“By design and by destiny, humans are omnivores. Our teeth and digestive systems are all-purpose and ready for anything. Our genes do not dictate what foods we should find tasty or repulsive. We come into the world with a yen for sweets (newborns can even distinguish among glucose, fructose, lactose, and sucrose) and a weak aversion to bitterness; and after four months develop a fondness for salt. Some people are born particularly sensitive to one taste or odor; others have trouble digesting milk sugar or wheat gluten. A tiny fraction of adults, between 1 and 2 percent, have true (and truly dangerous) food allergies. All human cultures consider fur, paper, and hair inappropriate as food. And that’s about it. Everything else is learned. Newborns are not repelled even by the sight and smell of putrefied meat crawling with maggots.”
I’ve been on a bit of a food kick lately. Not so much the eating part as the reading about, dreaming about, planning to make, and wishing I made better parts. I’ve been watching some new additions to Netflix Instant Play that are about food and have inspired me to try and add a bit of healthy variety to our menu (which has been a bit of derailed decision as the day after I made it we left on vacation).
One of the several books I picked up for vacationing purposes was this book – partly because of an ongoing friendly debate between my husband and I about whether Jeffrey Steingarten is really qualified to be a judge on Iron Chef America as much as he is. (I am on the pro-Steingarten side, Jason thinks he’s too anal and mean).
This is a collection of Steingarten’s essays for Vogue magazine as their official food critic. I was instantly pleased with this book as I delved into the introduction. Steingarten relates his feelings when chosen as a food critic for a very well known mag and how he prepared himself for the role. Deciding he didn’t want to be one of “those” food critics who won’t eat anything but what they love, he put himself through a rigorous program to rid his palate of prejudices against things he decided he didn’t like – things such as kimchi, garbanzo beans, clams, mochas, and most Greek food. He now is willing to taste nearly anything (he still has trouble with insects).
The book includes stories about how to make the perfect bread, piecrust, or fruitcakes. It tells of Steingarten’s week at a fat farm and his article on the famous French diet. He tries to investigate our aversions to fat, salt, and why we don’t make our own condiments. We learn how to find the perfect tasting water for our own palate (hint: it’s easier than you think). And we discover just what it means to be a judge at a National Barbecue Competition.
While sometimes my stomach turned at the descriptions of the things the author would allow over his lips, more often than not I found myself saying “huh…interesting” which resulted in Jason asking for more information on what I was reading and both of us learning something new about the gastronomic world. For instance, I now have new techniques to try with piecrust, and am tempted to try my hand at homemade ketchup. And come November, I’m definitely going to investigate Steingarten’s fruitcake recipe.
“The Man Who Ate Everything” was written by Jeffrey Steingarten and published in book form in 1997.