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A Short History of the American Stomach [Hardcover]

Frederick Kaufman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Jan. 15 2008
Frederick Kaufman offers a piquant sampling of American history by way of the stomach.Travel with him as he tracks down our earliest foodies; discovers the secret history of Puritan purges; introduces diet gurus of the nineteenth century such asWilliam Alcott, who believed that “nothing ought to be mashed before it is eaten”; traces extreme feeders from Paul Bunyan to eating-contest champ Dale Boone (descended from Daniel, of course); and investigates our blithe efforts to re-create the plants and animals that we’ve eaten to the point of extinction.With outraged wit and an incredible range of sources that includes everything from Cotton Mather’s diary to interviews with Amish black-market raw-milk dealers, Kaufman takes readers on a Bourdainmeets- Pollan tour of the American gut.

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From Publishers Weekly

Kaufman, an English professor at New York's City University, pursues a hip, journalistic approach to America's all-consuming relationship to the gut, from Puritan rituals of fasting to the creation of the Food Network. Kaufman maintains that the feast-fast syndrome that torments America—obesity, anorexia, overeating, dieting, fads and cures, gastroporn, pollution and purity of food, and self-sufficiency—all originate from our understanding of virtue and vice, first established by the Puritans. Indeed, these first settlers held that the stomach's equilibrium reflected one's spiritual state, and the process of digestion maintained the body's intimate fine-tuning between good and evil. Days of fasting were declared as ways of seeking spiritual guidance, and purges and emetics used to expunge evil and corruption from the system, much as today's advocates of raw foods and unpasteurized milk press their enzyme cures. To demonstrate examples of the ethics of eating, Kaufman discusses dietary restrictions such as kosher foods and, conversely, the lifting of all restrictions by the primal culinary tastes nurtured in the Wild West. Kaufman traces dieting to Ben Franklin's obsession with the virtue of temperance and offers myriad examples of how certain diets (e.g., vegetarianism, single-substance eating) were intended to effect one's transformation from within. With a final paean to endangered favorites such as bananas and oysters, Kaufman digresses forgivingly in this occasionally incongruous though entertaining study. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

PRAISE FOR A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN STOMACHThis rollicking survey of our national food manias from Cotton Mather (‘Look after thy stomach’) to Rachael Ray is amiably peripatetic.”New York Observer

“Witty and polemical . . . [Kaufman] makes some valuablepoints about how the stomach influences the waysAmericans view themselves.”—Los Angeles Times

 

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In the year 2000 an American Cinco de Mayo celebration featured the world's largest taco, fashioned from nine hundred pounds of meat. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most helpful customer reviews
By John Kwok TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In a riveting, often hilarious, and unforgettable account, Frederick Kaufman has written a witty polemical exploration of American history via its culinary history - or rather, to be so blunt, American stomachs - in his "A Short History of the American Stomach". Kaufman's surprisingly terse account echoes the young Tom Wolfe in crafting a most riveting narrative; one which cites the likes of Cotton Mather, Washington Irving, Mark Twain and Julia Child. He demonstrates how cooking can be seen as a metaphor for American sexual behavior, with the photographer Barbara Nitke - known for her sexually explicit photographs - as a most passionate, quite suitable, guide. Kaufman introduces us to eating contest champion Dale Boone (a direct descendant of Daniel Bone) as he surveys the history of extreme eaters ranging from Paul Bunyan to the present. He also bemoans the substantial decline - to the brink of extinction - of the American oyster due to overfishing and offers an informative account describing how genetic engineering might revive American oyster fisheries. Without a doubt, Kaufman has written a wonderful example of narrative nonfiction that should interest even those who have ample disinterest in American culinary history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally some perspective on the American Foodie Revolution Feb. 12 2008
By Tristia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In a concise, rollicking and eloquent study, Kaufman manages to bring to bear an immense body of historical research and sharp journalistic chops on the huge, convoluted subject of America's food fixations. By showing us how every diet craze and alimentary fad of the moment in fact represents an eternal recurrence of the same in American gustatory history, he allows us to make out the patterns in our approach to eating. By getting beyond the "food fight" element in all the raging debates about what is and isn't right to eat, he provokes us to think harder about the larger political/theological/aesthetic implications of American appetite as that consumes public attention at home--and chews its way through the world at large. This is one book that makes you think less about what you eat than about how you eat it...
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Foodies Beware April 1 2009
By S. A. Waggoner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Like the Food Network it erroneously deems the sine qua non of the American gourmet scene, this book is sloppy, silly, and seems to have been written by someone who cares little about the food scene for those who care even less. The driving impulse seems to be a kind of jokey, adolescent urge to make fun of the obvious, and to that end the writing -- no doubt meant to be breezy and amusing -- is sophomoric, superficial, awash in self-indulgent aren't-I-clever rambling, and not infrequently inane. Sentences like "America has long been enchanted by triploid fruit" and "There are many benefits to eating a food that cannot enjoy sex" abound, as do hyperbolic adjectives like "mania" and "obsession." Also frequent are proclamations like "It must have come as some relief to the growing urban population that somewhere in the American wilderness roamed a giant named Paul Bunyan, who would consume nothing but raw moose meat" -- an example not only of the author's relentless generalizations but his disregard for facts: the best known food stories about Paul Bunyan involve his favorite food, flapjacks. Bunyan was a lumberjack who ate lumberjack food -- pancakes, pea soup, salt pork stew. I doubt any Americans, urban or otherwise, conjured him eating raw moose meat, much less would have found the image comforting. But why let facts intrude when the point the author is bolstering -- that "dissolute gourmandism was a clear indication of the actual frontier's death" is so sweepingly vacuous in the first place?

Paul Bunyan is not the only figure maltreated in this book. The author sites, and often quotes from, all the early samplers of American cuisine -- Bartram, Crevecoeur, Franklin, Irving et al. -- yet misses the point of each one by treating them in the same frat boy manner. The whole thing reads as if the author had lost his research notes in a fire and, locked in a room with a deadline approaching, decided to just wing it. There are no footnotes, nor is there a bibliography.

For a more sophisticated take on the same subject, read David Kamp's The United States of Arugula, which is carefully researched, highly informative, and much more entertaining.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a mess May 14 2008
By C. P. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
American Stomach is a real mess. It's a rambling hodge-podge of ideas and topics as they occur (very randomly) to the author. The topics themselves have very little to them. It's mostly ruminations that are hard to follow, with very little meat. The author seems most intent on impressing the reader with his vocabulary, literary allusions, and cleverness. Transitions from one topic to another were particularly jarring and haphazard.

Here's a sample of what you can expect:

"American religion, American economics, American politics, and American media had all been devoured by the great maw. At the Plymouth harvest dinner reenactment [the topic of the chapter], where nothing was real except the food, the primal, eldest origins of the country had met the American stomach and gone down the hatch too. And still, the enteric brain pushed forward. It wanted more."

Breezy, clever-sounding - but what does it all mean, if anything?
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not another food book -- Feb. 12 2008
By Omnivore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
- and what a relief! This is one of those books you never knew you wanted until you had it in your hands. Kaufman's sense of history is direct, keen, and alive, informed by a sly, philosophical wit, and presented with a true sensualist's love of his subject. The result is snappy, readable, and laced with a profound, yet hilarious, understanding of Brillat-Savarin's often-misquoted, "Dites-moi ce que vous mangez et je vous dirai qui vous êtes" -- accurately translated by the immortal M.F.K. Fisher (who would have held this volume close to her heart) as, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are." Kaufman shows us, with clarity and charm, how that aphorism works in both directions, always has, and always will.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars There is a good book in this topic - this isn't it. May 25 2008
By waitingtoderail - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An extremely unfocused book. Kaufman has an excellent topic here, but does little with it. Like with Freakonomics, the book is a series of interesting tidbits that don't really add up to anything. Probably the most interesting thing I learned is that practically every food in America, except those including pork, is probably kosher, even if not supervised by a rabbi. There were some interesting tidbits about the Mather family, but why not go deeper into how their theories affected the average American?

There is a book to be written on this topic - this one isn't the right one. It merely skims the surface and isn't a coherent whole.

And don't let the length fool you. This is REALLY short. Without the index, it is 194 pages of the kind of type you see in young adult titles. I read this in about 2 hours, and I'm not a particularly fast reader.
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