Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Food 2.0 by Charlie Ayers - A review

Once in a while I receive review copies of books soon to be published. Although I am not always excited these books, it remains a great way to discover authors and books that I would not have sought otherwise. I recently received Food 2.0 from famed Google chef Charlie Ayers and what a treat it was!

Now, I really loved the book but perhaps not in the way Charlie Ayers and its publishers would have anticipated. In fact, I would even argue that the recipes, although some are truly mouth watering, are not particularly novel nor exceptionally well researched and presented. What makes this book so interesting is the fact that it perfectly encapsulate an era in food in the United States in particular and the western world in general.

I certainly do not want to ridicule the book or its content; in fact it is an excellent opinionated read with useful ideas and recipes for busy people wanting to eat well in a world of over processed and unhealthy food. As a matter of fact, it is probably one of very few books on fast healthy cooking that is worth reading; so much of what is available these days in that category is of very poor quality. One could certainly question the need to be told, once again, what to eat or the need for so much smoothie and salad recipes but let’s admit it: this is exactly what many of us have been eating on a daily basis over the last years.

The design of the book is also typical of a certain style of graphic design that for good or bad reasons I associate with the dot-com era and trendy kids wearing large black plastic frame glasses and harboring irregular and colorful hairdos.

If anything, food is deeply engrained in culture. If this is something well accepted on a geographical scale, it can also provide good evidences for generational cultural divides. One just need to think of post-war food in North America with its multilayered Jell’Os, Pillsbury cookies and TV dinners to understand how the economic and cultural factors of an era shape the food we eat. If the massive incorporation of women in the workforce and the new economic growth of the post-war era impacted the food choices made by families through a crush in the time available to prepare meals and the increased availability of convenience food in the 1950’s, today the fast pace and lengthy work days of project driven dot-com workers along with rising concerns for health and the environment certainly impact contemporary food choices and contribute to this generation’s food culture.

Given the cultural significance of Google in terms of business model, hotbed for innovations and magnet for young forward-looking professionals, it is no surprise that a talented chef like Charlie Ayers was able to grasp the era so well even if unknowingly. After all, food is an exciting cultural marker in ways that are very similar to pop music and fashion.

As for the recipes themselves, they are a bit too much on the fast-eat side to my taste. I like smoothies, salads and sandwiches but do not really need recipes to prepare them, what guides me is the content of my fridge or the availability of fresh ingredients in the grocery store. The text and illustrations in the book are a great source of inspiration however, and that hot sauce recipe is on top of my list of things to cook.

All in all, Food 2.0 is an excellent read, at least for its anthropological value. In 30 years, we will look at this book for the window it provides on the Silicon Valley era in food and lifestyle, probably with a bit of nostalgia.

No comments: