Wednesday, February 4, 2015

1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die

I found little to enjoy in this book.  At first, I was quite excited to read it, as I love lists and I love food even more.  Actually, what I really love is crossing things off of lists, but that's neither here nor there.


Some people write about food very well; you can feel their passion in the writing.  Although Mimi Sheraton was a food critic, her writing lacks vivacity and passion.  She comes across as patronizing instead of joyful.  And food should be fun!  I just ate a bunch of Garrett's Chicago Mix popcorn (which they are now calling "Garrett's Mix" but it will always be Chicago Mix to me) and I loved it.  Their caramel corn has a deeper color and richer flavor than others, and their cheese corn is just ... cheesier, as if they've double-dipped each kernel in powdery cheese deliciousness.  When I tell people about Garrett's, I don't blather on about the history of popcorn or how it should be prepared in order to be "real" popcorn, or that you can't order it in America because the customs laws are so dreadfully restrictive.  Cripes.  I just tell them it's the best popcorn ever.

That's the thing about the foods Mimi Sheraton has selected--they are for the most part elitist and Eurocentric.  She's all, "Oh, this specialty cheese from blah-blah-blah is exquisite, but accept no imitations, because you can't get this in America.  Anything labeled XYZ is a poor copy of the original."  Hidden message?  "If you don't have the money to fly all over the world to eat stuff in its natural terroir, sucks to be you.  Also you probably only eat fast food and have no taste."  At this point I started picturing the author flying away on a broomstick, cackling at our plebeian tastes.

The structure of the book was also confusing.  I expected a short blurb about each of the 1,000 titular foods.  Instead, some entries were about restaurants or magazines, neither of which are edible, but which seemed to be included in the "1,000 foods" bit.  Padding the manuscript, eh?  And then you'd hit a section like "Spanish cheeses" and Sheraton would just list a whole bunch of cheeses.  Does that count as one entry or five?

Food being so tasty, lots of it has crossed man-made borders and morphed into regional variants of the original food.  Some of these descendants get their own entries, while others (German Döner Kebab, which is quite different from, say, shawarma) are ignored.  I feel the slight because having eaten a lot of Döner, the ones in Germany were amazing.  And cheap.  And as big as my head.  And washed down with delicious Hefeweizen.  ANYWAY.

Other things that bothered me: Sheraton translates tiramisù as "draw me close" when it really means "pick me up."  Hello?  Editors?  The Polish population in Milwaukee gets short shrift in the Paczki article--and I don't remember seeing anything about deep-fried cheese curds, which are a staple food here.  And you should definitely eat them before you die, even if you die eating them.

There's an insufferable amount of snootiness in (of all things) the Borschch article.  To wit: "Whatever other elements are included in this steaming cabbage-and-beet laden Russian-Ukranian soup, the letter T should not be among them.  Never mind the spelling that is standard in the United States, where this immigrant legacy of the eastern European Jews is written and pronounced "borscht."  These two sentences are loaded with offensive statements.  One being that "standard spelling in the United States" doesn't count, because the U.S. has no taste.  Two: that this soup is the sole possession of people either Russian or Ukrainian, and we must pronounce it as they do.  Three: that Jewish immigrants somehow sullied the pronunciation of this word and maliciously spread it around, so we are all saying it wrong because of Jewish people.  I've got one word for you, Mimi Sheraton, and that's pogrom.  Why the heck do you think so many Jewish people emigrated from Russia?  Hmm, maybe to escape genocide?  And a Yiddish pronunciation is just as valid as any other.  In fact, my non-Jewish Russian-Polish grandmother called it "borscht."  So there.

I also found it interesting that bacon is labeled as an American food, but bacon sandwiches are sold on the regular in the UK and are way more delicious than any BLT I've ever had.

Sheraton fumbles on the "American" sausage article when she states that the toppings on a Chicago Dog are something from which one chooses.  If it is not a beef dog on a poppyseed bun, topped with tomatoes, neon relish, celery salt, onions, mustard, and sport peppers, it is not a Chicago Dog.  And don't you DARE put ketchup on it.

Evidently, the author assumes that all people think poutine is gross.  How can anything be gross when it is a marriage of fries, cheese curds, and gravy?  That's like ... heaven.  Sorry, my Wisconsin is showing.

For an area with such a huge array of foods and cultures, Sheraton does the whole "Asia all-together" thing and focuses mostly on Chinese takeout mainstays or trendy Korean foods or sea veggies.  Never mind that Russia is also part of Asia.

Just eat what you want, and try new things, and live.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.

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