Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Secret of Food

by Sallie Tisdale

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-57322-130-9
Publisher: Riverhead

An appetizing critique of modern food culture, spiced with gourmet phrasing, that questions America’s continuing affair with Happy Meal cuisine. Magazine columnist Tisdale (Talk Dirty to Me, 1994, etc.) notes that as food preparation has evolved to eliminate time and labor, the trashing of food’s rituals and history leaves us hungry. As with sex, our bountiful, undernourished nation and generation “are ashamed of both [the] desire and gratification” of gastronomic appetites. Tisdale is the Zen Buddhist Antichrist to her mother of the perpetual TV dinner. While Mom religiously reached for the Miracle Whip, Velveeta, and canned everything, her daughter guiltily admits that these tinny tastes are “marbled with nostalgia.” She takes us from the kitchen of her “white trash” background to a farm-to-boardroom overview of the American century’s pantry, which for years ignored or disparaged native foods like corn, potatoes, and tomatoes, accepting them only after they returned with European immigrants. Even now that American culinary isolationism has ended, notes Tisdale, we consume processed exotic foods. Advances in food transportation and refrigeration have homogenized diets by making seasons and regions irrelevant. Tisdale also grieves losses around the dining- room table, showing how status, nutrition, convenience, and cost have all made taste unimportant. Surveying the global glut of foods, she excoriates gorgeous plates of “food pornography,” which we can only fantasize preparing. Instead, she commends the “Slow Food” movement, disparaging the selling out of natural/health food stores while hungrily searching her childhood pantry for something not processed by Campbell’s, General Mills, Nabisco, or Quaker. The latest, computer-generated Betty Crocker, she reports, is still phony, but now she has a web site. The appended bibliography lists such titles as I Hate Cooking. Tisdale caters to our insatiable, “secret” appetite for the bonding and sacrament of food, a lonely and famished nostalgia that exposes our millennial cupboards as bare.