Sunday, June 21, 2015

Food: A Love Story - the funny side of gastronomy

book review

Comedian Jim Gaffigan's book serves as an ode to all things edible

Book: Food: A Love Story
Author: Jim Gaffigan

No matter how much you wax poetic about its many joys and benefits, it is still virtually impossible to overstate the importance of food in our lives. Not only is food one of the basic necessities essential for human survival, ranking right up there with air and water (and books, of course) in the list of things our species simply cannot exist without, but it also provides us the chance to experience scrumptious flavours while exploring culinary delights that leave us euphoric and satiated (and riddled with guilt over the number of calories we have just consumed).

Yet few, if any, of us have spent as much time thinking about food as Jim Gaffigan has. Best known for making fun of Hot Pockets, a microwavable snack that he refers to as 'Pop-Tart filled with nasty meat', the comedian often riffs about food during his stand-up shows. The topic has given him a lot of material over the years, and has now inspired his latest tome, Food: A Love Story.

An 'in-depth, thoroughly uninformed look at everything from health food to things that people actually enjoy eating,' the book basically serves as the writer's ode to all things edible. Built around the premise that he is an 'out-of-shape Midwestern guy' who is 'a little fat', and is therefore, ipso facto, qualified to write a book about food, the tome takes the form of a collection of short essays. All the food related knowledge he has gained while travelling across America is distilled into this 340-page volume. The text finds him taking an amusing peek at the culinary world, and what he likes and dislikes about it. In the process, the author both skewers and embraces unhealthy eating, before sharing his philosophy that you should eat every meal like it is your last.

The comedian's passion for food takes centre stage as he looks at the geographical food tendencies, major food chains, and food trends across America. After performing in all 50 states while eating his way through pretty much every major city, the writer says he has started thinking of the geography of his country as it relates to food, creating the 'Jim Gaffigan American Food Map' which uses the regional preference for certain cuisines to identify different areas, such as Seabugland, Steakland, Mexican Foodland, Wineland, Coffeeland, and Food Anxietyland. Each of the major regions then gets its own chapter wherein he humorously dissects the food choices, habits, passions, varieties, and trends popular in that place. Everything from savoury dishes to desserts is examined, and major eateries are scrutinised.

Along the way, he also relays his memories, talks about his lovely children, shares photos of his family, and repeatedly reminds us how beautiful his wife is in case we have forgotten about it since he last mentioned it two sentences ago.

The focus is primarily on American gastronomy, and international food only gets a few short paragraphs, but most readers will still be familiar with many of the dishes and food chains discussed in the book. If you are very sensitive to the mention of certain types of meat, then you might want to give Food:A Love Story a pass. The steak-loving, fast food-obsessed writer's conviction that 'healthy' is synonymous with 'tastes horrible' will make vegetarians squirm and leave kale fans infuriated. Of course it goes without saying that this book isn't the best choice if you are on a diet; you'll find yourself craving junk food, and the number of pizzas you order while reading it will simply come down to a test of will.

For the most part, there isn't anything particularly unique about Gaffigan's observations. He is mainly just stating the obvious, albeit in a funny way. Yes, we all know that fast food is unhealthy, people generally don't like eating vegetables, and seafood basically comprises of 'creepycrawly giant insects on the bottom of the ocean', but the way he talks about these topics is still enjoyable. That said, it might be better to read Food: A Love Story in small doses instead of going through the whole volume in one sitting. After a while the humour starts to feel a bit predictable.

Also, throughout the book it is quite apparent that these chapters have been written by a stand-up comedian, and there is a very simple reason why it reads like a (very lengthy) stand-up routine: a lot of the material in the book actually comes from his shows and specials. If you have seen his performances, or even the clips from his shows on YouTube, in which he delivers these jokes almost verbatim,then you won't be as impressed with the recycled nature of this collection.

Still, Gaffigan's style is entertaining and amiable, and it is very obvious that food really is one of his favourite subjects. Readers who share his passion for food and are looking for a light, witty read will enjoy Food:A Love Story. The text offers plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and will leave you amused (and craving a burger with some French fries).

- By Sameen Amer

Books & Authors, Dawn - 21st June, 2015 *

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