four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
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An Anthology: With Classic Recipes

A-American Food WritingIn American Food Writing, food journalist Molly O’Neill offers a literary tasting menu, her eclectic palate mingling expected entries with more than a few surprises. M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and Alice Waters are here, of course; so are David Sedaris, S. J. Perelman, Thomas Jefferson, Gertrude Stein, Nathaniel Hawthorne, explorer Meriwether Lewis, and even McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. The list goes on. And on. Importantly, O’Neill’s choices reflect the history of food and food writing in America, broad and deep and as rich as the recipes and essays that grace this volume. How important is food, after all? "He who improves the eating of a great people is quite as worthy of honor," H. L. Mencken writes, "as he who improves their roads, their piety, their sex life or their safety."
Library of America. 700 pages. $40. ISBN: 1598530054

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Winston Churchill would have been wrong to find fault with this anthology, as he is supposed to have done with an overelaborate dessert, by saying, ‘This pudding has no theme.’ Theme is nothing, however, unless sufficiently grounded in pudding." Roy Blount Jr.

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The collection deals not merely with people whose primary personal and professional focus was or is on food—such as chefs, restaurateurs, food critics or cookbook authors—but also writers from many fields who saw significance in food beyond sustaining the human body and the passing pleasure of a good meal. … [T]he value and attraction of this volume is not as yet another cookbook, but rather the light it sheds on how food shaped our culture and vice versa." Karola Saekel

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Among its other virtues, American Food Writing—a smorgasbord of essays, memoirs, scenes from fiction and even the occasional recipe—traces our gradual progress toward a ‘kitchen without walls. …’ Molly O’Neill, a former food columnist for the New York Times, knows the pleasures of good writing as well as good eating." Michael Dirda

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"I rather wish that O’Neill had at least given a nod to why the many recipes in the book should be considered food writing. … Still, the challenge has been met; the passion for food is expressed in written form." Patric Kuh

Critical Summary

A cookbook author, memoirist, and longtime New York Times food columnist, Molly O’Neill has been a hardcore foodie for more years than most of us have been using utensils. In American Food Writing, O’Neill pleases just about everyone—food bullies and drive-thru junkies alike—with her diverse selections that draw on more than three centuries of writing about food. The essays and recipes provide entertaining reading, as well as a roadmap to how food and culture define each other in the march toward a "kitchen without walls." The book lacks a dominant theme (maybe not such a bad thing, depending upon where you sit at the table), and one critic bemoans a lack of writing on Eastern European and Slavic cuisine. Still, American Food Writing is more than a meal. Bon appétit.