Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

Cooked
by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

unrest
by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

Corked
by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto

More...

Boozehound
by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

Tomatoland
by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

Curry
by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

Ratio
by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

Candyfreak
by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

Cakewalk
by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

Gastrology
by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

Eating
by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide

Review

America the Edible:
A Hungry History, from Sea to Dining Sea

by Adam Richman
Rodale Books, September 2011
Paperback, 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1609611811

Review by Jason Bell

Despite its proximity to the Mississippi, St. Louis lacks a reliable supply of superb fish. We get enough bass to satisfy a horde of Huck Finns, but seafood is scarce. Midwesterners are suspicious of salt water. We prefer limpid rivers where catfish can grow fat, deep pools that hide sunken school buses and corrugated aluminum roofs, reservoirs, and the occasional, gentle waterfall. Drive southwest from St. Louis until you hit Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. Belly surf the gorges, raft along the Black River, and grill rainbow trout in tin foil for dinner: that’s about as good as it gets for a pescetarian around cattle country. Have to have sushi? Well, just don’t, unless you’re alright with Midwestern accouterments like mayo, cheese, a little more mayo, and barbecue sauce.

I grew up five minutes from I Love Mr. Sushi, a humble, unambitious, beautiful little good-luck-shop in a strip mall. Fortunately, Mr. Sushi steers clear of fusion goop; they put together a firecracker smart soft shell crab concoction. Edamame is a filling option, and you can’t go wrong with a California roll. For anyone with any fresh sushi experience, however—I’m talking to you, New Yorkers and Angelenos—the chu-toro, the sake, the kinmedai, the buri, etc., will never measure up. Whenever I catch someone complaining about St. Louis sushi, I give them directions to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, Crown Candy Kitchen, the Courtesy Diner, the Goody Goody Diner, or any other purveyor selling what St. Louis does well. St. Louis is not a sushi town.

Adam Richman, star of the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, has titled a chapter in his book America the Edible “Meet Me For Sushi In St. Louis: Can It Be Just Fair?” In his introduction, Richman claims that America the Edible is “accessible, nondogmatic, non-douchey” and a “culinary anthropology.” These might seem like incompatible intentions, and as you might expect from a chili-swilling, giant-burrito-chomping, five-malts-in-thirty-minutes-slurping TV personality, America the Edible quickly veers from its anthropological aspirations. America the Edible turns out to be equal parts biopic and travelogue, rom-com and Bildungsroman, focused on Richman and the rich dishes he shovels in at light speed. Beginning with Richman’s “Left-Coast Life, Part I,” America the Edible careens from L.A. to Hawaii, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Austin, San Francisco, Maine, and Georgia before returning to “Left-Coast Life, Part II.” In fact, America the Edible is only nominally about food. Gastronomy merely backgrounds Richman’s journey from struggling actor to megastar and his failed love affairs.

This tension between Richman’s egomania and his ostensible aims makes America the Edible a book you love-to-hate and hate-to-love. Richman is at turns misogynist, racist, beyond his academic pay grade, and creepy. He’s also immensely charismatic, eccentric, and fun to read about. We laugh with and at Richman. The text includes “did-you-know-ish” boxes (“Did you know that avocado comes from the Nabuatl—a language of the indigenous Nahua people of Mexico—word for testicle because of its shape?” No, I didn’t.), recipes (“Mom’s chicken soup,” “The 2nd Best Banana Pudding”), bizarre personal anecdotes (“Dear reader: This will be the one and only reference to Mom’s boobs”), high school history lessons (“In 1965, the US government lifted restrictions on immigration from Asia, resulting in an incredible influx of people, foods, spices, and culinary talents and traditions from Asia”) and travel tips (“. . .the real reason that I advocate Oahu as the island you must visit is the North Shore.”) In its mix of food and travel writing, personal essay, narrative nonfiction, and wildly inappropriate diary-ing, America the Edible is simultaneously entertaining and horrifying. Like a trashy sitcom that sporadically flashes into brilliance or a great slice of street pizza, America the Edible is good bad, which is the best kind of worst.

Reading travel writing about your hometown is always a miserable experience, at least to the extent that the travel writer never seems to get it right. Richman misses the best of St. Louis (some of which he actually covers on the Man v. Food episode about the city) in favor of Imo’s (a chain pizzeria), Fitz’s (a tourist trap), and a bizarre digression about sushi. Page upon page of talk talk talk about bad bad sushi. Luckily, Richman rehabilitates St. Louis with a trip to Whole Foods, where he finds fish equal to any on the coasts—some of the best tuna he has ever encountered. Frankly, it makes me question Richman’s authority as a travel writer and a “food expert.” Then again, Richman is an actor, and like Man v. Food, America the Edible is a performance. Best to sit back and enjoy the show.

May 29, 2012