In her new book, Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture, Dana Goodyear offers readers a voyeuristic journey into the offbeat world of adventurous, exotic eating, where horse, brains and bugs are on the menu and pigs’ ears—once noteworthy conversation starters at restaurants—are now nearly cliché, even moving into the realm of comfort food.
Though much of what makes Anything That Moves such a memorable read is what we witness people eating, Goodyear is quick to point out that this is not really so much a book about food, but its implications. Food, she explains, offers an important lens through which to observe culture: “What is the meaning of what we’re eating, and…why does so much of it seem oriented around risk, taboo, challenge and disgust?”
The answers she uncovers are complicated; the characters we meet in this strange world are complex, hard to sketch in quick or certain terms. Are the foodies she portrays gluttons, driven by a kind of gastronomical conspicuous consumption to eat the increasingly rare, even endangered species, or are they environmentalists who, scorning waste, eat their meat nose to tail? Are they novelty seekers sampling grasshoppers and stinkbugs or forward-thinking pragmatists who acknowledge that 80 percent of the world already eats insects? Are they driven by curiosity or snobbery? Motivated by a desire to transform restaurant menus or to challenge what they perceive as oppressive food regulations?
Goodyear’s essays are part in-depth profiles (meet Pulitzer Prize–winning food writer Jonathan Gold, whose “fringy” and dauntless approach to eating has made him the “patron saint of foodies”), part history lesson (witness today’s edgy raw-food movement as it clashes with regulations rooted in Pasteur’s research) and part vivid sensual description (go ahead, vicariously taste with her those ant pupae popping like baby corn in your teeth). The book’s three sections (“Squishy or Swank?,” “Down the Rabbit Hole” and “Discomfort Food”) trace Goodyear’s journey wading into this brave new food world, offering a smorgasbord of humorously disquieting food adventures seasoned with a serious attempt to understand not just what people are eating, but why.
Though Goodyear says it’s hard to pinpoint any kind of monochromatic position in the food movement (“that’s what makes the conversation between chefs and diners and everyone involved in this movement so incredibly lively!”), she does conclude that foodies share an attitude of “food as an adventure.” And that, Goodyear says, is new in America, where our food supply has become increasingly “standardized and industrialized.” The foodie movement that Goodyear tracks reflects a growing democratization. “So many self-identify, and from every background,” she says. “There’s no way to stereotype the demographic profile of a foodie.”
Despite their diversity, Goodyear says the characters she met on her journey to the foodie underworld were uniformly forthcoming, “exuberant” and helpful. They enthusiastically revealed “all of their methods, from getting to serving to selling,” she says. “It’s a very open yet occasionally dodgy group of people.” A “spirit of insouciance” pervades this world, a sense of excitement and discovery. “This thing that you may think of as slimy and disgusting and inappropriate for eating, but when I dress it up this way and sprinkle beautiful purple borage flowers on it, not only does it look magnificent, it tastes magnificent, and aren’t you changed by it, and isn’t the world changed a little by this?”
Some extremes in adventurous eating, Goodyear believes, are driven by a sense of the future as increasingly uncertain, one clouded with doubts about food security. “The reason we’re seeing so much of this high-end food that has aspects of survival eating (eating into the deepest parts of an animal or foraging for berries) has to do with an American anxiety about where we are in history, what our place in the world is,” she says. “We’re looking to these historically more resourceful cultures for clues about how we might eat in a time when maybe corn is not so available.” She pauses, then notes with irony: “At this same moment, China is embracing the American diet.”
During many of her food adventures, Goodyear was pregnant but still participated gamely as a fearless eater (mostly fearless; see sidebar)—and often found herself delighted by what her taste buds encountered. That included escamoles (ant pupae), which she found “absolutely delicious. And those frog fallopian tubes I had in that ice cream sundae? Those were actually lovely.…they tasted just like lychees—very sweet.” She also found the grasshoppers “very tasty.”
In keeping with her role as amateur anthropologist, Goodyear doesn’t embrace being labeled a foodie. “With foodie-ism, I am trying to write about something I see happening in front of me. And I’m trying to write with an objective attitude toward my subjects. I don’t…feel wholeheartedly, ‘Oh, these are my people.’ I didn’t find my tribe. That’s why I hold that word at arm’s length for myself. I don’t 100 percent identify with any of the subcultures or people I wrote about—though I admire lots of them, and I had a blast with all of them.” She pauses.
“You know, I eat a lot of granola.”
Jessie Grearson is a writer and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop living in Falmouth, Maine.