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Bookish influences

(article, Kim Carlson)

Last week in “Victual Reality,” his always-interesting food column on the web magazine Grist, Tom Philpott gives credit to 20th-century cookbook authors for helping jump-start the sustainable-food movement. 

But he’s not talking about the usual suspects: Frances Moore Lappé or Laurel of Laurel’s Kitchen fame. He’s talking about the heavy hitters of the mid-20th-century cookbook world.

“People are forging new relationships with and around food,” he writes. “They’re flocking to farmers’ markets, joining CSAs, growing food in urban community gardens. And apolitical food writers like Julia Child occupy an unexpected but undeniable place in that movement.”

Julia Child? The sustainable-food movement?

Maybe he's got something there — or maybe it's an argument born too much of personal experience. While Philpott remembers his mother cooking from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, I remember my parents grinding their own flour and making chokecherry jelly, probably notions they gleaned, in part, from  Organic Gardening magazine as well as the traditions of their own families. 

In any case, these days Philpott is farming and writing compelling pieces about food, and while I'm no green thumb, I've spent years perfecting my marketing — deciding that for me, the farmers' market wins out over the CSA. In short, we're both trying to eat with awareness.

Philpott's cookbook post has generated some discussion (see the comments on his post) and disagreement. I liked it, but I wished he'd included in his analysis the 20th-century author who turned me on to food: Portland’s own James Beard, whose Delights and Prejudices introduced many readers to a whole new pleasure factor. 

Beard's stories of salmon cooked on a beach fire and wild strawberries from the Oregon coast instilled in me an appreciation for the food of my adopted region like nothing I've discovered since. 

Do you have favorite authors who have taught you to love the foods of your region?