Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food

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9781422356487: Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food

An award-winning essayist explores how our relationship to food reflects the ever-changing American identity.

"Sallie Tisdale takes subjects that in other hands might seem mundane or overdone and renders them unforgettable."--San Francisco Examiner

Few things in modern life have the power to shape our lives like food. It controls us as consumers, as social animals, as guilty creatures of appetite. And although we like to feel that our choices about eating are deliberate and rational, so many of our food decisions are dictated to us--by a culture that's more obsessed than ever with how we eat, by a food industry that tells us what we can and can't consume, and by our own unacknowledged food hang-ups.

With disarming clarity and insight, Tisdale urges us to examine both our public and private attitudes about food--as they define family life, ethnic identification, and everyday rituals of eating. And her lively anecdotes and uncanny sense of the relationship between food and personality reveal a distinctive food ideology. Through a mixture of history, sociology, recipe, and memoir, her book deftly pieces together the many contradictory impulses that create the modern American appetite.

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Review:

Sallie Tisdale explores her relationship to food in The Best Thing I Ever Tasted, never once leaving the reader out of the process. It may be her mother she writes about, struggling to get food on the table for three kids and a husband while also holding down a job, but everyone's mother lurks in the shadows just behind. To say The Best Thing I Ever Tasted is a book about food, however, is to miss the point. Food is simply the center of the vortex, the point from which Tisdale embarks on a journey of remembering and setting the forks straight on the table.

What is it to be a housewife in a Betty Crocker world? And what is a housewife, anyway? What is her work? Tisdale noodles around on these avenues, meandering through the past couple hundred years of American and European history, taking special note of the rise of "time-saving" refinements in life--the way vacuum cleaners and dishwashers and microwave ovens are often sold in terms of the time they will save the housewife, too often overlooking the fact that she is at work. Convenience is another theme--what are we giving away simply to have convenient food? And consistency is another--the consistency of experience in a chain of restaurants that keeps satisfied customers coming back for what amounts to no real experience to begin with.

There's a lot of history in here, like how white sugar and white flour were sold to the public as good, its immediate predecessor as bad. Tisdale lays bare the ways in which advertisers get the public to use products they don't really need and might not even want if they took the time to think about alternatives. She has read a lot of the primary texts on the subject (don't overlook the terrific bibliography) and has reassembled a lot of that basic information, adding her own unique insights and organizing principles. Much of The Best Thing I Ever Tasted reads like loosely assembled magazine essays masquerading as a cohesive book.

But the voice is there, the attitude, the Tisdale:

I try to buy fish from one of the few sustained fisheries left, and I look at the seafood counter and realize with a sinking feeling that most people don't care. Most people don't care where their food comes from, who grows, picks, catches, and prepares it. Life is hard; we can't track every unseen cost. We will eat the very last fish in the ocean. I know this. I believe this, and still I compromise. I buy time. I buy gratification. I rationalize. I deny. I turn away. I turn away.

You will find it difficult to turn away from Tisdale's ideas and explorations. As self-involved in bleak vision as she may become, she never leaves the reader's side. --Schuyler Ingle

About the Author:

Sallie Tisdale is the author of five books, including Talk Dirty to Me. A contributing editor at Harper's magazine, and a biweekly columnist for Salon, she has published numerous articles in The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, The New Republic, Esquire, and Vogue. She is the recipient of a NEA Fellowship, a James Phelan Award, a 1999 Pope Foundation Fellowship for journalism, and three National Magazine Award nominations. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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