In the cookbook section of my library and bookstore, there are a couple of shelves of books that feature titles about food history, famous chef memoirs and books by famous food writers and critics. That’s where I found this one.
The full title is The United States of Arugula: The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution. In his introduction to the book, author David Kamp says “This is a book about how we got to this point—how food in America got better…”
This was good news—since I’ve also read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation–books that tell the downside of the story of our food supply and eating habits. And those books tell important truths that I see in my life–my grandmother ate grass-fed beef all the time—but for me that’s a trip to Whole Foods for a special, expensive treat. And the processed food recipes that everybody was making in the 50s and 60s may be giving way to healthier favorites, but super-sized serving dishes, gargantuan portion sizes and crazy-good, creamy or slushy coffee drinks present daily challenges to reasonable, healthy eating.
Kamp starts his history in New York with the opening of Le Pavilion and other French restaurants that established a beachhead for the gourmet food culture. He tells stories (with lots of gossipy details) about James Beard, James Claiborne, Julia Child and the food politics that have swirled around these stars and those that have followed them. He describes the appreciation for fine food and its preparation that started long ago among society’s elite and continues today with celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali and lots of others—known and appreciated by masses of us.
He takes us from France…to New York…to California. He describes the chefs who emphasize the complex techniques of classical cooking schools and those who design their meals around the availability of the freshest ingredients—using simpler methods to present gorgeous and healthy food.
Woven throughout is the story of home cooks and what influence they exert on trends. What we home cooks have time for, what we buy, what we make, and what we can afford, are making a big difference and that part of the story is only starting.
I didn’t read this straight through—but I’ve enjoyed working my way through it a little at a time. Great to keep by the bed, or take on vacation—you can read a little of it or a lot at a time without losing the thread—he’s a good writer and easy to read.
If you would like more information about his book click here: The United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution.