from Eudora Welty to Zora Neale Hurston, to chronicle what Americans ate. This was before chain restaurants and fast food joints took over the country, this was the land of the New York Automats and of the Mint Julep controversy. It was the New York Soda Fountain Slang guide for ordering your food that I found fascinating(for instance, Hug One was Orange Juice, and Blind 'em was two eggs fried on both sides). Kurlansky did a great job of putting together the files that the writers left behind, reading this book makes you hungry, very hungry. This book is a lot of fun, I felt myself wishing for these simplier times again with the good food (yes, I know the great depression was in full swing). And as for the section on Wisconsin, we can still order up the regions specialty in the Friday Fish Fry.

An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage delves into the deeper history behind food and civilizations. He starts off in the near east with barley, wheat, and sustainable agriculture and then, moves through history touching on the potato famine and the spice trade. He points out that the history of food intersects with that of the history of humanity and that they go hand-in-hand all throughout. He focuses on a few net causes in history and shows them repeating throughout (for instance, that food was used to pay taxes which then was used to pay government workers), maybe a few times too many, but this was a good, interesting read. He is the author of Salt and Cod, he always has something interesting to point out that others may have missed.

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