Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal

Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal

Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal

Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal

Synopsis

Whether a five-star chef or beginning home-cook, any gourmand knows that recipes are far more than a set of instructions on how to make a dish. They are culture-keepers as well as culture-makers, both recording memories and fostering new ones. Organized like a cookbook, Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal is a collection of American literature written on the theme of food: from an invocation to a final toast, from starters to desserts. All food literatures are indebted to the form and purpose of cookbooks, and each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, the Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The literary works within each section are an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature-forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own. Each section offers a delectable assortment of poetry, prose, and essays, and the selections all include at least one tempting recipe to entice readers to cook this book. Including writing from such notables as Maya Angelou, James Beard, Alice B. Toklas, Sherman Alexie, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, and Alice Waters, among many others, Books That Cook reveals the range of ways authors incorporate recipes-whether the recipe flavors the story or the story serves to add spice to the recipe. Books That Cook is a collection to serve students and teachers of food studies as well as any epicure who enjoys a good meal alongside a good book.


Excerpt

Sparking an avalanche of interest in writings about food is the simple fact that everyone eats. Years ago as a young biology teacher, I quickly discovered that students are willing to study anything if it relates to food. I could use food as an entry point to teach the principles of digestive physiology, the biochemistry of metabolism, and how nutrients function in health. and I could also use food to teach how governments regulate, the principles and practices of democratic societies, and anything else I wanted to about history, sociology, anthropology, or just about any other disciplinary area of study. Food, as my NYU department likes to explain, is a lens through which to view and analyze the most important political, economic, and cultural problems facing today’s globalized world. and students, we professors soon find out, eat it up.

In 1996, a far-sighted dean at New York University took a leap of faith and allowed my department (known, amazingly, as Home Economics until 1990) to begin offering undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in Food Studies. Only one other such program existed at the time, the Julia Child–inspired Gastronomy program at Boston University. Rather than Gastronomy, we chose to name our program Food Studies in a deliberate effort to command the academic respectability afforded to other nyu “studies” programs—Women’s Studies, Liberal Studies, Media Studies, French Studies, and Africana Studies, for example.

A set of programs in hotel management had just been transferred from the department to another school at nyu, leaving a large tuition gap. I had been traveling for some years with a group of food writers, chefs, and academics and could feel their hunger—a frequent and appropriate metaphor in Books That Cook—for credible, research-based information about the history of food and interpretation of the role of food in society, approached from their various disciplinary perspectives. With the help of an outside advisory committee . . .

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