We have inherited a view of ourselves that we’re divided selves. We have reason over here and emotion over here, and if anything, they’re on a teeter-totter — that if reason is up emotion is down or vise versa, and society advances to the extent that reason can suppress the passions. So this has created methodologies of studying human behavior that try to use the methodologies of physics to do social science, which emphasize the things we can count and measure, and which amputate all the rest.”
It’s not every day that one of the greatest food books of our time gets a makeover by one of the greatest illustrators of our time. Such is the case of this new edition of Michael Pollan’s classic compendium, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, illustrated by the great Maira Kalman (♥) — the timelessly sensible blueprint to a healthy relationship with food redone in Kalman’s characteristically colorful and child-like yet irreverent aesthetic. This new edition also features 19 additional food rules, including Place a bouquet of flowers on the table and everything will taste twice as good and the meta When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.
From the very first page, starting with Kalman’s introduction, the book is an absolute — and guilt-free — treat:
Everyone eats food. That is the universal connector. Life is fragile. Fleeting. What do we want? To be healthy. To celebrate and to Love and to live Life to the Fullest. So here comes Michael Pollan with this little (monumental) book. A humanistic and smart book that describes a Sane and Happy world of Eating. It asks us, gently, to hit the Reset button on manufactured food and go back in Time.” ~ Maira Kalman
Kalman’s illustrations emanate the kind of thoughtful simplicity that underpins the message of Pollan’s classic, which is based on the premise that the wisdom of our grandparents might teach us more about eating well than the overly complicated nutritional scheming purveyed by the popular media.
From Adam Gopnik, one of my favorite nonfiction writers working today, comes The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food — a fascinating journey into the roots of today’s obsession with food and culinary culture. From the dawn of our modern tastes in 18th-century France, where the first restaurant was born, to the kitchens of the White House to the Slow Food movement to Barcelona’s bleeding-edge molecular gastronomy scene, Gopnik tours the wild and wonderful world of cuisine, with all its concomitant sociocultural phenomena, to explore the delicate relationship between what goes on the table and what goes on around it as we come together over our food. It’s history, nutrition, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology all rolled up into one delectable streusel of insight and illumination, in Gopnik’s unapologetically intelligent yet charmingly witty style.
Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject. When ‘gastronomy’ was on the margins of attention it seemed big because it was an unexpected way to get at everything — the nature of hunger; the meaning of appetite; the patterns and traces of desire; tradition, in the way that recipes are passed mother to son; and history, in the way that spices mix and, in mixing, mix peoples. You could envision through the modest lens of pleasure, as through a keyhole, a whole world; and the compression and odd shape of the keyhole made the picture more dramatic. Now the door is wide open, but somehow we see less, or notice less, anyway. Betrayed by its enlargement, food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is made to matter.” ~ Adam Gopnik
The book opens with Charles Darwin’s famous haikuesque meditation:
We have happy days, remember good dinners.”
Gopnik goes on to explore the two pillars of modern eating — the restaurant and the recipe book — both of which are modern developments, mere blips in evolutionary time, and reflects on their cultural history with his characteristically brilliant blend of keen analysis and ever-so-subtle smirk.
The restaurant was once a place for men, a place where men ate, held court, cooked, boasted and swaggered, and wooed women. The recipe book was traditionally ‘feminine’: the kitchen was the place where women cooked, supervised, gave orders, made brownies, to steady and domesticate men. In the myth-world of the nineteenth century, the restaurant existed to coax women into having sex; the recipe book to coax men into staying home.” ~ Adam Gopnik
Nathan Myhrvold may be better-known as Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer, who studied quantum science alongside legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, but his true passion lies at the intersection of science and food. Myhrvold trained as a chef at LaVarenne in Burgundy, France, and has spent the past three years in a laboratory in Bellevue, Washington, perfecting — with his seven full-time chefs — the elaborate cooking techniques of gastronomy’s recent mega-obsession: molecular cuisine.
Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, originally featured as one of these 5½ fantastic cross-disciplinary cookbooks, is the pinnacle of his experimentation, a 2,400-page, six-volume behemoth with over 1,000 recipes that transform the kitchen into a lab. Needless to say, expectations for the ambitious undertaking have been gargantuan, which made gastronomers all the more unsettled by the recent announcement that due to packaging concerns, the book — which weighs over 48 pounds — won’t be available until March, nearly four months past the publication date originally promised.
Modernist Cuisine isn’t for everyone — besides the hardcore foray into ingredients like methylcellulose and agar approached with cooking techniques that involve liquid nitrogen and rotary evaporators, the book comes with a hefty $625 price tag. (Amazon has it at 28% off, which clocks in at the non-negligible sum of $175 in savings — but still runs your a good $450.)
From the ever-talented Julia Rothman — she of Drawn In and The Exquisite Book fame, and one of the most original illustrators working today — comes Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life, a charming illustrated guide to the intricate microcosm that underpins your dinner plate. From how to properly milk a cow to a taxonomy of squash varieties and faming tools to a morphology of barn cupolas, Rothman’s warm drawings are bound to entertain, educate (did you know that a one-year-old goat is called a ‘yearling’ and you can use cornflower to dye wool blue?), and instill in you newfound awe and fascination with rural life.
And as if the striking illustrations weren’t enough of a feat, most of the type in the book was handwritten, with the exception of the introduction and metadata font, which Rothman created from her handwriting.
The book was inspired by Rothman’s first visit to the farm on which her husband, Matt, grew up, which left the born-and-bred New Yorker artist wide-eyed and wonderstruck.
Working on this book has given me a chance to learn more about what it’s like to live off the land and to better understand Matt’s roots. In small ways I hope to bring the ideals and traditions he grew up on back into our daily lives.” ~ Julia Rothman
Utterly charming and thoroughly researched, Farm Anatomy is one of those rare treats that speak to your eyes and your heart, and in the process manage to expand your mind.
Originally featured here, with more images, last month.
ART OF THE MENU
Menu Design in America: 1850-1985 by design writer extraordinaire Steven Heller (previously), Esquire food columnist John Mariani, cultural anthropologist and graphic design historian Jim Heimann, and high-end publisher Taschen (previously) is a delicious history of menu creativity, featuring nearly 800 vibrant illustrated examples of menu ephemera, alongside photographs of restaurants, that together tell the rich and fascinating story of eating out in America. Besides the fascinating design history, the book doubles as a curious tracker of American inflation, both economic (who’s in for a $1.50 fine-dining lunch?) and of culinary claims (how did we go from simple and to-the-point food descriptions to foofy foodie-speak?).
The beautifully illustrated recipes come from a roster of famous chefs — including Mario Batali, John Besh, David Chang, Tom Colicchio, and Andrea Reusing — contextualized amidst chef interviews and essays by acclaimed food writers like Melissa Clark and J. Dixon, pondering such complexities as the culinary connotations of The Beatles’ White Album and what moussaka has to do with Metallica.
Masterminding the project is Brooklyn-based band One Ring Zero, who for the past couple of years have been working their favorite rock-star chefs to each choose the musical genre for his or her song, all included on the CD that comes with the book. One Ring Zero’s Michael Hearst got the kernel of this genre-bender in college, when he composed a choral piece around a recitation of grocery store names.
The book also comes with a delightful free iPhone app that lets you enter up to 5 ingredients you have on hand and dishes out a delicious, speedy singable recipe to make with them.
Gabrielle Hamilton has spent the past decade as the chef-owner of the beloved Prune restaurant in New York City’s East Village, but hear path to the kitchen was neither straight nor smooth. In Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, Hamilton — whose formidable talent as a writer is on par with her culinary mastery — recounts twenty years of seeking purpose in her life, from the idyllic kitchen of her childhood on a farm in rural Pennsylvania, raised by a French mother and an artist-set-designer father, to the difficult and protracted dissolution of her family, to the grit of her grueling and uncompromising work that took her to the peak of New York’s food scene. Anthony Bourdain calls it “absolutely the best food-related memoir, ever.” And, as Bourdain tends to, he might be absolutely right. But Hamilton’s powerful blend of culinary conviction and raw honesty make the book as much a “food-related memoir” as it is a lyrical meditation on being human.
I had no clue that my parents were unhappy with each other until I was sweeping up cornichons and hard salami and radishes off the kitchen floor.”
Founder and editor Christopher Kimball writes in the introduction:
This reminds me…of a story about the old-timer from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, who sat down one night to fill out his taxes. Now, like any thrifty farmer, he hardly found this a pleasant task, and staring him in the face at the head of a box in the top right-hand corner of the printed form where these words in bold type: DO NOT WRITE HERE.
Before going any further, the old gentleman took a firm grip on his pen and wrote in the box, in equally bold letters: I WRITE WHERE I GODDAMN PLEASE.
I guess that pretty much sums up how we go about recipe testing.”
THEY DRAW & COOK
For nearly two years, brother-and-sister duo Nate Padavick and Salli Swindell have been delighting us with their beautifully illustrated visual recipes from around the world. They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World collects the best 107 of these lovely and delicious treats, joining the ranks of our favorite quirky cookbooks with an absolute gem of visual and culinary allure. From the playful and facetious to the elegant and sleek, these illustrated treasures offer everything from Chocolate Haystacks to Starving Artist Goo-lash and, of course, Cooooooookies for good measure.
We hope this book inspires you to cook up something new or maybe even pick up a pencil and doodle out your own favorite recipe and play along by visiting our website.” ~ Nate Padavick & Salli Swindell
A feast for eyes and mouth, They Draw and Cook is bound to make you smile and drool — quite likely at the same time. And if the muse strikes, you can even submit your own illustrated recipe to the online project, adding your pin to this impressive world map of contributions.
Petri dish to plate, or how to feed the world of 7 billion without starving the planet.
By Maria Popova
To anyone who’s read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma or seen Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc., the wretched state of the meat industry and its noxious impact on the environment is no news. Meat the Future proposes an intriguing alternative to the traditional meat industry that neither requires you to become a granola-crunching vegetarian nor holds the foolish expectation that meat companies will suddenly take responsibility. And while that alternative might not seem appetizing at first, this beautiful and compelling animated short might just make you see the issue with new eyes.
In theory, a single cell from one animal can be used to feed the entire global population, without stressing the environment.”
The film ends with an emphasis on the need for publicly funded science, something we’ve made a case for before.
The project is the brainchild of Afshin Moeini, Christian Poppius and Kim Brundin from Sweden’s Beckmans College of Design.
From Bangladesh to Brazil, or what photojournalism can reveal about food and cultural context.
By Maria Popova
In 2009, photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s presented Hungry Planet — a grounding portrait of what the world eats, from the $376.45 an Australian family spends on food per week to the $1.23 weekly budget of a same-sized family in Chad’s poorest refugee camp. Now comes their follow-up, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets (public library) — a fascinating project telling the global story of our relationship with sustenance and pleasure through portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day.
I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology. And make better decisions for themselves.
From a Japanese sumo wrestler to an American competitive eater to a Massai herdswoman, the book offers an exploration of demography through photography, contextualized by compelling essays from some of today’s leading food activists and thinkers, including indispensible voices on the issue like Brain Pickings favorite Michael Pollan.
Alongside each of Menzel’s photographs, text by D’Alusio outlines the specifics of the daily diet depicted and places it in a cultural context that explains why, for instance, a Brazilian fisherman of average build can consume 5,200 calories per day and an American truck driver who consumes a comparable amount is clinically obese. Ultimately, the project aims to illuminate the relationship between food and where we are, in life and in the world.