Fit Provender

“Why not throb with superior vitality!"
Mrs. Trustle presided with genius and elan over New York's Physical Culture restaurant. A grandmotherly woman of about sixty, she had the energy of one half her age. With admirable dexterity, she stewed prunes, stirred simmering pots of beans, chopped cabbage, steamed carrots. Her girlish cheer was said to be infectious. The lunch rush never fazed her, and the dinner crowd she handled in stride. (more…) Read More...

Slow Food

The delight of eating escargot was matched only by the pleasure of knowing you didn't have to shell out a lot for the meal.
Of the various impressions made on the English man of letters Joseph Addison during a 1702 visit to a Freiburg monastery, one that lingered longest was the delight its inmates took in eating snails. A thick ragout they would prepare into which they would toss these creatures by the dozen. A great wooden box called an escargotiere ensured a reliable supply, its interior lined with greens in which nestled snails often as large as a child's fist. "I do not remember to have met with any thing of the same in other countries," Addison wrote in reference to this ingenious contrivance. In these boxes the snails reposed and ate, ate and reposed, until such time as the cook came and shook out a hundred or two of them for supper. (more…) Read More...

Ill-Starred Lives

Elephants Castor and Pollux went from marquee attractions to menu items during the seige of Paris in 1870.
More than the pacing, antic tapir, more than the dancing bear did visitors to the Jardin des Plantes love Castor and Pollux, the two elephants held captive there. Brother and sister (twins, in fact), Castor and Pollux never ceased to delight onlookers. Ladies marveled at the delicacy with which the pachyderms' trunks probed for the morsels of white bread they'd bring them. Men stood thunderstruck by their great size. Children squealed with excitement when for a small fee the elephants’ keeper would set them on his charges’ backs for a march across an imaginary Serengeti. (more…) Read More...

Gathering Light

Life for Japan's firefly catchers was full of hard knocks.
Of the glimmering swarm gathering at twilight the catcher of fireflies entertained few romantic notions. To him his quarry -- which drew gasps from the crowd gathered at the riverbank, which drew sighs from many a moonstruck poet -- simply meant business. (more…) Read More...

Bundle Theory

How modesty survived the custom of sharing beds with all comers remains one of New England's oldest mysteries.
Love rooted in frustration bears the sweetest fruit: This the old wives of New England knew. When on long winter nights a suitor called on an eligible daughter, her parents served him pie, bound both his legs in a large woolen sock, and bundled him into bed with his sweetheart. (more…) Read More...

Not by Bread-and-Marg Alone

Unhealthy eating habits don't develop as a result of instinct; they have to be learned -- and a processed-food industry stands ready to teach them.
I have a piece up at Dissent's website that discusses eating habits of the working poor over the centuries. Occasioned by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on soft drinks 16 ounces or greater, my piece reveals that the economically disadvantaged didn't always eat poorly. Indeed, history demonstrates that the opposite is true: Unhealthy eating habits don't develop as a result of instinct; they have to be learned -- and a processed-food industry stands ready to teach them. Read More...

Moral Digestion

"You remember what I told you about old stagers, and the roast beef diet? Well, that applies right through life..."
"You remember what I told you about old stagers, and the roast beef diet? Well, that applies right through life. It's all very well to trifle with the little side-dishes at first, but there comes a time when you've got to quit fooling with the minced chicken, and the imitation lamb chops of this world, and settle down to plain, everyday, roast beef, medium." -- Edna Ferber, Roast Beef Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney (1913)     Read More...

Fillet of Sole

The cannibalistic practices of one South American tribe left Swedish explorer Algot Lange with a lot to chew on.
While exploring the jungle around the Javary River, one of the most formidable and mysterious regions in South America, the Swedish adventurer Algot Lange nearly met his end. All around him vegetation formed a gloomy tangle teeming with insects and reptiles. The air throbbed with suffocating, soporific heat. Through a constant downpour he trekked, feverish, starving -- and completely lost. (more…) Read More...

The highest respectability is of much less value than the possession of a good chef…

"And, after all, it is a very poor consolation to be told that the man who has given one a bad dinner, or poor wine, is irreproachable in his private life..."
"And, after all, it is a very poor consolation to be told that the man who has given one a bad dinner, or poor wine, is irreproachable in his private life. Even the cardinal virtues cannot atone for half-cold entrées." -- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) Read More...

Not Content with Crumbs

Habitues of the Lower East Side's coffee and cake saloons conspired to win themselves a bigger slice of the pie.
In nineteenth-century New York, nothing went better with radical politics than coffee cake. Manhattan's Lower East Side boasted some three hundred "coffee and cake saloons," where anarchists and socialists tucked into crullers as they debated everything from the theories of Marx and Bakunin to the literary merits of Tolstoy and Ibsen, and the success of the latest performance at the Metropolitan Opera House. Late into the night they talked and between outbursts of indignation or sympathy sipped strong cups of tea à la russe adorned with thin slices of lemon. (more…) Read More...

Love Craft

Whether they take the form of a cassette tape or an etched whale's tooth, handmade tokens of affection exemplify making a virtue out of making-do.
Once upon a time a mix tape spent three weeks getting made by a boy in Texas. (more…) Read More...