Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

A bit over two hundred years ago, Brillat-Savarin coined the saying, "Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are." Today, at least for that geographically diverse and economically upwardly mobile segment of the population known as foodies, the saying would have to be, "Tell me what you want to eat, and I'll tell you who you want to be."  The subtitle of Dana Goodyear's Anything That Moves (Riverhead, 2013) both clarifies the book's subject and suggests its sweep:  Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture.

"The Making of a New American Food Culture" is of course the kind of marketing hyperbole designed to move this book off the shelf.  Inevitably, its promise falls short in actuality.  What Goodyear does talk about is the more extreme manifestations of those--a relative minority--who not only have embraced nose to tail eating but want to expand drastically their experience of what Calvin Schwabe has termed "unmentionable cuisine."  Goodyear quotes Matthew Selman's lament that there isn't a term for these seekers of gastronomic thrills:  "'I wish there was a word other than foodie,' he says.  'How about super food asshole or pretentious food jerk?'"  I'd like to suggest a term myself:  "extreme foodies," based obviously on the analogy with extreme skiers, surfers, and so on--risk-takers all.

And like extreme athletes, there are risks for extreme foodies, ranging from the relatively mild ones like drinking raw milk, to the humiliation when confronted by a bull's penis of your vomiting reflex being stronger than your desire to expand your consciousness, to the possible legal consequences of being caught eating endangered and therefore illegal mammals like whales.  As part of the interest of Anything That Moves is discovering the bizarre items people are actually willing to put in their mouths, I shan't go into more detail, except to note that Goodyear also gives examples of fearless eaters not actually getting from a renegade chef the genuine article they had paid exorbitantly for.  Caveat emptor!

In Anything That Moves, Dana Goodyear doesn't evoke the persona of the gleeful enfant terrible so characteristic of Anthony Bourdain.  She doesn't illuminate the mental and physical problems of getting food on the table, as does Michael Ruhlman in The Making of a Chef.  Nor does she write with the genial wit of Calvin Trillin.  But Goodyear has walked the reportorial walk in some out of the way side streets, and I, for one, trust her as a guide. What most impressed me is that she had the guts to write her "Coda"--and no, I'm not going to tell you about that, either.  You'll have to read the book.

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