Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Review: The Taste of America

Probably the most bizarre thing about John and Karen Hess' book is not that it puts down preservatives, excess use of sugar and white flour, ready made meals, and "gourmet" food, but that it was written in 1977!! About the only thing that makes the book outdated is that Europe has caught up to the US in their use of preservatives, convenience foods, sugary soft drinks, and a corporate food structure.

While John (former food reviewer for the NY Times) and Karen do spend a lot of time bashing Fannie Farmer, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and my boy James Beard, they do it with 1) a lot of research and 2) a lot of careful reading of their cookbooks and work. And unfortunately they are right. There is absolutely no reason to put sugar in bread, sugar in salad dressings or use head lettuce, something all of the above routinely employ.

The Hess' do not ever embrace the "local food movement" per se, but since they value tomatoes that are picked fresh from the vine, organic farming methods, and good home cooking (instead of fake gourmet cooking), overall their message could be: grow your own vegetables or buy them from the person who does. Their intensive history lesson basically proves that America once grew the most flavorful vegetables (so flavorful that Europe thought they were gross) and that we can do it again.

We have a long way to go. The best thing the government could do is either eliminate the farm bill or restructure it and then start buying from small farmers what they need for school cafeterias, the military, etc, etc. The best thing we can do is start buying from Farmer's Markets and only eating food that comes from over 100 miles as needed (okay, I live in PA but LOVE avocados). [As a side note on that, apparently I have never even had a good avocado because now they only grow ones with thick skin that cannot be bruised. ]

It's a great book for people who love food and for people who love history. And while I will still use my Beard on Bread's cookbook, it will be for those recipes that do not use sugar!