[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0738217166″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41BL%2BUjlr6L.jpg” width=”226″ alt=”Best Food Writing” ]Making connections
A Feature Review of
Best Food Writing 2013
Holly Hughes, Editor.
Paperback: Da Capo Books, 2013
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Reviewed by Jenn Moland-Kovash
“Take a deep breath,” she instructed. “And another one.” Pause. “Ok, good… Oh, this looks like an interesting book.”
I heard my doctor pick up the book I had set on the exam table behind me turn it over. “What’s it like,” she asked before telling me to breathe deeply again.
Between breaths I briefly explained that it was a yearly collection of essays about food and eating and cooking – some of them by chefs, others by food writers, critics, foragers, eaters. She seemed intrigued, but we didn’t exactly have time for me to flip between essays and share some of my favorite passages. I wanted to urge her to read the paragraphs I’d marked, maybe read out loud from Kevin Pang’s “His Saving Grace.” Instead, we moved on to the next part of my exam – readying my arm for a food allergy test.
As I sat on the table, waiting for my skin to react (or not), I balanced Best Food Writing 2013 on my lap, holding it in place with one arm. I recognized the irony of reading about food – and restaurants and cooking and the quest for such things – while undergoing food allergy testing. Well, I mused to myself, at least reading about peanuts and eggs doesn’t make me break out in hives.
Organized into seven sections ranging from “The Way We Eat Now” to “The Meat of the Matter” and “Personal Tastes,” each entry also indicates its source in the table of contents. A quick skim can lead you to read a piece from the Chicago Tribune or The Financial Times. It can point you to familiar names from the food writing genre – Hank Shaw, Gabrielle Hamilton, Michael Pollan – and highlight the broad experience of eating across cultures. Alinea – the famed restaurant in Chicago – gets mentioned in the pages of this book, and so does McDonald’s and mom’s table and food trucks in Hawaii. Writers talk about cooking and eating, and about searching for “the best” meal in a place. But some of the writers talk about chefs and restaurants and the story of how those pairings happened.
One of the things that I love about this 2013 collection (I devoured the 2012 edition in the days after Christmas last year) is the emphasis on experience. So much of what we might remember about a meal is the whole package – location, hospitality, companions, any complicating factors. I couldn’t care less about the barbeque in Alan Brouilette’s “Beer and Smoking in Danville, Illinois,” but, wow – the journey! Community, perseverance, foibles, suspense (Will they win? Heck, will they finish on time?).