Author: Robin Shulman
Published: Crown; July 2012
Synopsis: New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food. It’s a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete. Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces the people of New York City - both past and present - who do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make wine. In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow. What’s more, Shulman artfully places today’s urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.
In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket. And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey. Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family. Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side, as well as the New York Yankees.
Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time. Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.
My Take: In this house, we love food! Living in San Francisco, a major foodie city, it is easy to get caught up in the wonders that good food provides. We live in a part of the city that is known for opening up new restaurants and bars all of the time and there are farmer's markets everywhere, allowing us to cook many inventive and delicious things as well. So I am always excited to read and learn more about one of my favorite topics: food!
Eat the City is based in New York City. Another city known for its fantastic food scene but not necessarily known for its growing and manufacturing of food in this modern era. What Eat the City teaches us is that was not always the case, and if you look closely, it's still going on today.
We have travelled to New York City a bunch in the past few years and my husband even lived there for awhile in the past so we have lots of friends from there so I know something about NYC but not enough to be able to follow every location and street Shulman names. However, if you are from NYC or used to live there, this book will really speak to you. Shulman was kind enough to provide a map at the beginning with a helpful key for lackeys like me.
Eat the City is divided into sections based on the food she was talking about, reminding me of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's - Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (click on title for my review). And much like The Botany of Desire, there were subjects that I was totally fascinated with and others that I could take or leave. For me, I loved the sections on meat and beer. Perhaps I have lived with a man too long? However, seeing how those two industries shaped NYC and then lost and regained their influence was fascinating.
One thing you can say about Shulman's book is it is incredibly well-researched. So much so that if there is a topic you aren't as interested in it can get a little dry, but if you are really into a subject then you leave that section feeling like you know it all!
Basically for other foodies out there and history buffs who love NYC, you will probably get a lot out of Eat the City too. If you have already read it, which sections entertained you the most?
Cover Lust: I find it interesting that they picked an apple for the cover when none of the sections deals with apples, or fruit.