Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine
Hardback: Simon and Schuster, 2016
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Reviewed by Andrew Camp
American cuisine and eating habits are a fascinating subject to me, having worked as a professional chef. We are a nation of immigrants and transplants. Our economic class structure also plays a role in American cuisine. Food deserts in lower income areas have been lamented by many, while middle and upper class people enjoy the bounty of beautiful farmer’s markets year-round.
Because of this, there are widely disparate views on eating and food habits. It seems that every week the newest and surely the greatest diet is being sold on the evening news, which many of us watch while eating a highly-processed dinner. Michael Pollan voiced this very concern in his seminal book The Omnivore’s Dilemma:
Consuming these neo-pseudo-foods alone in our cars, we have become a nation of antinomian eaters, each of us struggling to work out our dietary salvation on our own. Is it any wonder Americans suffer from so many eating disorders? In the absence of any lasting consensus about what and how and where and when to eat, the omnivore’s dilemma has returned to America with an almost atavistic force (301).
While this seems to be the case, is there anything that unites American cuisine? Sarah Lohman, author of the new book, Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, wondered the same thing. She recognized the extremely diverse culinary traditions of America, but then pondered, “If I look past these differences, I wondered what united America’s culinary culture?” (xv).