27 November 2013

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

Summary from Goodreads:
New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear combines the style of Mary Roach with the on-the-ground food savvy of Anthony Bourdain in a rollicking narrative look at the shocking extremes of the contemporary American food world.

A new American cuisine is forming. Animals never before considered or long since forgotten are emerging as delicacies. Parts that used to be for scrap are centerpieces. Ash and hay are fashionable ingredients, and you pay handsomely to breathe flavored air. Going out to a nice dinner now often precipitates a confrontation with a fundamental question: Is that food?

Dana Goodyear’s anticipated debut, Anything That Moves, is simultaneously a humorous adventure, a behind-the-scenes look at, and an attempt to understand the implications of the way we eat. This is a universe populated by insect-eaters and blood drinkers, avant-garde chefs who make food out of roadside leaves and wood, and others who serve endangered species and Schedule I drugs—a cast of characters, in other words, who flirt with danger, taboo, and disgust in pursuit of the sublime. Behind them is an intricate network of scavengers, dealers, and pitchmen responsible for introducing the rare and exotic into the marketplace. This is the fringe of the modern American meal, but to judge from history, it will not be long before it reaches the family table. Anything That Moves is a highly entertaining, revelatory look into the raucous, strange, fascinatingly complex world of contemporary American food culture, and the places where the extreme is bleeding into the mainstream.

I heard about Anything That Moves from Rebecca (of Book Riot and Bookrageous) and I thought this would be an interesting read as the holiday season heated up.  I like to eat good food and enjoy a good meal, so I consider myself a "foodie", but I won't eat just anything.  I was a very picky eater as a child and I'm still a picky eater as an adult (there's a whole category of foods, led by onions, that hate me therefore I hate them back).  However, there is a different aspect of foodie culture that will put just about anything in their mouths ala Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold.  And I mean anything.  But some of these food(-ish) items, while strange to Western/US tables, are standards of cultures particularly in South Asian and Pacific Rim countries.  (A particular food that keeps coming up is "balut" - if Filipino food is not your thing, do not Google this until you put your cast-iron stomach on first.)

Dana Goodyear grew up hunting with her father and so has a willing, adventurous streak to her diet.  She readily jumped into the foodie lifestyle - her style is reminiscent of Mary Roach without the funny footnotes - and brought a very balanced view to the fringes of food culture.  She followed food critic Jonathan Gold who sort-of pioneered the "eating as sport" idea; Ottolenghi and the food culture of Las Vegas; the Rawsome incident/movement; the molecular gastronomy and haute cuisine movements; and dinners that don't occur at "restaurants" (think word-of-mouth private parties) and that serve not only expected food items but also, in one instance, an entire dinner centered around the idea of marijuana as an ingredient (it is a plant, effects of THC aside).  In what was my favorite chapter, she covered the ethics of eating endangered animals in the US where in other countries those animals are still very much on the menu; she also tangentially touches on the issues of using horse meat in the US where horses are often seen as pets rather than livestock as in other parts of the world (this reminded me of how often in historical novels I see the term "cattle" applied to a team of horses).  Goodyear discovered she was pregnant during her research for the book so she also touched briefly on how her own views on eating had to change and whether she should or should not eat certain items because of the baby.

A very quick read but also very informative.  If you're like me, you might want a bottle of Tums during your reading (I did actually feel like I was developing indigestion during one chapter).  If, on the other hand, you're more in the Bourdain camp you will want make a bucket list from all the places and food items that appear in Goodyear's book.

Dear FTC: I borrowed a copy of this book from my store.

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