David Kamp, a longtime writer for Vanity Fair and GQ, became intrigued at the evolution of gourmet cooking and eating in the United States, and set out to write a food history of the country. From its inception with James Beard and Julia Child to today’s foodie extravaganza of the Food Network and food celebrities, American cooking has become increasingly more gourmet and discerning as the years pass.
But Kamp isn’t just presenting a dry food history. The United States of Arugula is packed to the covers with insider gossip, stories, and tell-all confessions by chefs and those who have worked for and under them. The chefs themselves take center stage, and their anecdotes and contributions make the book fascinating. There are some serious laugh-out-loud moments and a lot of food for thought (pun intended) about the direction American cuisine has taken over the past fifty-plus years.
Although we look back now and scoff at the days of TV dinners, Kamp brings to light a great deal about farming and the steps backward we have actually taken in regards to food procurement and choices. One of the most interesting tidbits was the comparison of the way foods are grown in Europe versus those in the U.S. Foods in Europe are produced and grown to the specifications of the chef, and consumers benefit from the quality. In the U.S., the opposite is true. Foods are produced and grown for the convenience of the consumer, and chefs have to deal with the decrease in quality and availability of ingredients because of this.
The United States of Arugula is a very worthwhile, exhaustively researched and detailed read. It’s a must-read for foodies, but anyone who enjoys a good history or memoir will find it interesting and delightful. I found myself reading a great deal of it out loud to my husband, who doesn’t enjoy gourmet food and cooking nearly as much as I do, but he was quite intrigued by the information. The United States of Arugula should definitely be on your “must read” list.