Paco Underhill. How We Eat: The Brave New World of Food and Drink. Simon & Schuster, 2022.
What to say about this book.
For one thing, Underhill is a supermarket consultant, whose job it is to tell supermarkets how to sell more food.
For another (full disclosure), chapter nine is titled “Shopping with Marion,” and that would be me.
I met Underhill and his collaborator, Bill Tonelli, at the amazing Sunrise Asian supermarket upstairs from the corner of 9th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan. We wandered around the store for a bit, collected another shopper, and went out for coffee. The result is presented largely in the form of a conversation. Here’s a sample from page 157 that starts with Underhill explaining why he loves visiting Hollywood (he lives in New York):
“…And going to L.A. is so refreshing. Partially because I got sick of eating here—I live by eating according to the season, and it’s so easy to do in L.A., but back here I’m like, cabbage and apples and potatoes, again?”
“Carrots,” Marion says.
“Carrots. ‘Oh look, we have rutabaga. Yay!’ So yeah, I’m a jerk. I’m one of those people who want to be completely seasonal and local but can’t hack it everywhere.”
“Ithaca has a rutabaga roll every year just before Christmas,” Marion says. “It’s a bowling contest at the farmers market. You bowl with rutabagas.”
This is a chatty book with lots of Underhill’s insights into how supermarkets work, starting with parking lots, and what he thinks stores ought to do to face the retail future.
He also went to farmers’ markets, this time with Nina (Planck) Kaufelt. That chapter is titled “The citified get countrified (and vice versa.”
It’s a chattier and unreferenced version of my 2006 book, What to Eat—the one I am currently updating—but I did take some notes.
I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not exactly an unbiased critic.