EATING IN AMERICA: A History by Waverley & Richard de Rochemont Root


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With filmmaker de Rochemont, Root undertakes another gastronomic pilgrimage--in a less sympathetic vein than The Food of France (1958) or The Food of Italy (1971). American food, the authors insist, has been dominated from the beginning by the joyless and insular spirit of English cooking. But the cause has not always been hopeless. Though pioneer cuisine tended to sullen monotony, 19th century Eastern housewives (aided by improvements in oven design and the introduction of baking soda and commercial yeast) labored imaginatively over vegetables from the newly accessible truck gardens of the South, spices and tropical fruits brought by clipper or steamer, and the game and seafood so marveled at by European visitors. Refrigeration and processing techniques broadened national tastes in food and drink; the age of conspicuous consumption brought the great city restaurants of the Delmonico's era. And the authors trace ethnic contributions aplenty--e.g., the ""High Holy Mayonnaise"" of Mobile Bay, which turns out to be a Cajun version of aioli. Yet in the end, they believe, the melting pot failed to soften the ""uncompromisingly Anglo-Saxon"" character of American food. This view takes a bit of explaining in the heyday of the gourmet revolution and Ethnic Is Beautiful, but Root and de Rochemont detect no change in our basic dedication to blandness and timidity--no change, that is, except ever-more-efficient technological means of achieving it. Their attitude is sometimes infectiously enthusiastic, sometimes condescending: ""Spain had, in the gastronomic domain (and still has) very little to give."" The frequent air of arrogance is reinforced by the absence of footnotes--which, we are told, tend to spoil prose rhythms but would have greatly extended the interest and usefulness of the authors' valuable historical materials. Much delightful information, many unendearing prejudices.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1976
Publisher: Morrow