Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink
David Remnick, editor

This is a totally fun read, not to mention fascinating. New Yorker editor David Remnick compiled a collection of what he sees as the best food writing that the magazine has published over the years. The earliest essays go back to the late 1920s, and some of the later ones are as recent as 2005 and 2006. There is stuff about everything from the classic art of French cooking to trends in home cooking to intensive looks at a particular food. Some of the essays are funny, some are poignant, some are simply interesting. There are two lengthy biographical articles - one on Julia Child and another on Euell Gibbons (who until reading this essay I only knew as "The Grapenuts Guy") that are real standouts.

I've tried to figure out why I find food writing so interesting. There is the obvious fact that I love to cook and try interesting foods and new recipes. It goes deeper than that, though. Without ramming it in your face, the collection in Secret Ingredients serves to remind us that food writing is only about food up to a point. At a deeper level, food writing is about culture, family, friendship, and community. For example, Calvin Trillin's efforts to locate the pumpernickel bagel that his daughter liked so much, in a joking but sincere effort to persuade her to move back to New York, are not so much about the bagel itself but the ties between a father and a daughter, and the lengths to which a parent will go for a child's pleasure and happiness - even a grown child.

Some of the best essays in Secret Ingredients tell us the story of how certain foods get from the field (or the sea or wherever) to the stores where we purchase them. I love oysters, either raw or cooked in any way. The article about oyster farming and harvesting helped me to understand how much work goes into growing these tasty treats and making them accessible to us. When we understand how hard people work to make good foods available to us, we have a greater appreciation for how connected we all are. Likewise, when we realize that some of our favorites may not be around for us to enjoy because of factors like overfishing and climate change, we become more motivated to work together to preserve the treasures of our planet.

If you like food writing, don't miss this. If you have never been into food writing but have considered dipping into it, this is a good place to start because of the variety of topics discussed. Bon appetit!

Reverent Reader


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