Friday, June 27, 2014

The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky (21 of 171)

One Sentence Summary: Food writer Mark Kurlansky stumbled upon the lost files of the Federal Writer's Program of the Great Depression- files where they discussed the food at the center of households and communities, ways of eating before the highway system and food preservation modified our regional food habits forever. This book is a collection of those essays.
Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
-James Beard
I love books about food. My entire life, my mother was a brilliant cook who catered (pun intended) to the varied whims of the family table without ever sacrificing quality or, for that matter, quantity. Throughout my childhood, she would try valiantly to get me to take any interest whatsoever in even the most minute of the sacred rites that defined the kitchen: pinching oregano into a sauce, cracking black pepper, or grating parmesan. I resented all of these tasks and set them on the same level as washing dishes or putting things in the recycling, things that carried the suspicious feel of chores. About a year ago, I suddenly became interested in cooking- perhaps it is an interest that comes with maturity, although it is more likely a skill that grows alongside necessity. I was suddenly attracted to the making aspect of it. I've never been able to make much of anything. Doing things with my hands gives me a special type of anxiety, the same that I experience with dancing. But cooking? This I could grasp. There is a fluidity to it, a deeply creative aspect that appeals to me, but aside from all of that I am attracted to this deep sense of community.

Mark Kurlansky is the sort of non-fiction writer that you would imagine would be excellent company at a dinner party- full of information and enthusiasm about it. Still, even his excitement over these tid-bits from the past could not save some of the writing from a lack of editing and consistency. The format made it a little difficult to read- one second you were enjoying someone's lush prose over Creole gatherings, in the next you were subjected to halting and awkward descriptions of barbecue, all crushed up next to each other. It was a book that required some weeding to enjoy. Still, I understand the editor's intent. Kurlansky was hoping to give each author their moment, to make Younger Land as close to what it was originally intended to be as possible. If you're a foodie, or a history dork, there was much to gain despite poor passages. This book is a treasure trove of funky recipes and a great reminder of the importance of community, but is also a great instigator of thought. Is it good that we eat the way that we do? Is variety really the spice of life- or is instead better to coax the food in every way, from seed to mouth? What have we gained and, because of it, what have we lost? Delicious questions.

Shelf Status: Passing along to Erin of the canning blog, Putting Up with Erin. That seems like the right home for it, for now.
If you liked The Food of a Younger Land, you may like: Eating Animals, The Omnivore's Dilemma

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