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A Short History of the American Stomach    by Frederick Kaufman order for
Short History of the American Stomach
by Frederick Kaufman
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

America is a nation of foodies, and as pointed out in this well-researched book, this is not new. The author, a professor who has written on food culture, says that we have been obsessed with food since the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock. This book examines the social history of food consumption in America.

Food has all kinds of meanings. For example, Kaufman shows how food and eating are tied up in our religious beliefs. He talks extensively about the Puritans and how both feasting and fasting was a way of life for them, and how those same principles are incorporated today in many cultures. There's also a very interesting section on the food underground: Kaufman met up with a group of folks who swear by unpasteurized milk. I found the section on kosher food particularly enlightening.

In the chapter entitled Gorging on Diets, Kaufman examines the reverse side of the psychology of food: that of deprivation and diets: 'The American stomach has long sought to dominate the world by devouring it, but the gut can impose its divine orders through subtler means. As I peered ever further down the national gullet, I realized that the stomach encompassed more than what we simply ingested. Yes, we are what we eat; but we are what we refuse to eat, too.'

A Short History of the American Stomach gets a little graphic at times, but if you can get beyond that, the chapter on vomiting is pretty amusing. The author talks extensively about the Puritan minister, Cotton Mather, and his obsession with puking as a remedy for most every ailment. Kaufman's journalist background is evident in his writing style, and his book's short length makes it an easy and informative weekend armchair read.

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