~The Red Hen
Frederick Kaufman's "A Short History of the American Stomach" is a humorous and insightful study of the evolution of America's eating habits. Where most writers would have focused on regional delicacies, the rise of fast food, or the generational shift of supper spreads. Mr. Kaufman chooses to tell his reader about diet gurus of the New World. Including the Beecher sisters (Harriett was most famous for her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin") Cotton Mather, and Sylvester Graham.
These great thinkers were opposed to store bought bread, marketplace milk, and anything none kosher. Old Testament thinking was the rule of thumb in their day. Fasting was a popular way to punish oneself for perceived sins. Feasting was a common form of celebration.
Mr. Kaufman's telling is witty and laugh out loud. From the "vomiting trend" of the Puritans to the carnivorous followers of Dr. Atkins, Mr. Kaufman entertains as well as educates his readers in little known eating habits. Kaufman pulls quotes from these "eccentric" to say the least nutritionists. Some of which asserted the religious fervor that laid the foundation of this country.
"A Short History of the American Stomach" paints a nation of adventurous eaters. In between jokes about these dated ideas and detailed facts that explain why as a nation America goes back for seconds.
Another famous writer is linked to this elite "subculture" of dietary zealots. Louisa May Alcott, William Alcott's first cousin once removed was a reluctant participate in a diet that excluded almost everything, but fresh fruit. Thoreau, Twain, Emerson, and Walt Whitman all found a form of the diet of featured nutritionist that satisfied them. Special diets seem to attract the artist types.
Drawing on American folklore Kaufman embraces the giganticness of the American appetite. He introduces us to the world of competitive eating and the greatest All American eater Eric "Badlands" Booker. Also "Son of Otto Jack, son of Hudson Daniel, son of James Andrew Jackson, son of Robert Nelson, son of James Andrew, son of Jeremiah, son of Thomas, son of Jonathan,...son of Daniel Boone," the colorful Dale Boone, a very active competitive eater. The ninth generation of Daniel Boone's lineage.
Kaufman covers the beginnings of America with the Puritans, Ben Franklin, Ellen Harmon White (the teacher of William Kellogg), and the latest advancements to modern food production. He uses excepts of their books but balances it out with humor so to remind the reader, Kaufman isn't really interested in a Yale lecture. He keeps his reader in their seat as he navigates the workings of the digestion process. Making for a fun read.
It's a fresh take on a unusual subject. The biggest hook being the first chapter. Comparing the Food Network to the porn industry is strategically placed to both shock and humor the reader.
"American Stomach" is not a textbook, but it's not a farce either. It blends fact and humor just enough that the book has knowledge value, as well as entertainment value. Kaufman presents a rather dull subject in a light and colorful way. For anyone who wants to collect off beat nonfiction books, recommended.