Friday, May 27, 2011

Books- Long Ago in France

Oh Ms. Fisher, how I love you.

My summer reading plan last year was to hold a personal, in-depth study of MFK Fisher. I have a ton of her books, and about three biographies (all written by the same person I think. I wonder if this lady teaches seminars or sits at home writing more and more biographies).

In the end, it took me longer to get through my “stack” (the small stack of books that sits on my bedside table, keeping me focused so that I get through them some day instead of just constantly buying new ones) than it should have and I only did a little bit of my study.

The forward to Fisher’s Long Ago in France (1992) is somewhat apologetic. “You will read stories and learn things that you may have already read.” While she was right, there were times I remembered as if from a fuzzy dream or a Déjà vu that I already knew this moment of her life, it was pleasant to get them in another context or from another angle. I have pictured her cooking in her small apartment in Dijon a few times now, sometimes hosting loony old ladies who eat more than a growing teenage boy, or setting clementine sections to dry and sweeten on the small heater.

I love both. I love experiencing Fisher’s adventures with her in more than one way and at more than one time, without having to re read books I’ve already gone through.

As the more current forward suggests, there are moments when you feel sad for Fisher. In between the lines, she tells you about the moments in which her marriage to Al seems less than stellar. But even writing in retrospect, she keeps you in love through the entire book.

From a boarding house with stingy landlords, to extravagant ones, and on to their own apartment above a square, to finally fleeing the city at a whim, Fisher’s time in Dijon reminds regular readers of Julia Child in ways. Of Child’s first Dover Sole and of her bravery in a new place with a new language, but at the same time, it’s more calm and pensive.

I hope you get to like her, because even though I’m done with NYU class and moving on to Cheesemaking and job searches having assembled a new stack, there are many more Fisher books awaiting me. Perhaps this summer will be the in-depth Fisher study I dreamed of in 2010! know you aren’t as excited as I am, but try.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Books- Revolution at the Table

Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet, (1988) by Harvey Levenstein is a discussion of nutritional thought and dining trends from 1880-1930.

Social reform by-way-of food was a reoccurring theme. High-society women created soup-kitchen-esque community kitchens to provide what was thought to be nutritious (the ideas about nutrition are always changing), and more importantly, American foods. They used these subsidized or free meals as a way to help Italians stop eating pasta or to try to convince Jewish immigrants that pork was an economical meat. There were of course instances where the foods were not as culturally inconsiderate as well.

The stories resonate with the idea of “we know best. Let’s help them to know it our way.” Who’s to say though? If they are providing the service, do you think that someone should be able to stipulate the rules? I wonder about this in terms of modern-day shelters that have guidelines indicating who can live there. Are you poor enough? Does drug use matter? Should the women in this book have been able to preach against pasta? It was culturally insensitive, yes but I’m not sure I can say it was wrong.

The discussion of Fletcher and his mastication or “chew it till it’s barely there” diet methods was frustrating. I understand that author’s have their bias, but when Levenstein described “Fletcherizing”, he used words like “crazy” or “ridiculous”. Susan Yeger went into greater detail in The Hundred Year Diet about the high-chewing fads without using terminology that was unnecessary. Of course the average American reader will find the idea of chewing each bite 100 times to be odd, because it is not usually done. There were a few instances where I did not feel that Levenstein needed to bonk us over the head with what he was trying to say about perceptions of the time. But I wrote a paper with that critique and I confess I did not do well. All authors have bias. Even bloggers I suppose.

There was a great evolution of nutritional thinking on the part of chemists in America. The book takes you through the discovery of vitamins and nutrients. Food stopped being “just” food for those who could afford to differentiate.

and of course, I always love reading about how Kellogg’s Corn Flakes took over the world. My semester ‘o breakfast reveals that cornflakes are taking over the world in a way that most dictators would never have dreamed. But it all started with two brothers and the idea that fiber might help common stomach ailments in the early 1900s.

It’s a good book. I can agree that it’s a “classic in food history” (argued in class) because it follows the way in which Americans changed the perceptions of food and what they put in their bodies. It was the first time that food was given specific values (If I eat this, that will happen) and many of the changes that arose are still evolving and evident today.

And...We're Back

Hi Readers!

Sorry about the full-month hiatus. I'm also sorry that you are about to be bombarded with largely book posts.

It was an amazing semester. The Mexico trip, the New Orleans trip, my research in England with Mom... I can't even tell you. The thesis went in without a hitch and I managed not to barf on myself during the presentation. There have been thoughts about where to take this next. Since I'm still completely in love with what the traditional English Breakfast says about the people who tuck into it, I may try to take this project to new steps. So that's a possible horizon.

Mostly, I'm grateful that I had the time to truly dedicate myself to food studies and food history (particularly breakfast) this spring. But like all wonderful things, they end.

About ten seconds after I presented my thesis, I started to panic. "What the he%$ is next?" And people keep asking me which only makes it scarier. Some off the advice that I can float around without a job. Some want me to run upstate and create a sustainable farm out of my weekend house (which sounds lovely until I envision digging out the front of my house for improved drainage...on my own, with a shovel). And still others have constructive ideas about what-all I can do. So the search begins. What does a newly master's degreed food-freak who reads too much do with herself after six years in the food industry?

Well, I've enrolled in a cheesemaking course for June, so that's something. I installed two packages of bees (more on that soon) three weeks ago and they are buzzing around like they've been there for years. And I've finally started planting my garden, which has far too many tomato plants and a slew of loose dill and cilantro that seeded and spread from last season.

Stay posted everyone. Meet and Eat will go on as I catch you up on the books I've read, recipes I've tried, and even a few restaurants.