Perhaps I should have expected that a book with the cutest title of As Long As We Both Shall Eat: A History of Wedding Food and Feasts would not be the next organized book around. And indeed, it bulges with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, most related to weddings, but many not, vaguely categorized in chapters that themselves meander quite a bit. We do read eclectic facts such as charging for wedding beer in 17th century England, bride to be force-feeding in Western Africa, and rules for Disneyland weddings (no”non-matching” characters allowed).
Parts of Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America are unexpectedly sweet, and I don’t mean sugar-sweet, but emotionally sweet, starting from the very start when the author recalls, fondly, his father’s love of food shopping and his marveling at the variety and convenience of supermarkets. He also follows the family that owns and manages a chain of supermarkets in his home town of Cleveland, giving us a good feel for the remarkably thin margins of the grocery business, the amount of hard work required to physically move all products into position, the skills required to be a good bagger, and the zaniness of food conventions. As for the rest of the book, when he goes preachy on us about agribusiness, the horrible American diet, or vitamins, I could have done without. Turn the pages quickly in those chapters, the rest is really worth it!
If you are a wine connoisseur, you will want to read Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste — and you will undoubtedly like it. What’s more intriguing is that a non-drinker, or a cynic who thinks that the drinkers who mumble about tasting blueberries and grass and dirt (!) must be faking it, will both find the book fascinating. The author spent a year studying wine (and passing a difficult sommelier exam) and it turns out that it is, indeed, possible to taste blueberries, grass, or dirt, although many experts really use the words to telegraph a particular type of grapes rather than a particular taste. Who knew? She also touches on the restaurant business and restaurant people, and her descriptions of the very rich who are able to buy the most expensive wines could have been excised without diminishing the rest of the story at all. But the tasting stories are worth it!
The Temporary Bride made me feel acutely uncomfortable. It is a memoir of a daring Canadian woman who loves to cook and discover new food cultures and has travelled to unlikely locales, alone. (Think Sana’a, Yemen). In this book, she travels to Iran and learns cooking from a homemaker she finds through her son, and the stories of her relationship with this woman living in a world so different from hers are wonderful, as is her avid interest in restaurants, street vendors, and even a camel slaughterhouse.
And then she starts a relationship with the son, one that begins with ambiguous violence and then continues with, to me, unhealthy cultural undertones, as she seems to think of him as slightly inferior, untrained, uncouth. Although she proclaims her love of him, the revelation of so many personal details seemed exploitative and inappropriate.
The author of The Case Against Sugar is convinced that sugar is killing us. He is so sure of it that he sometimes overstreches his argument, almost saying that over-consumption of sugar causes high blood pressure, which does not seem to be supported by research, at least at this point. Still, it would be good to see anti-sugar campaigns similar to anti-smoking campaigns as millions suffer from diabetes, obesity, and other diseases that are clearly linked to sugar consumption.
A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression describes how Americans fed themselves, and were taught to feed themselves, between the end of WWI and the start of WWII, focusing on the Great Depression but starting with heroic descriptions (and menus!) of what it took to feed large farm families in early 20th century. Let’s just say that farm women worked hard and were not afraid of fat, gluten, or animal products! As the authors move to the Great Depression, there are harrowing descriptions of food lines and malnutrition diseases amongst children, and a fascinating account of how the government stepped in with food distribution programs inspired by home economics experts who also provided recipes and tips to stretch out limited supplies. Not surprisingly, the recipes came with heavy cultural and racist baggage.
The last chapter is an incongruous, rushed description of various food technologies that took flight during this period and I could not quite understand what its purpose was, but the rest of the book is wonderful.
Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations is a rich Grandma’s attic: a jumble of witty odds and ends, tiny objects and large wardrobes, all with some funny or profound meaning, and with only a vague connection between them. So we get stories about bass fishing contests (much more serious than I would have thought!), a rant against culinary foam (sorry, El Bulli), a four-day exploration of biscuits, an essay about chicken gizzards (they are tough, don’t buy them), a biography of Louis Prima (jazz musician who had a few songs about food), an ode to compost (yeah!), and hunting habits of baboons (really; they do eat their prey, after all). And this is without naming the many short poems about vegetables.
I chose to read the book in one go, which was definitely a mistake. Maybe leave it on the table and sample a few tidbits every day?