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A veteran British travel writer divides the US into food-related areas—and delivers a bilious tour of the union.

Choosing unbridled rant over nuanced reportage, Biddlecombe wisecracks his way across the country, offering jokes, opinions, and hearsay as fact. His categories are burger states, bun states, cheese, bacon, salad, french-fry, relish, ketchup, salt, fruity, and drinks states. Starting his journey in Virginia, a meaty state in the burger division, he delivers a preachy riff on the Constitution, which proclaimed equality but ignored slavery. True, of course, but Biddlecombe continues on righteously angry and critical wherever he goes. Only chicken-burger state Kentucky seems to please, largely because of horseracing. Congress, made up largely of felons, promises but fails to deliver aid to the Third World. The presidency is nonsensical, the US the most crime-ridden society in the world. The author describes a Harvard business professor as a “hop-head hackedemic,” Detroit as the Third World without aid organizations, the air in North Carolina (a bacon state) as a mixture of methane, ammonia, and chlorine, and its inhabitants as big on religion, their kind of religion. In New York (another bacon state), he asserts that Jews may only be ten percent of the population, but they make themselves felt by yelling, arguing, donating, and voting. Fruity state Vermont is “smothered in maple syrup . . . Norman Rockwell, Forrest Gump,” and California (another fruity state) is “like one of those big, horrible, healthy bowls of muesli: nothing but fruit and nuts.” Biddlecombe spends a lot of time in bars chatting to the locals, who feed him dicey facts and tall tales; he visits small towns as well as big cities, seeing the sights from Colonial Williamsburg to the Texas stockyards; and he takes in local bookshops, giving uncharacteristically favorable reviews to Powell’s in Portland, Oregon (drinks state, coffee division), and a nameless “great, old-time, rambling, dusty secondhand bookshop” outside Stowe, Vermont.

Snide and strained.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-349-11606-7
Page count: 410pp
Publisher: Abacus/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2003