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The United States of Arugula

December 3, 2006

The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation

By David Kamp

The United States has come through many phases in its development towards a force in world’s gastronomy. In a very descriptive and well researched essay on the world of food in the US, David Kamp follows most of the major figures in the country’s evolution since the lat 1800s.

Kamp has a very accessible writing style and pages after pages he describes the people and the events that forged the gastronomy of the United States. Kamp sounds so wide-eyed and excited of actually writing this text that he put forth some of the most enthusiastic writing I have read. This naivety and excitement by the author is endearing but also introduces most of the problems with this book.

This book is very uncritical about any of the figures that are exposed here and even the most hypocritical actions of some of those chefs are barely touched, if ever mentioned. Never, does Kamp attempt to draw conclusions or expose any kind of opinion about events, even though if you read between the lines you can clearly see his opinion. This manipulation of the language honestly pisses me off, when you want to say something, say it, don’t beat around the bush and try to make it as such as everything is done in some sort of journalistic integrity that you cannot even accomplish. My other problem with the book is that Kamp writes as if the majority of the United States citizens are foodies, which is obviously not the case because Kraft and General Foods would not be in such good financial states. Throughout the text he hints that “we” are eating lamb shoulder, Chateaubriand and lobster every week. I understand that the audience of this book are mostly gourmets, but to generalize on the entire United States population is a bit much.

That said, Kamp’s book is extremely entertaining. From James Beard, Julia Childs and Craig Claiborne to Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter and the Food TV types, he goes through most of the important chefs, journalist and events of the 20th century. Being a journalist I think Kamp give a bit too much weight to the foood critics that apparently made or broke some of the chefs presented here. While I understand the contribution of the writer, a bad review has never stopped a good chef from succeeding at some other place. Still, the book is amazingly researched and incredibly complete in its range.

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