The wickedly entertaining, hunger-inducing, behind-the-scenes story of the revolution in American food that has made exotic ingredients, celebrity chefs, rarefied cooking tools, and destination restaurants familiar aspects of our everyday lives.
Amazingly enough, just twenty years ago eating sushi was a daring novelty and many Americans had never even heard of salsa. Today, we don't bat an eye at a construction worker dipping a croissant into robust specialty coffee, city dwellers buying just-picked farmstand produce, or suburbanites stocking up on artisanal cheeses and extra virgin oils at supermarkets. The United States of Arugula is a rollicking, revealing stew of culinary innovation, food politics, and kitchen confidences chronicling how gourmet eating in America went from obscure to pervasive—and became the cultural success story of our era.
Kamp, a writer and editor for Vanity Fair and GQ, details the development of fine dining in the U.S. and proves healthy, even exotic food movements are having an effect on our diet. He highlights the great divide between a population that relies on McDonald's and those who savor gourmet cooking. Historically, the rich always had high-end restaurants; the rest contented themselves with recipes in the ladies' sections of newspapers and magazines. But thanks to "the Big Three" James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne America had an eating revolution. Kamp supplies an engaging account of their careers; Claiborne has a particularly spicy life story. While The Joy of Cooking focused on helping housewives keep "one eye on the family purse and the other on the bathroom scale," says Kamp, quoting Irma Rombauer, Beard saw cooking as a passion. During the 1960s, restaurant reviews became respectable journalism and dining out a status symbol. As rebellion turned to affluence, "eating, cooking and food-shopping were symbols for those who considered themselves upwardly mobile." This cultural history makes for an engrossing read, documenting the dramas and rivalries of the food industry.