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The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation    by David Kamp order for
United States of Arugula
by David Kamp
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The back cover of The United States of Arugula calls it 'The wickedly entertaining, hunger-inducing, behind-the-scenes story of the American Food Revolution that has made celebrity chefs, baby greens, fancy fridges, and destination restaurants familiar aspects of our everyday lives.'

As a reviewer, what more can I say? Except that The United States of Arugula is a fascinating, absorbing, and thoroughly enjoyable book that I found very hard to put down. Kamp's research is incredible - as in a juicy novel or suspenseful mystery, the reader's interest is caught from the first page, as the author presents a history of food in the United States from the introduction of Spam in the 1930s to today's myriad choices of what at one time would have been considered exotic or unattainable. And just finding the right ingredients hasn't been enough for today's chefs and cooks. The right utensils have kept pace with all that's new.

To trace the history of food in the United States, we must go overseas to the ethnic shores first. But to do that would result in a review almost as long as the book. I will say that the search for local and fresh ingredients has come a long and successful way to putting the best there is to offer on our tables - at home or in restaurants. One wonderful qutoe caught my eye and I must share it. Writer Clifton Fadiman once said that 'cheese was milk's leap into immortality'. And I for one am thankful. Outside of a really good marinara sauce, cheese tops the list of my favorite things - unless you count my grandchildren.

This fascinating book contains a Who's Who of chefs as well as recognizing that these talented and far-seeing professionals were human and had pasts - as do we all. This recognition imbues these people with character instead of simply being names on their menus. And perusing the book, I find there is hope yet to trim down our obese countrymen (of whom I am one). The attitude of the fast-food chains - willing to create new dishes with less fat and starch and salt is a beginning. Hopefully the new trend in schools to provide healthier lunches will sweep the nation.

To read of the start of the big three in the culinary world - Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne - was to enter their kitchens and lives as an observer. The same goes for the chefs who have entered the cooking scene since their time in the limelight. I couldn't get enough of The United States of Arugula, and can't wait to pass it on to my teaching chef daughter.

Listen to a podcast interview with David Kamp at

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