Monday, January 04, 2016

Review: Fed, White and Blue

As you may already know if you read this blog regularly, I adore 'Cutthroat Kitchen'. One of the regular judges on the show is Simon Majumdar (the vaguely grumpy sounding Brit who's actually not grumpy, just very precise in his notes on food that has been prepared under less than ideal circumstances), and he spent a good portion of the last two seasons generously allowing Alton Brown to plug his new book, 'Fed, White and Blue'.

Guess what I got for Christmas from my wonderful wife?

Actually, it feels very appropriate to get this as a Christmas present from the woman I love, because the book is mostly about a) celebrating things with food, and b) Simon's sudden life changes as a result of marriage. After years of dabbling in Americanism, Simon has gone the whole hog and naturalized himself, and this book is about him flinging himself into all the aspects of American cuisine to try to figure out just what our food says about us.

Which, look. This is not a tremendously complicated read. It's a series of relatively short vignettes in which Simon goes someplace he hasn't been before, meets some tremendously nice people, does something silly and quintessentially American, and eats lots of delicious food. You should not come to this one for a read that really makes you think. (Except for a well-written chapter on food banks and another on factory cattle farming, both of which make some salient points on ways that the American food system sometimes doesn't work like it should.)

But if you're looking for a book that makes you laugh and salivate alternately, instead, then you've come to the right place. The author does an amazing job of describing food in prose, which is an intolerably difficult skill (the only thing I can think of that's equivalently hard is describing music in prose). He also does a wonderful job of evoking the spirit of his experiences, making you feel like you've actually accompanied him on his entertaining and strange trips to Alaskan bear country and Philadelphian eating competitions. And there's plenty of dry wit--I particularly liked his description of the beer he helped brew in one chapter as "dark and a little you know I had a hand in the process."

Basically, this is exactly what I expected from a food travelogue, and exactly what I wanted--a light, summery, breezy little read that I could get through in less than a day and find myself mentally refreshed by the experience. As books go, it's something of an appetizer, or perhaps a bit of a palate cleanser between heavy meals, but it's a tasty one for all that.

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