Saturday, November 30, 2013

October Wrap-Up/November Theme

Hey, I've set a new record for procrastination! I'm announcing November's theme on the last day of November.

I read seven books about food in October. Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them and Medium Raw were my favorites. The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan was the funniest. The Best Thing I Ever Tasted was a dud, though not terrible.

On the heels of October's food theme, November's theme is liquids. Of course, there will be books about water—I still have an unread shelf full on that topic—but I'll sample a few tastier though less essential fluids as well. I chose liquids instead of drinks because I wanted to leave the door open for, say, gasoline, but since it's the end of the month, I can say that all of the liquids I read about were indeed consumable.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook by Anthony Bourdain

I read Kitchen Confidential almost three years ago. Though I enjoyed it then, I had forgotten how much I like Bourdain's writing (judging from the chapter in this book that provides updates on characters from Kitchen Confidential, I had pretty much forgotten 95% of that book). Just his chapter about Alice Waters makes this book worth reading. I also love the chapter about the man who cuts the fish at Le Bernardin, and I don't even like fish.

As I wrote in 2011, I often have no idea what he is talking about since I'm not a foodie (my tastes run toward sandwiches, burgers, pizza, and barbecue). The first chapter describes eating a rare French bird whole, which sounds horrid. But that doesn't matter; it's still a good book.

Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them: and 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

We're at the end of November already and I still haven't written about two books from last month, not to mention those I've read this month. With a work ethic like this, it's no wonder I haven't had a steady job in nine years. Prepare to read a slew of hurried write-ups over the next few days...

I love this book. It's very informative and often hilarious. The authors breezily run through a series of myths and misconceptions about food, cooking, and diet. They include 25 recipes, which is a good number—easy to skip over (the dishes aren't as fancy as those in How to Read a French Fry, so at least I'd eat many of them, but I'm pretty unlikely to ever cook them).

One night at Rockwell's, my server asked what I was reading. Her follow-up question, naturally, was which shattered myths most surprised me. I hadn't really thought about it, which was obvious from my embarrassingly incoherent answer. Then later that night I read the chapter about peanuts. Most people know peanuts aren't really nuts. For years, my dad couldn't see one without pointing out to everyone that they are legumes. But the authors go a step further and run through a whole list of other "nuts" that aren't. Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds are actually seeds, and macadamia nuts are kernels (they also mention coconuts, but does anybody think coconuts are real nuts?). The next time I went to Rockwell's, I was happy to see the same server and redeem myself by sharing this fascinating information. It was new to her, too.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Not Their Kind of Town, I Guess

Why do so many people leave Chicago and then spend all their free time posting comments on Chicago news websites complaining about how awful Chicago is? They're almost as bad as the dickheads who attribute every negative news item to "the Obama depression."

Look, you're glad you're gone and we're glad you're gone, so just move on already.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Stuffed & Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel

I have several other books in this narrow genre including The End of Food by Paul Roberts and The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan. For food month, I decided to read Stuffed & Starved for its global scope followed by the The American Way of Eating for a national perspective. Unfortunately, by the time I finished this book I was burned out, not necessarily on the topic but on the format of both books, namely the copious endnotes. I generally ignore endnotes if they merely provide citations, but when they have additional content, the constant flipping back and forth between two bookmarks becomes annoying and detracts from the book. I'd much rather read a book with footnotes (ideally footnotes would be for comments and endnotes for citations). I wouldn't judge a book poorly for using endnotes (I know there are good reasons for using them), it's just that I enjoy the reading experience less. I will read The American Way of Eating someday, but right now I need a break.

When I showed this book to a friend, he laughed and said, "It's all bad!" That's a fair assessment considering how large-scale corporate farming has perverted the food system, and Patel offers plenty of examples. Yet he also explores a few movements that are working to change things. A highlight for me as an Illinoisan is his history of soybeans. They are Illinois' second biggest cash crop (behind corn), and Illinois ranks second among the 50 states in production, but I didn't know much about them.

Although Stuffed & Starved is packed with details, the prose doesn't get too bogged down. Also Patel isn't afraid to reference popular culture (such as a long Monty Python quote). I still wouldn't call it an easy read because it's a lot to digest*, but it's more accessible than the typical book of this depth and breadth.

* I honestly wrote that without thinking of the pun.