Saturday, January 30

Kitchen Literacy - Ann Vileisis

Subtitled How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and How to Get it Back, this work traces the pattern of American food preparation from the early days of settlement to the current day, focusing primarily on changes in food sourcing, markets, marketing, advertising and pre-packaging.
Kitchen Literacy reads very much like an academic thesis - the points Vileisis makes are well supported, and she draws heavily on American diaries and cook books from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds to contrast modern supermarket shopping with home cooks who planned months in advance in order to plant vegetables or raise livestock.
I found this significantly outweighed accessible reading - the tone is scholarly and the arguments (primarily that it would be better for the planet and for ourselves if we were more invested in food production locally) are less strongly made than I'd like. For example, she speaks of the advantages of organic produce, including the increased consumer investment in the way the food is grown and transported, and she mentions the new choices savvy consumers have between (for example) local produce and imported organic produce, but doesn't argue either way.
Perhaps I should have paid less attention to the title, which is a little misleading, and more to the neatly encapsulating subtitle, because I was expecting a book that concentrated more on food preparation than sources.
However, perhaps because I had farming grandparents, I found little of the revelations very surprising. Vileisis' references several times to the inherent presence of fauna in home-grown produce - the role of insects and their presence in one's food particularly stood out.
I read the first two thirds of Kitchen Literacy then flipped through the remaining text, skipping the extensive (64 pages) notes and references and the 15 page index. If I were interested in this discipline I think Kitchen Literacywould be an excellent resource; as a woman interested in eating better and cooking differently, I found it less useful - Alex

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