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Book Review: Dana Goodyear, Anything That Moves

January 23, 2014

I was offered an ARC of Dana Goodyear’s Anything That Moves via a message received on Goodreads from G.P. Putnam’s sons, largely based, I suspect, on my having given Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential a positive review several years ago. Since I am never a girl to pass up a free book, however, I accepted the offer, and have finally had a chance to sit down and read the book (it was published in November).

Goodyear is a writer for The New Yorker, and the book is a series of essays describing her forays into what I’ll call “extreme foodie culture.” As with Bourdain, I am far more interested in the personalities and their stories rather than the food itself (foodie I am not). Goodyear’s essays detail the history behind the recent upsurge in Americans’ interest in gourmet or healthy eating (and food porn), the often illegal means by which desirable food items are procured, and the bizarre lengths that people will go to in order to experience the next new thing in cuisine.

My favorite essays included “The Scavenger,” where Goodyear discusses food critic Jonathan Gold and his search for authentic and new food experiences, “Backdoor Men,” which describes the methods importers use to procure the exotic and rare for their clients, and “The Hunt,” where Goodyear discusses pop-up restaurants, food trucks, and Craig Thornton’s Wolvesmouth dinners, held in his apartment. The book ends with Goodyear’s semi-successful attempt to eat balut, considered by some the most bad-ass of extreme foods (basically, eating a duck egg, baby bird and all).

The essays bring up many issues key to understanding American food culture: its desire for the new and exciting, the push-pull between government regulation and people’s right to eat whatever they want, and why Americans will eat some foods and reject others (like whale and horse). How in some ways American food culture is returning to its roots while claiming to be looking for something new—eating all of an animal, eating in a home-based, unregulated restaurant, privileging food grown in a home garden or by a “small farmer.”

There are some minor drawbacks to the book, the primary one of which is that all of the essays refer to food culture on the West Coast, beyond a brief description of the history of food importers in New York. I would have loved to have seen more stories about how food culture is changing nationally. The essays are also somewhat disjointed, as they all could easily have been standalone (and for all I know, were) magazine articles. I also wasn’t sure what Goodyear’s position was in all of this—the book seems to describe both Goodyear’s fascination with food culture (in large part derived from good memories of her father, an avid hunter) and her ambivalence toward its more extreme aspects (I also was saddened by the embarrassment she expressed while being pregnant in some of the essays, since this prevented her from consuming certain foods).

Anything That Moves, however, is an interesting exploration of the issues surrounding how Americans approach food. What is food and what should or shouldn’t be eaten? Who determines this? Is “good” food a matter of money, or “authenticity”? Is this some kind of foodie-hipster desire for the rare, the natural, or the real? Or is it simply about status, or fears about impending food scarcity or an apocalypse?

Source: ARC from the Publisher

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