Slow food, in James's lexicon, is ""the opposite of fast food""--not haute cuisine, though he has worked with Simone Beck (and coauthored her New Menus from Simca's Cuisine, 1979) and other famous French chefs, but ""hometown"" fare that is ""cooked at home."" James's focus in this cross-country sampling is as much on the cooks as on the dishes they put out: The book consists of sketches of 24 people who cook, mostly at home, from Massachusetts to California, with a few recipes from each. Most of the food is homey and much of it is local; sweet-potato patties and Charleston crab soup are typical, though the menu gets a little fancier in California. No preservationist, James selects his entries on the basis of personal fancy, and he freely adapts the recipes to conform to his tastes and views. James's miniprofiles are not necessarily centered on food: He wants you to be moved by the cooks' lives. There's a cute anecdote about trying to get a publisher for Julia Child's first book, a schmaltzy entry on Patsy Cline's ""Mom,"" and notes on a few other recognizable names--but mostly James covers anonymous salt-of-the-earth types who cook at home, on farms, and in local eateries. Kansas in August has nothing on the way he plays them up.