Knowing that foodie literature can get a little self-important and serious these days, we found three books, all published within the past few years (and generally available in paperback) that talk of food as a portal to understanding a little something new about life and history.
First, the Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. Vreeland chronicles Renoir’s financial crises, the stories behind the models in the painting, and gives us a sense of France in the late 1800′s, a interesting period peopled with artistic and political struggles.
Next, has anyone out there not read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert? It was eerily sitting on about every deck chair and airline seat last summer, so I waited a bit to join in, especially after “Friend of the Flavors” Cindy Alexander opined that this gal drove her crazy, with no direction in life or sense of self, waiting to be filled by places and others. Faced with a few empty hours at an airport, I finally bit. The premise is that the author travels for a year to redefine herself after a messy divorce: first, eating her way through Italy, meditating at an ashram in India, and finding both love and disillusionment in Indonesia. Though I basically agree with Cindy’s premise, and surprisingly could have done without the Eat part in Italy, I loved the Pray part in the Ashram. It makes the point that “everyday” people can have an intensely deep spiritual life, and I drank it in like water.
Finally, A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, and on loan from “Friend of the Flavors” Randy Romig, is along the lines of Guns, Germs and Steel, in that it slices through familiar history with a new prism, so that we see familiar scenes in new ways. The premise: the influence that beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, and Coca-Cola have had on history. For those of us who missed a few fun facts in 9th Grade World History 1, this book provides a refreshing view of mankind; our needs for relaxation and/or clarity of mind, and the marketing methods that capitalize on those needs.