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.
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.
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
Disclosure: Book received for review