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?
Written by a scientist in a light, storytelling mood, The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History talks about all kinds of seeds, from cotton (to explain dispersion by sea) to castor beans (killers of spies), to nuts (predictors of large teeth, when hard), wheat (to illustrate that building dams may be motivated by the need to move grain)
The author’s adventures with fossil hunters are hilarious, but he takes advantage of them to remind us that spore plants may dominate the fossil record, but did not necessarily dominate the world. They just preserved better. There’s always some science under the stories.
Delicious! did not make for delicious reading for me. I had liked the author’s memoir and adventures as a food critic but this sentimental and predictable story of a young journalist at a foodie magazine who finds a secret cache of letters to James Beard did not hit the spot.
Trying to analyze my distaste, I can think of two aspects beyond the predictability of the story. One is the Pygmalion theme. Again! Can’t a young woman grow and learn without an older male mentor to tell her to buy new clothes? The other is the awkward mix of the story and the research, here on WWII. The transitions from one to the other are as grating as the sudden bursting into songs in musicals.
Still, there are some lovely characters, in particular the Pygmalion figure, with his over-the-top elaborate discourse. Not enough to make me recommend the book, alas.