This is going to be a quick post, mi amigos. As is the case with many of us this long holiday weekend, lots of family, cooking and shopping on the agenda. Not to mention that giant stack of pots and pans still in my sink from yesterday. But I did want to share another great book with you in case you have a foodie on your holiday shopping list that would like a humorous and comprehensive insider’s look at how America’s food culture got to where it is today.
The United States of Arugula, penned by David Kamp, is “the sun-dried, cold-pressed, dark-roasted, extra virgin story of the American food revolution,” as it proclaims on the book’s jacket. And so it is. Considering this is a non-fiction work covering more than a century of history, I was quite impressed with how Kamp manages to hold a legitimate storyline together that makes for an easy read. I do have to admit though that once or twice each chapter I had to thumb back through previous chapters to remember who Forgione or Gault were since the text is riddled with the names of foodie legends and pseudo-legends that the author introduces in full once and then later hurriedly refers to by their last name several chapters later. It’s a lot like playing “Memory”. But considering the breadth of his topic, it’s completely understandable (even admirable if you’re like me and don’t want to read an additional 300 pages of recap text) that Kamp asks his readers to put 2 and 2 together from time to time.
Thanks to this juicy text flecked with a rarefied form of celebrity gossip about the bygone stars of this nation’s gastronomic revolution, including Julia Childs, James Beard, Alice Waters, Pierre Franey, and Craig Claiborne among others, I now know so much more about the foundation of our modern passion for food, especially food driven by seasonal and locally grown produce. America really struggled to get a food “identity” and I’m glad this book is out there to help readers appreciate what it took to get where we are today and how “nobody” can quickly become “somebody” in the food world, given they have passion and creativity that’s fueled by good ingredients.
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t lend itself to many good quotes – not because it’s poorly written but because it’s so richly entwined that pulling a short quote out voids all its contextual meaning. Still here are a couple to ponder.
Quotes from The United States of Arugula by David Kamp:
Taken from an article by Sheila Hibben in The New Yorker in 1941 where she reported that she found “A farm cheese from Wisconsin that was one of those honest products that prove ours is going to be a great cheese country once the flood of processed stuff subsides.”
“In [Elizabeth] David, [Alice] Waters had at last found a food person in the Anglophone world who was speaking her language, calling for an honest, straightforward cookery, ‘carried out with care and skill, with regard to the quality of the materials, but without extravagance and pretension,’ to quote from French Provencial cooking (1960).”
To paraphrase a quote that I sadly forgot to underline, Jeremiah Tower of Chez Panisse fame, abided by a philosophy of “Get the freshest ingredients and get out of their way.”
Which brings me to the discussion question for this post. What figure of the food world sticks out the most to you, for good or bad reasons? While I know he was once reputed for his seasonal cooking, I personally have huge problems with Emeril. I don’t think the man knows a lick about fresh produce since I’ve seen him repeatedly refer to a certain vegetable by the wrong name or properties. I greatly admire Alice Waters for her dedication to using simple fresh ingredients to inspire her menus. But she also had a sordid personal life and wore herself way too thin, traits that I hadn’t known about until reading this book.
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