All posts filed under: review

Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste

Whether crispy, creamy, or juicy, texture makes taste. Changing a food’s texture can also remake its taste—to eaters’ detriment or advantage. These gastro-scientific transformations have significant consequences when considering how to make healthy diets interesting, challenging, tasty, and appealing. These are the insights of Mouthfeel: How Texture Makes Taste, a new book published in February 2017 by the Danish team of molecular biophysicist, Ole G. Mouritsen, and chef, Klavs Styrbæk, who wrote together Umami: Unlocking the Secrets of the Fifth Taste in 2015. Mouthfeel was translated into English, revised, and adapted for a broader audience by Mariela Johansen. The final product from Columbia University Press is a beautifully executed text packed full of relatively accessible food science, stunning full-color photographs, and thought-provoking recipes. Fans of Gordon Shepherd’s Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (also from Columbia University Press) will find much to love and think with in Mouthfeel, and with a welcome focus on the culinary. Of interest to me as researcher in food studies and critical nutrition studies was Mouritsen and Styrbæk’s assertion that foods that engage all of our senses provide not only gastronomic pleasure, but also a potential …

Celebrating Earth Day with Andrew Ross’ Parable of a Sustainable Phoenix

This year’s Earth Day theme is green cities, a topic that could not relate more directly to today’s post on Phoenix, a city arguably deserving of the title “World’s Least Sustainable City.” A desert vision of unrestrained growth, the history of Phoenix and the surrounding Sunbelt region provides a nationally instructive case study on sustainability. Invited by Future Arts Research, an Arizona State University institute, to “come and do research of [his] choosing in Phoenix” (19), Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, spent two years in the Valley of the Sun. The result of extensive historical research and 200 interviews with the region’s “more thoughtful, influential, and active citizens” (17), Ross’ recent book, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City (2011), makes manifest his aim “to take the social and political temperature of Metro Phoenix” (17). From its early days of Anglo settlement to today, the Sunbelt proves a feverish place, whose post-war metropolitan growth tells a uniquely American story. In the Valley of the Sun, an ideology of excess reigns, one which …

Hippo: It’s What’s For Dinner

While the global food news often tells of meat shortages in China and India, as middle class demand for meat increases in these extremely populated countries, the United States faced its own meat crisis in the early twentieth century—and believe it or not, hippopotamus ranching emerged as a proposed solution. This is the remarkable story told in American Hippopotamus (2013) by Jon Mooallem, a product of significant archival research, which you can purchase at Atavist or on Kindle for your own reading pleasure. Mooallem’s account orients itself around 1910, when a combination of increasing immigrant populations, growing cities, and overgrazed rangeland caused meat prices to soar, as producers struggled to keep up with domestic meat demands. Christened “the Meat Question” in the newspapers, Louisiana Congressman Robert Broussard proposed importing hippopotamuses from Africa and settling them in the bayous of Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana to assuage America’s carnivorous ills, as well as to tackle the invasive water hyacinth plants, which clog southern waterways and impact fish populations to this day. The bulk of the American Hippopotamus narrative presents dueling biographies of the …

Before You Set a New Year’s Resolution, Read “Eating Right in America”

As the holiday season comes to an end, we march closer to the turn of a new year, a time when visions of sugar plums are replaced by New Year’s resolutions dedicated to ascetic self-improvement. From the Internet, television screens, and store shelves, the newest renditions of diet and fitness programs preach their promise to reduce, shape, and sculpt a “new you.” With this annual rite upon us, one might ponder the question: Why do Americans worry so much about what and how to eat? Charlotte Biltekoff, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, steps up to answer this question in her new book, Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food and Health, published this fall by Duke University Press. In this history of American dietary reform, Biltekoff argues that dietary choices are a near constant source of anxiety due to the “ongoing expansions in the social significance of dietary health and the moral valence of being a ‘good eater’” (5). In a petite …

Review: ‘Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies’ Astutely Addresses Structural Solutions

I must recommend Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (written by medical anthropologist and physician, Seth M. Holmes, and published this past June by UC Press), a text so marvelous that it deserves this post title’s quadruped alliteration. In this powerfully moving and hopefully significantly influential book, Holmes reveals through poignant thick description the life experiences, structural inputs, and health outcomes of Triqui migrant farmworkers. Best described by his fellow fruit picker, Samuel, as a project in which “he wants to experience for himself how the poor suffer” (33), Holmes chronicles Triqui experiences as they live in Oaxaca, risk their lives crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, and labor in the fields of California, Oregon, and Washington. Holmes vividly depicts personal experiences of suffering, defined as “not only physical sickness, but also mental, existential, and inter-personal anguish” (89). Furthermore, while various scholars and researchers describe, list out, and point to structural inequalities and the fundamental causes of disease, Holmes’ combination of ethnography, theory, and medicine elucidates these causes and structural forces with refreshing complexity, dexterity, clarity, and empathy. With …

Labor Day Laments and the Masculine Glory of Groom’s Cakes

It’s Labor Day, which signals summer’s approaching end, as well as a seasonally-based, social ban on white clothing. [Though really, when are white pants ever a good idea?] This holiday also tends to mark the end of the summer wedding season, but I’ve got weddings and cakes on the brain because I’m head-over-heels in love with Cherry Levin’s recent article, “He Can Have his Cake and We Will Eat It Too: The Role of the Groom’ Cake in Southeastern Louisiana Wedding Receptions,” in Digest: A Journal of Foodways and Culture.  While I’m not sure the claim that the groom’s cake tradition is waining everywhere but in the south holds water, I greatly enjoyed the author’s analysis of the groom’s cake as a masculine detail within the otherwise ultra-feminine affair that is most big, white weddings. Levin comments upon the “visual and symbolic relationship” between the wedding cake—or “bride’s cake” if you prefer—as its towering tiers and feminine, frosted details mirror the bride herself, adorned with lace, tulle, and beading. Furthermore, she contends that “celebratory cakes communicate important messages …

Defining American Food in ‘The Saturday Evening Post All-American Cookbook’

If you ever want to strike up a passionate food debate, just toss out the the question, “What is American food?” While you’ll hear the unenlightened decree with disdain that the United States has no food culture, the answer is far more nuanced. Like jazz and blues music, some argue that barbecue is a unique American cultural food product, one that loudly communicates a multiethnic history and both local and regional identity. Others will insist that the food traditions of New England form the culinary roots of American cuisine.[1] Others will point to McDonalds and other fast food joints known for selling burgers and fries as quintessentially American in taste, presentation, and capitalistic expansionism.[2] Still others will argue that the continually simmering melting pot[3] of American citizens ensures that all food served within U.S. borders in some way represents, absorbs, and communicates American food culture. These disparate points of view are portrayed in different ways in The Saturday Evening Post All-American Cookbook. Published in 1976, filled with reproductions of the Post’s covers and advertisements, and made up …