Cookbook author Gartenstein (The Accidental Vegan, 2009, etc.) serves as guide on an entertaining and informative culinary romp through the ages.
Gartenstein, owner of Patty Pan Grill, a Seattle-based farmers’ market business, traces (mostly Western) man’s relationship with food, charting the evolution of cuisine; from the Sumerians to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, on through the Middle Ages, she tracks man’s connection to his environment and his struggle to cultivate enough plants or kill enough animals to sustain life. The competition between empires to find a shorter route to the Spice Islands ultimately opened a world of new flavors. And with the discovery of the New World, Europeans were introduced to corn, potatoes and chocolate. While New World colonists struggled to clear land for the planting of corn, squash and tobacco, the French refined the art of cooking and the English mass-produced and refined flour and sugar, giving the world ample amounts of white bread and sweetener for tea and jam. Gartenstein goes on to review the rise of health food in America, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Graham crackers, John Harvey Kellogg, C.W. Post and the advent of Shredded Wheat and Grape Nuts. Farming in America, once dominated by small family enterprises, dwindled to a small percentage of wealthy farmers, cooperatives and corporations. Flight to the cities brought convenience foods, canned fruits and vegetables, more supermarkets and fewer hours spent in food preparation. The 1950s wrought the age of diners, drive-ins and frozen TV dinners. Though Americans had left the farm and its long, hard days of back-breaking work that consumed calories, the American appetite still craved large quantities of fat, sugar and salt. Mass production, economies of scale and fast-food restaurants eliminated the need to struggle for food. Gartenstein’s book is well-written, with nicely organized chapters and evident research into the topics. Each chapter can be read and enjoyed independently of others. The author comes down decidedly in favor of diets which feature less meat; this bias and lack of firsthand experience with fast-food culture may have led her, when discussing the fast-food industry, to erroneously attribute Burger King’s famous “Have It Your Way” advertising campaign to competitor McDonald’s.
Eating well is subject to interpretation and shifting values, but Gartenstein provides a thorough treatment of its history.