Hudson Valley writer Watman (Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine, 2010) charts his adventures in sourcing or producing whole foods in more direct ways, without the polemical emphasis on locavore movements, environmental politics, corporate agriculture or related issues.
The author cites a few choice quotes from other writers, including Aaron Bobrow-Strain (White Bread, 2012) and Betty Fussell (Raising Steaks, 2008), which add background to the concern for remedying the nation’s food, and features passages that detail problems such as the use of bisphenol A in the canning process. However, his own stance is that food should “be fun” and not a cause for stress. Raised in a family that worked in a culinary cottage industry, Watman details a different project in each chapter. From a failed effort at producing Camembert to the pleasures of raising chickens despite their eventual deaths, the thrill of hunting pheasants in North Dakota to grinding his own sausages and planting chili peppers, food has served as a pathway for enjoyment. For readers intrigued by personal back-to-the-land cooking journeys, Watman is honest in his admission of the “deep foodie DIY production” that entailed difficult ingredients and unusual forays. Each attempt, however, remained grounded in his desire to broaden his family’s palate with less commercially processed fare; there is little sense of advocating for broader-scale changes, nor moralizing on the eating habits of others. In the strongest chapters, Watman weaves childhood memories, such as making cornichons, into accounts of his more current experiments. Watman's mistakes and triumphs have served as steppingstones on an impressively determined course.
With an essayist's flair for careful description, this is an entertaining, if not eye-opening, look at one man's passion for the pleasures of the table. Recommended as a congenial overview of homespun ideals.