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Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

by Adam Gopnik

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59345-0
Publisher: Knopf

A philosophical look at French food and how it has affected our eating habits and our lives.

New Yorker writer Gopnik’s latest book (Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life, 2009, etc.) is not for the fast-food junkie in search of a quick fix; the essays are delicious in small bites though slightly overwhelming in large quantities. Throughout, the author displays a masterful grasp of French cuisine and history. Starting with the origins of the restaurant in France as a byproduct of the French Revolution and meals served in inns as another form of seduction in the quest for sex, Gopnik moves on to reflect on the recipe, the meaning of taste and the ongoing argument for and against eating meat. Whether he is discussing haute cuisine, nouvelle cuisine or the newest techno-emotional cuisine, the author ponders the real meaning of food, beyond the need to satisfy a hunger—is it to provide comfort, is it a symbol of love or something more sacred? Local foods, French wines and a discussion of peasant foods versus traditional French cooking all blend together into a rich feast of sensory details. These essays will leave no doubt in readers’ minds that Gopnik is a true food aficionado with a desire to share his musings. To lighten the heaviness of his chapters, the author intersperses delightful, almost comic letters written to Elizabeth Pennell, a food critic and writer in the 19th century. Here he adopts a more informal tone and provides insights into his family life and the recipes he prepares for his children.

Rich in context and philosophical thoughts, Gopnik’s book will satiate the most ardent of food-history buffs.