641: The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten

by Gerard


641.0130207: Steingarten, Jeffrey. The Man Who Ate Everything. New York: Vintage, 1998. 494 pp. ISBN 0-679-43088-1.

Dewey Construction:

  • 600: Technology
  • 640: Home economics and family living
  • 641: Food and drink
  • 641.013: Gastronomy
  • +0207: Miscellany – humorous treatment

If you watch Iron Chef America with any regularity you will instantly recognize the name Jeffrey Steingarten. He’s the rotund, irascible, playful, and mildly antagonistic judge who loves to make the Iron Chefs squirm a bit. In 1989, he decided to leave the legal profession after being offered a job at Vogue as a food writer. In this new world, he found a lot to investigate.

The Man Who Ate Everything is a collection of essays written for other various publications organized into five sections, each about a distinct subculture of food. There is a section on debunking both personal and global food myths (i.e., “French food is 98% butter and, therefore, is terribly fattening.”), one on personal image and its relationship to food, one on global cuisine, and so forth.

Steingarten takes a lot of pleasure in the thorough investigation of foods, studies, recipes, and history. His search for the perfect bread or the best mashed potatoes takes him through countless scientific articles, meetings with famous chefs, calls with specialty food and chemical manufacturers, as well as many a brouhaha with his wife. From his experiments, you can tell that he is wholeheartedly obsessed with food and its affect on the human condition. He rails against bad ketchup and obligatory salads and gets on his soapbox about the exact way barbecue should taste.

Some of the best moments, however, are the episodes of humility he has to endure in getting a full picture of the world of food. Right when he starts out as a food writer, he makes a list of food he is certain that he doesn’t like and immediately goes out to try each of them until he is either sure or pleasantly surprised into changing his mind.

His writing is a bit more witty and complex than his TV personality, but its hard to imagine it in his voice. His exhaustive research into different foods may be a bit overwhelming for some, but I enjoyed his zeal for both food knowledge and food experience. At just under 500 pages, it’s a bit too hefty to read all the way through. I recommend the truffle method for this book: read a chapter, savor it, wait at least a couple hours, then repeat.