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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink

Press, 2007, 693 pages, ISBN 978-0-19-530796-2, $64.95 hard covers) has
been edited by Andrew F. Smith who teaches culinary history and
professional food writing at the New School University in Manhattan. He
has written several books on food, consults to a wide ranging group of
food media (University of Illinois, Food Network, History Channel),
and, more importantly, also edited the two-volume "Oxford Encyclopedia
of Food and Drink in America" upon which this one volume Companion
builds. The basic definition for inclusion here is: food and beverage
consumed in the US. So there is nothing here for Canada or Latin
America, except for what creeps across the borders. There are 1,000
articles, mainly popular material, with hundreds of historical photos
(many in colour). Over 200 contributors wrote for this book; all the
articles are sourced by author. Smith himself, as most editors do,
wrote about 150 articles. Types of entries include political and social
movements such as temperance, Prohibition, vegetarians, organic food,
and slow food (covered, of course, as Slow Food USA); chronological
surveys of US history; product entries on a specific food or drink;
contributions of ethnic groups; biographies of 58 important people
(chefs, inventors, restaurateurs, scientists); and corporate histories
of commercial products (including junk foods and fast foods). All of it
formatted in dictionary A - Z arrangement. There are even some recipes
for food and drink. Thus, you will find material about vichyssoise,
macaroni and cheese, hush puppies, chitterlings, American chop suey,
Central Asian food, Tupperware, anadama bread, wedding cakes. This is a
typical Oxford Companion production which sells quite well at this
price level (it is cheaper on Amazon.Ca, with free postage).
Audience and level of use: foodies, libraries, curious.
Some interesting or unusual facts: The entry for U is for Uncle Ben,
plus some cross-references. The entry for Z is Zombie (the drink). The
entry for Y has Martin Yan, yeast, Yum! Brands, yummasetti (now a baked
Amish casserole).
The downside to this book: nothing on Canada, which is okay since it
falls outside the scope of the book.
The upside to this book: there is a topical outline by subject, and an
index. The book is easy to read in its three column layout. The paper
is heavy and substantial to feel. There are plenty of cross-references
and bibliographies.
Quality/Price Rating: 95.

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