by Marion Nestle
May 25 2012

Memorial Day Weekend reading: food biography

A couple of books, just in.  Happy reading!

Kurlansky, Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Doubleday, 2012.

Kurlansky is the author of several distinguished books, notably Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, and Salt: A World History.  Here, he takes up the story of Clarence Birdseye, the man who invented and gave his name to frozen vegetables.  Anything that Kurlansky writes is worth reading, and Birdseye—an multitasking explorer, trapper, and inventor—is worth writing about.  The book is illustrated with Birdseye’s patent drawings.

Thomas McNamee, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance, Free Press, 2012.

I thought McNamee’s previous biography, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, was a great read, wonderfully gossipy and entertaining.   Like so many others, I learned to cook from Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook.  In 1980, I met Claiborne while doing a segment of an Over Easy program on San Francisco’s public television station, KQED.   Claiborne has recently had some health problems, had been told to eat better and lose some weight, and had just published Craig Claiborne’s Gourmet Diet with Pierre Franey (with an introduction to principles of healthy eating by Jane Brody).  He cooked lemon chicken.  I commented on how healthy it was.  Claiborne was a fascinating character and McNamee’s account makes me wish I’d been part of the New York food scene back then.