A sanguine account of the year Rehak (Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, 2005) spent immersed in local food production.
To give herself a crash-course culinary education in what to feed her one-year-old son, Jules, the author volunteered to work in the kitchen of a small Brooklyn restaurant, “applewood.” She wanted to think more about the food she ate but felt overwhelmed by the amount of information in books, newspapers and foodie magazines. Her yearlong endeavors to form her own ideas on the subject include picking vegetables at an upstate farm, making cheese, packing and delivering produce in the middle of the night, milking goats and sea-fishing. The bulk of the narrative unfolds at applewood during ten-hour shifts spent cooking, chopping, flipping, prepping, baking and studying the restaurant’s two owners, David and Laura Shea. Rehak’s conclusions—that “we should eat as locally as possible, we should support small farms”—are ones she grasped at the project’s outset, but she hadn’t understood the reasons why these truths are so important. Included in the book are recipes, and she quotes liberally from authors as varied as Wendell Berry, Emily Dickinson and James Joyce. Rehak doesn’t lack inspiration, and her subject is laudable. However, with so many books covering the same topic, she could use a more dynamic angle, opting to focus more on the personal side of her story. She spends countless hours with people in the food business, affirming the argument for supporting local and organic farmers and butchers, but not a single voice in these pages articulates a different view. Consequently, readers are taught the same lesson in each chapter, from cheese to fish to desserts.
The ongoing drama of Rehak’s picky-eater son offers anecdotal entertainment, but the stakes are too insubstantial to qualify as gripping, no matter how enthusiastic the author.