Three of the books you’ve chosen are heavily focused on, and influenced by, France. One is by an Italian immigrant. Isn’t our topic American food?
I do think of these very much as American food books. American food is the food of immigrants. You go back a couple of hundred years and we were all immigrants, unless we’re going to talk about Native American cuisine. And for much of the early part of the 20th century, Americans were slavishly following French cooking. So it’s not an accident that Alice B. Toklas and A.J. Liebling were focused on France.
I think it’s because if you go back to the roots of America, we were founded by Puritans, who had no pleasure in food. There is an almost anti-epicurean tradition at the very base of America. For much of the middle part of American history, people who wanted to overcome that went to France. For me, what’s exciting about what is happening today in food is that we’re finally embracing America. We have become a food culture, but we very much were not. So you have someone like [Angelo] Pellegrini. I find him remarkable. His book was actually written the year I was born . He has what I now consider a modern American aesthetic of food. But people in America weren’t thinking like that in 1948. It was a culture of hamburgers and frozen food. The industrialization of food was just about to start. And here you have this man saying, “Wait a minute! Why are you spending all this time on your lawns? Pull them up! Plant some food!”
In the middle of the 20th century, that what’s American food was! Canned food, frozen food, and then 10 years later you get the “I hate to cook” book. Then the women’s movement came in and there was a whole backlash against cooking. If you’re going to look for people who cared about food at that particular point, you have M.F.K. Fisher going to France and discovering food. She was brought up in a Quaker town.