Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Did Not Finish Chronicles: Eat the City by Robin Shulman

From Goodreads:
New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food. It’s a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete.   Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces the people of New York City  - both past and present - who  do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make wine. In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow.  What’s more, Shulman artfully places today’s urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.

 In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket. And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey. Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family. Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side, as well as the New York Yankees.

Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time. Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.

Of course, hundreds of years ago, most food and drink consumed by New Yorkers was grown and produced within what are now the five boroughs. Yet people rarely realize that long after New York became a dense urban agglomeration, innovators, traditionalists, migrants and immigrants continued to insist on producing their own food. This book shows the perils and benefits—and the ironies and humor—when city people involve themselves in making what they eat.

Food, of course, is about hunger. We eat what we miss and what we want to become, the foods of our childhoods and the symbols of the lives we hope to lead. With wit and insight, Eat the City shows how in places like New York, people have always found ways to use their collective hunger to build their own kind of city.

So "did not finish" is perhaps a misnomer since I did technically finish this book, but since I skimmed a whole lot of pages, I decided perhaps claiming to have read this book in its entirety would be less than honest. It started off strong and held my interest in chapter one as Shulman talked about the passionate beekeepers who live in New York City and what they have done to make beekeeping a viable (and legal) option in the urban landscape. I was riveted as I read about bee swarms and the strange, alarming phenomenon of glowing red bees that produced bright red honey. 

But I found that the more chapters I read, the less interested I became. I got so bogged down with all the different names of people she talks about throughout the entire book, and found myself bored with some of the history (the chapter on sugar especially) that I just couldn't focus and thought to myself, "This isn't interesting, next page." I said this to myself quite a lot while I was reading. 

I thought this would be a great book for me to read since it's a foodie book, but I think it appeals more to people who like reading about history than food. It would also be more relevant and interesting to people living in New York City I think. Shulman is a very strong writer, but the subject-matter just didn't appeal to me as much as I thought it would.

Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Bee Keepers, Wine Makers, and Brewers Who Built New York by Robin Shulman
Published: July 10, 2012
Publisher: Crown
Pages: 335
Genre: Nonfiction
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: Book received for review


  1. I live in NYC, so this maybe something I'd like. Thanks for the honest review.

  2. Oh bummer. But I know what you mean, sometimes it's easy to get bogged down in names and facts.

  3. It does sound interesting...maybe I will give it a try.

  4. Great honest review, sorry it was disappointing. I live in NY and I do like history so it does appeal to me, but I do have a tendency to skim if it's slow.

  5. Good to know this is one book I don't need to add to the TBR pile. Have a great week.

  6. This will go in my Maybe Later mental file. The beekeeping is something I had vaguely heard about and was curious about. Maybe skim later if it comes to the library.