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Tuesday, August 21, 2012


WHY CALORIES COUNT; from science to politics (University of
California Press, 2012, 288 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-26288-1, $29.95 US
hard covers) is by Marion Nestle, an academic at New York University,
and Malden Nesheim, a professor emeritus from Cornell University. They
had collaborated on an earlier work about pet food, while Nestle is
well-known for such political books as Food Politics, Safe Food, and
Pet Food Politics. This book is one of the California Studies in Food
and Culture series, but of course, its scope is not limited to
California. It's a look at underlying issues related to diet, food,
weight loss, weight gain, and obesity around the globe. The authors
constantly have rough edges when they look at food manufacturers and
diet promoters. Politics comes in because there is a food industry, it
employs people, it has lobby groups, it is profit-making, and it wants
to make more money. In some respects, it's a lot like Big Pharma, but
while the prices are lower, the stakes are higher. Nestle (no relation,
of course) and Nesheim give plenty of facts to support their cases, and
there is much detail here for readers to do their own interpretation of
food labeling, diet claims, weighing the evidence, and the like. The
book concludes with a FAQ that should be of interest to book clubs or
promotional tours. And copious end notes with bibliographic notes for
further reading.
Audience and level of use: those who ant to know more about the
politics of food, food activists, libraries.
Some interesting or unusual facts: 2% of the calories from ingested
alcohol were lost from the lungs, skin and kidneys. 98% of the calories
obtained from alcohol are processed by the body, and they are "empty"
The downside to this book: people who hear about this book are bound to
be one of the congregation anyway – there still needs to be a more
"popular" shoutout or Internet meme series.
The upside to this book: they give a mantra for all of us – GET
Quality/Price Rating: 90.

4. HERBS; a global history (Reaktion Books, 2012; distr. University of
Chicago Press, 166 pages, ISBN 978-1-86189-925-5, $17 US hard covers)
is by Gary Allen, author of The Herbalist in the Kitchen (2007),
amongst other books.
5. GIN; a global history (Reaktion Books, 2012, 167 pages, ISBN 978-
1-86189-924-8, $17 US hard covers) is by Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, a
print food writer and a blogger (
6. RUM; a global history (Reaktion Books, 2012, 141 pages, ISBN 978-
1-86189-926-2, $17 US hard covers) is by Richard Foss, a food historian
and journalist.
7. VODKA; a global history (Reaktion Books, 2012, 165 pages, ISBN 978-
1-86189-929-3, $17 US hard covers) is by Patricia Herlihy, who once
taught at Brown and is now Professor at Emmanuel College in Boston.
These books are all part of the Edible Series; they now number some 30
books in a uniform format. Edible is a great series, offering thumbnail
profiles and engaging memoirs of foods. You don't need to collect them
all: if you hate olives (as does a friend of mine), then just avoid
that book. They've all got some traditional history, cultural history,
food history, and some travel/geography notes. Each volume has a
selection of recipes (with both metric and avoirdupois measurements),
end notes, bibliography, and a listing of websites and associations.
There are also terrific full-colour photos and an index.
"Herbs" are often considered weeds, but there are hundreds of uses for
them, from medicinal to savoury dishes – and throughout history.
"Gin" is a brief history, from Dutch origins to British misery to its
current global status. It uses "herbs" in its blending, and there are
secretive formulas of botanicals. Gin was probably more responsible for
cocktails than any other distilled spirit.
"Rum" is a colourful book, in that it documents elements of the slave
trade and highlights rum's early base character as a raw spirit derived
from molasses. It has had an impact on punches, the British Navy, as
well as the islands of the Caribbean, of course, and popular music.
"Vodka" is basically a non-descript spirit (it is, after all, just
alcohol) which can be flavoured thousands of different ways. This
history begins with Slavic origins from the 14th century, and moves
through the tumultuous war periods. Again, like Gin, Vodka is a source
of misery for certain cultures, like Russia. Still, a fascinating book
on how life got that way.
Audience and level of use: culinary historians, food lovers, spirits
Some interesting or unusual facts: The Poles prefer to believe that
vodka originated with them in the 11th century. In 1710, rum rations to
the British Navy were set at half a pint a day (10 ounces). Rip Van
Winkle blames "genever" for his twenty-year sleep. Japanese nori
seaweed is also in the west of England and Wales where it is known as
The downside to this book: as with any profile, occasionally one may
wish for more detail about certain points.
The upside to this book: good, nifty self-contained books.
Quality/Price Rating: 90 each.
8. THE TRUCK FOOD COOKBOOK; 150 recipes and ramblings from America's
best restaurants on wheels. (Workman Publishing, 2012; distr. T. Allen,
294 pages, ISBN 978-0-7611-5616-1, $18.95 US soft covers) is by John
Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of
Mississippi and free-lance food writer (he's been nominated five times
for a Beard Award). Here he explores the culture of street food, with
preps adapted for home cooking. They come from restaurants on wheels in
New York and Los Angeles, plus food carts and wagons in Portland,
Austin, and Minneapolis (among others). The arrangement is by food:
fries and pies, waffles, brunches, sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, and
sweets. Within each category there's a couple of pages devoted to a
place, such as Jamerica Restaurant in Madison Wisconsin, with detail
about the establishment and a rundown on the special food, in this
case, Jamaican meat patties. This is followed by a home cook style
recipe (hey folks, do try this at home!!) You can adapt your own
seasoning level. Now you will miss chatting with the vendor and getting
all the latest scoops and anecdotes, but you'll be well-fed.
Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there are tables of metric equivalents.
Audience and level of use: armchair travelers, food culturalists.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: toritos; elotes; tamarind-
glazed fried chicken drumettes; falafel and egg hoagies; Korean short
ribs; Taiwanese fried chicken; garlic beef sauerkraut; adzuki chili;
kalbi beef sliders.
The downside to this book: it's over too soon.
The upside to this book: colourful, nicely adapted food, great for home
Quality/Price Rating: 88.

9.SHORT COURSE IN BEER; in introduction to tasting and talking about
the world's most civilized beverage (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012; distr.
T. Allen, 216 pages, ISBN 978-1-61608-633-6, $14.95 US hard covers) is
by Lynn Hoffman, who remains unidentified in the book. It's a basic
affair, originally published in 2009, and comes without an index
(points off). Yet it is an interesting read since it covers the major
ground in a good writing style. There's the flavour of beer, food and
beer pairing, primer on brewing, a dictionary and glossary, beer
tourism, and some recommended reading. A solid basic book at an
affordable price. Quality/price rating: 84.
10. TASTES MATTERS; why we like the foods we do (Reaktion Books 2012,
208 pages, ISBN 978-1-86189-914-9, $30 US hard covers) is by John
Prescott, an Australian food scientist and editor of "Food Quality &
Preference" journal. It is a good explanation of why some of us enjoy
some foods while others don't. We all crave sweet tastes at birth
(energy, growth). Salt levels will vary from person to person and
region to region (I have a very low tolerance for salt and must
remember to drink liquids). Both sourness and bitterness are acquired
tastes; both are indicative of "bad" food, in varying degrees, and
again reflect personal choices (I don't like sour but I enjoy bitter
such as caffeine or herbs). Genes play a strong role: about a quarter
of the world are "supertasters" (such as myself). Each of those people
can have sixteen times more taste buds than the other three-quarters of
the world. His book is loaded with details of food cultures. Try also for more material.
Audience and level of use: parents with fussy or picky eaters.
Some interesting or unusual facts: Regular people seem to prefer fatty
foods, and hence can be more obese than supertasters. The latter,
though, are reluctant to consume "bitter greens".
The downside to this book:
The upside to this book: written for the common man.
Quality/Price Rating: 90.
11. TASTE WHAT YOU'RE MISSING; the passionate eater's guide to getting
more from every bite (Free Press, 2012; distr. Simon & Schuster, 416
pages, ISBN 978-1-439190-73-9, $26 US hard covers) is by Barb Stuckey,
a food developer researcher at Mattson, North America's largest
independent developer of new foods and beverages. It's a semi-technical
look at our taste buds and how and why we taste the way we do. Later,
she expounds on "how to get more from every bite". Her primer covers
the five basic tastes (bitter, sweet, sour, salt, and umami). But she
also explores other factors here such as "carbonation" and "fat", more
mouth-feels than tastes.  There is also the major importance of the
olfactory portion of enjoying our food, and, to a lesser extent, touch,
hearing and sight. Much of what she says is complemented by witty
humour and anecdotes. She provides "exercises" that we can perform to
learn about our basic preferences in tastes. There are web resources
listed for taste and smell centres around the world, a checklist of 15
ways to get more out of every bite (e.g., chew well), many taste
exercises, and some serious footnoting references. The half-dozen
preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois measurements,
but there is no table of metric equivalents.
Audience and level of use: curious people who wan to know about
Some interesting or unusual facts: Smoking impairs your ability to
smell. Don't smoke for two hours before and after a meal – you'll enjoy
the food more.
The downside to this book: there's a lot of tech talk, useful for the
committed foodie.
The upside to this book: good humour,
Quality/Price Rating: 90.

12. COFFEE LIFE IN JAPAN (University of California Press, 2012, 222
pages, ISBN 978-0-520-27115-9, $24.95 US soft covers) is by Merry
White, an anthropology professor at Boston University, and the author
of other books about Japanese culture. It is number 36 in a series,
"California Studies in Food and Culture". It traces Japan's café
society over 130 years. According to the publisher's succinct notes,
she "explores how coffee and coffee spaces have been central to the
formulation of Japanese notions about the uses of public space, social
change, modernity, and pleasure." One of the specific highlights is
that this is where women became free. The book is more on cafés than on
coffees, and it is more about urban spaces than a Japanese tea
ceremony. The café is the space in Japan's cities, not the teahouse.
There are extensive end notes and bibliographies, plus, of course, a
topical index. Black and white photos are scattered throughout. There
is also a listing (with notes) of important cafes in Japan.
Audience and level of use: coffee lovers, followers of Japanese culture
and history.
Some interesting or unusual facts: Café Paulista, founded in 1908 in
Ginza, is the oldest remaining coffeehouse. It was named after the city
of San Paulo because the Brazilian government furnished 100 free bags
of coffee each year, for promotional considerations.
The downside to this book: scholarly, detailed reading at times.
The upside to this book: a good slice of a mini-culture.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.

13. FORKS OVER KNIVES: the cookbook (The Experiment, 2012; distr. T.
Allen, 320 pages, ISBN 978-1-61519-061-4, $18.95 US soft covers) has
been assembled by Del Sroufe, and is based on the documentary "Forks
Over Knives" (2011) which examined the impact of animal/dairy foods on
the causes of degenerative diseases in humans. Apparently, a plant-
based diet decreases cancer growth and heart disease. There is a
compelling argument for this, in both the book and the movie. The book
is meant to accompany the movie since it provides 300 recipes.
Actually, there was an earlier book from last year that provided more
text but fewer recipes (125 or so from about two dozen people who
contributed the recipes, maybe five apiece).  Here, there's a broader
range, but a good introduction for those who are used to eating few
veggies. The food is both hearty and substantial, relying on legumes,
grains, fruits, roots and salads. There are a few of the really best
green plants here, but only 5 Swiss chard preps and 7 kale recipes. The
veggies with lower appeal seem to be missing (no Brussels sprouts)
although there are a dozen broccoli, eleven for cabbage. Still, it is a
good beginner book, driving home the philosophy of Michael Pollan and
the film. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there are tables of metric equivalents. Quality/price
rating: 84.
14. CURRIED CULTURES; globalization, food and South Asia (University of
California Press, 2012, 316 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-27012-1, $27.95 US
paper covers) is a collection of articles edited by Krishnendu Ray and
Tulasi Srinivas. It's number 34 in the California Studies in Food and
Culture [California refers to the Press not the region being studied].
Both editors are academics and they deal with the manner in which the
urban middle class of India is driving the country, both within India
and abroad (the globalization). That's the simplistic annotation. Of
course, to academics, it is much m=re complex. These twelve essays
(three of which are basically reprinted from earlier times) cover the
range of historical pastas through colonial India, colonial Bengal,
hotels, foodways in Mumbai, South Asian restaurants in Britain, the
Pakistani grill in Manhattan, curry mahals, and female food
entrepreneurs. Many locations around the world have been impacted by
South Asian food, and this book explores just a few of them, through
the people, practices, culture and eating habits. Next up in the near
future: Indian agribusinesses expanding to Africa, buying up land. Ell
worth a read. Murky black and white photos, essay end notes, an
extensive bibliography for further reading, and an equally-extensive
index. Quality/Price Rating: 88.
15. TURKEY (Chronicle Books, 2012; distr. Raincoast, 272 pages, ISBN
978-1-4521-0770-7, $35 US hard covers) is by Leanne Kitchen, an
Australian chef who travels around Asia and the Middle East. The
location photos in this book are from her camera. Her book was
originally published in 2011 in Australia by Murdoch Books. The 100
preps cover the range from regional cooking to the Ottoman Empire
palaces. It is a combo travel and food book, oversized, useful as a
gift too. The cuisine was shaped by three cultures: Mediterranean,
Middle East, and Slavic, with a healthy mix of Islamic and Orthodox
religious foods. Short travelogue pieces set the tone for the regional
specialities, artisans, culinary techniques and restaurants. Each of
the seven geographic regions provides their own unique food cultures.
The book, though, is arranged by course: meze, soups, breads/pasta,
veggies and salads, rice/bulgur, seafood, poultry and meat, and
desserts, about 12 preps each. Preparations have their ingredients
listed in avoirdupois measurements, but there is no table of metric
Audience and level of use: armchair travelers, culture food lovers.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: lahmacun; beet green,
ricotta and hazelnut gozleme; turluturlu; kisir; baked fish with dill
butter and raki, roasted tomatoes and pine nuts; octopus stew with
wine, spices and caperberries.
The downside to this book: I wish there were more preps.
The upside to this book: great photographs.
Quality/Price Rating: 89.
16. THE COOKBOOK LIBRARY; four centuries of the cooks, writers, and
recipes that made the modern cookbook (University of California Press,
2012, 330 pages, ISBN 978-0-520-24400-9, $50 US hard covers) is by Ann
Willan, founder of La Varenne Cooking School, and a Beard Award winner
(Country Cooking of France). She's been assisted by her husband Mark
Cherniavsky and Kyri Claflin, both food researchers. It is number 35 in
the respected California Studies in Food and Culture. The book began as
notes on the 400-volume personal collection of Anne and Mark's
cookbooks, dating back to 1491 and centering on European and American
sources. They chronicle the life of cooks and writers who produced
these books, with 120 rich black and white illustrations of historical
title pages and other illustrations from these books. The range is from
"upstairs" to "downstairs", from the banquet halls of royalty to
communal tables of the poor. They explore the foods that these people
ate, and the religious and political effects on their meals. There are
also 40 recipes from the 15th to the 19th century books, updated for
today. Essentially, it is a history of the cookbook, tracing the
development of the recipe, explaining the forms of measurement, looking
at the medieval kitchen, exploring the role of women in the kitchen,
and the impact of ingredients from the New World (the Columbian
Exchange). Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements, but there is no table of metric equivalents. There are
end notes and a copious bibliography for further reading. As well,
there is a recipe index separate from the general index. A great read.
Audience and level of use: food researchers, cookbook collectors.
Some interesting or unusual recipes/facts: cailles au laurier; soufflés
parisiens aux pommes de reinette; ypocras; zu mache ein krapffen teig.
Quality/Price Rating: 90.
17. JOEY GREEN'S KITCHEN MAGIC; 1,882 quick cooking tricks, cleaning
hints, and kitchen remedies using your favorite brand-name products
(Rodale, 2012; distr. Raincoast, 370 pages, ISBN 978-1-60971-703-5,
$18.99 US paper covers) is by someone who has quirky yet clever
household hints ( Perfect reading for summer. Bake
moist brownies with cola, rescue burnt gravy with peanut butter, make
creamier mashed potatoes with canned whipped cream, flavour a roasted
chicken with beer, keep milk fresh longer with baking soda, soften
stale marshmallows with white bread, and 1875 more…Not for the faint of
heart. Many items can be processed or attended to by generic or other
brand names, so I'm not giving any of them a free plug. Or, maybe if I
did, you might avoid them, and the companies will come after me,
claiming loss of sales….LOL. As I said, a good read, especially in the
bathroom. Preparations have their ingredients listed in avoirdupois
measurements in the handful of recipes, but there is no table of metric
equivalents. Quality/price rating: 80.

18. THE FISH THAT ATE THE WHALE; the life and times of America's banana
king (Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2012; distr. D & M Publishers, 270 pages,
ISBN 978-0-374-29927-9, $27 US hard covers) is by Rich Cohen, a free-
lance magazine writer and book author. It is a light hearted but well-
researched business and personal biography of Sam Zemurray, a peddler
of bananas who eventually created the United Fruit Company that we have
all grown to love and hate. It's also an exploration of the diplomatic
and military moves in Central America, to corner the banana market
("banana republics" and "Yankee go home"). This is good story telling,
so I won't reveal the "plot". He arrived in America in 1891 and died 69
years later in grandest house of New Orleans. There are copious end
notes and a good bibliography, but sadly, no illustrations beyond a
basic map, and NO INDEX, which makes the material difficult to
retrieve, and gives it points off in my rating. Quality/price rating:

19. SWEET TOOTH; the bittersweet history of candy (St. Martin's Press,
2012; distr. Raincoast, 312 pages, ISBN 978-0-31-66810-5, $25.99 USW
hard covers) is by Kate Hopkins, a book author and food blogger in
Seattle. It comes with praise from Elizabeth Abbott, the author of the
sterling "Sugar; a bittersweet history". Hopkins takes the action one
processed step further: sugar candy. Hopkins desired candy as a child,
and believed that when she was an adult, she could have all she wanted.
But as she approached middle age, she realized that being an adult
means having the means to buy all the candy you want but no longer
wanting to. Hey, that was like ice cream and me!! I loved Baskin
Robbins but when I could afford it and when the franchise came to town,
I stayed away. Hopkins decided to at least visit stores and explore the
history of candy. Along the way, she came across the same factors that
Abbott did in her researches: the darker side of the commercial
ventures of sugar and candy. So the book is partly memoir (Hopkins'
addiction to candy) and partly a look at its positives and negatives in
its history. So there is a big dose of unhealthiness here in the
addiction, the cutthroat business competition, and the slave trade.
It's an enjoyable read and ride through history, with a smattering of
asides, a bibliography, and (thank heavens) an index. Quality/price
rating: 88.

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