Though Visser's dish-by-dish dissection of a simple company dinner begins with some obligatory post-structuralist references to modern mythologies and how to ""read"" an elaborate dessert, her engagingly informative discourse is really less like a cool and stylish nouvelle creation than a light but satisfying clean-out-the refrigerator stew: a casual mixture containing large chunks of history, contrasting samples of ancient and modern harvesting and processing methods, and a sprinkling of ancient food-related myths. The discussion meanders, without noticeable breaks, like a well-greased dinner table conversation: Thus separate chapters on corn and rice take up the tragic consequences of the Green Revolution; a chapter on chicken considers divination, cock fighting, and probably more than you want to know about hens' ovulation; and the lettuce coverage ranges from the vegetable's symbolic associations to Chavez and the California farm labor disputes. Visser's pronouncements on food as fashion or symbol can be strained or self-evident, but they're saved by her easy touch; and if much of her research reporting covers tediously familiar ground (the factory farming of poultry; the citrus solution to scurvy-at-sea), her research is so thorough and her reporting so precise that even such familiar topics as the designation of cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil or the intricacies of Japanese table etiquette take on new polish. Finally, over dessert, Visser even comes up with an apt, down-to-earth reconstruction of ice cream's contradictory messages and mythology. In the increasingly popular arena of literate food-chat, a winning entry.