A series of trenchant arguments about the consistency of Americans’ feelings for food, our great common denominator.
Suspecting that the consumption-crazed, binge-and-purge culture is nothing new, Kaufman (English/CUNY) quotes young Washington Irving, who in 1803 marveled over the stunning culinary delectations available in New York City. The author then jumps forward two centuries to investigate the term “gastroporn”: Watching a generous amount of Food Network programming, he gleefully compares the structure and style of X-rated films with the loving close-ups and sensuous phrases that are staples of cooking shows, Emeril Lagasse’s “kick it up a notch” being one example. Kaufman notes that “the money shot”—the finished dish—is seldom the actual product of those ingredients you see the chefs squeezing and manipulating. Even the Puritans were obsessed with food, he declares, speculating as to the full menu of their first Thanksgiving. Kaufman’s jolting chapter on vomiting (he prefers “puking”) displays a masterful wit. He begins by elaborately, eloquently apologizing for raising the topic at all, then lays out a finely researched, deeply ironic chronology of how early Americans viewed vomit. Indeed, it’s never sufficient for him to opine that the Puritans “adored laxatives and diuretics” when he can also dissect the inscrutable food writing of Cotton Mather. As Kaufman slowly returns to the present, he addresses a string of intriguing issues. An indictment of the milk-processing industry includes an account of his adventures within a secret raw-milk collective. Artificial genetic modifications have fundamentally altered many foods, he reveals, the sumptuous oyster in particular. One amusing passage skewers actress and diet/fitness guru Suzanne Somers, whose “misty never-never land of personal, economic and domestic bliss [is] meticulously documented on every overproduced page of her modern gastrosophical masterpiece, Get Skinny on Fabulous Food.”
Gourmets and gourmands alike will savor Kaufman’s keen, caustic anatomy of the American palate.