5.29.2008

Book Review: Short history of the American stomach






















Always a sucker for an attractive title, I picked up this new book at my local library recently. I am a history buff, but my knowledge of American history is limited to its urban history.

The parts I loved about the book, the parts that were smooth, informative and hilariously funny - about half the book, had a good comparison going on between past and present in way that made food history accessible to the layman. The very first chapter compares the cookbook craze of this era with that of a century ago. The very first chapter also has a hilarious comparison between Food network camera work and the shot angles of porn movies. Yes you read that right, the author gets a porn star to review food network and its video, which then segues into a short story on the frustrations of being a food network star. All very amusing and clever- but I did not get the slightest hint of any historical angle to this brief insight into food media.

I feel better that todays' twin sins of dieting and then desperate self starvation are very old ideas, and the author does do a good job of descibing the excesses of over and deliberate starvation centuries ago. The oldest reference in history that I can think of , of a people, a class - deliberately doing this to themselves are the Romans with their Bacchanalia. They used to eat ginormous quantities of food and then tickle the back of their throat to vomit the whole thing, and start the whole feasting process again. Whew - an orgy sounds more like work than pleasure to me today.

Some of the best ideas of the book however are underdeveloped and orphaned early. For example later in his book , the author Frederick Kaufman explores the relation between Food, its purity and spirituality. He goes on to explore how even the act of declaring a food pure enough to eat by a particular religion has become a big business.

The other good idea he has is the outsourced stomach. In these days of outsourced everything, why not the stomach? But this is where he focuses on minuteae and forgets the big picture. He focuses of a particular type of genetically reengineered Asian oyster which he laments is replacing all the native oyster species. I just do not get it, exactly which meal of his is completely american? My own garlic comes from China, my tomatoes from Italy, my Okra from China and India. Focusing on native / invasive species debate misses the wood for the trees.

My recommendation: Skip this book unless you have a good grounding in American History.

3 comments:

Asha said...

Interesting! If I get it in the library, I might read it!:)

Jayashree said...

There's something for u in my blog...

Sig said...

That is an awesome review ms!... I love the way you write... Even though you said skip the book, I really do want to read it after reading this, go figure!! :)