A book that arrived last week sparked musings about the burgeoning industry of food lit titles, a category that has exploded in recent years and seems to keep building.
By food lit, we mean books that are not cookbooks, but instead tackle topics in the world of food from memoir (such as "Heat," by Bill Buford) to food activism (Michael Pollan) to history. That last category includes the excellent work of Mark Kurlansky, author of several works that tell the history of the world through a single foodstuff: "Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World," "Salt: A World History" and "The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell." Kurlansky may not have invented the genre, although we can't recall, right off, such a book before his "Cod," published in 1997, but he owns it, we'd argue.
Which brings us to the point and the new book. With its title, the book postions itself as in the vein of Kurlansky's work, but it comes off like parody: “In Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Blub.” Isn't that something you'd think up if you were ranting about the glut of these titles, spawned by Kurlansky's success?
Now, don't get us wrong. There have been plenty of other excellent books following in Kurlansky's wake, and forging courses of their own. And we readers are all the richer for them. And, again, this book on garlic may be a great read, which we'll find out as soon as we can get to it, that is, as soon as we stop making fun of the glorification of the tomato, the lobster, the vanilla bean.
Which, now, brings us to the product of our musings, that is, the Stew staff's list of 10 books we'd like to see in the history-as-told-through-a-single-foodstuff genre:
"Water: How Something That Tastes Like Nothing Became the World’s No. 1 Drink"
"Popcorn: The Snack that Saved Hollywood"
“Toro! Toro! Toro! The Tremendous Tale of the Tuna from Trawler to Table”
"Chipotle chilies: How a Smokin’ Hot Jalapeno Infiltrated Everything — from Caramel Candies to Hummus to Potato Chips"
"On the Sweet ‘n’ Low: My Secret Life with a Sugar Substitute"
"Some Tripe about Tripe: How the Humble Honeycombed Belly of a Cow Saved a Culture from Hangovers"
"Bruschetta: The Appetizer Whose Pronunciation Divided a Nation"
"Pondering Poi: How Polynesia's Most Disgusting Foodstuff Defined a People"
"Escargot: The Key to Understanding Why the French Act Like They Do"
"Truffle: The Fungus that Lightened Wallets and Ruined Dishes across America"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun