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A FIRST-CLASS, ENTERTAINING DEMOLITION JOB
on 1 October 2012
This book is a polemic directed at the growing idolatrous obsession with food which now pervades our society. The averagely intelligent person easily recognises this as merely yet another of the money-driven fads which keep the wheels of commerce turning, the engine fuelled by the multitudes to whom fashion, novelty and one-upness is everything - whilst the more perceptive, profit-savvy folks see a bandwaggon, climb on it, whip up speed, and retire rich...
The bandwaggon is driven by more than celebrity cooks, of course; TV companies see new ways of garnering audience numbers, publishers sell more books, manufacturers design and sell ever more esoteric kitchen hardware, advertising companies generate more consultancy fees, exhibition organisers organise more exhibitions, travel companies sell food holidays, hosts of nutritionist quacks and alternative therapists cling onto the waggon sides, like passengers on Indian trains, and supermarkets and food manufacturers lumber along behind on their own heavyweight bandwaggon; and finally, when absurdity reaches its peak, along come the polemicists to exploit their own new money-making niche; enter Steven Poole (who isn't the first in the field, by the way).
This becomes only too clear when you read the publisher's blurb accompanying my (free) early proof copy, obviously directed at other would-be fellow bandwaggoners, rather than potential readers - it includes promises of "pitting Poole against food writers and celebrity chefs in the national press", and "targeting gastro-bloggers and tweeters to inflame the debate". We are also told that the book will be published on "Super Thursday" (which is publisher-speak, meaning "for Christmas") in order to "compete with Christmas cookery best-sellers, such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson". I look forward to all that - there's nothing like a good old ding-dong to lighten the festive season !
OK, enough of that, it's just another author earning his living in a hard world, and good for him. What's more, everything Poole says is right, that is if you can understand everything he says; words like "spliff", "bong" (not in the bell context, that is) "explicator", "ingluviosity", "louring", "Gaian eucharist", "hermeneutic", litter the text, on top of which his general style is not always any-too brain-friendly either. But I forgive this naive eagerness to display erudition, and even forgive his made-up words like "Bibliophagy", because he made me laugh, which is a pearl beyond price in the literary world. This books pokes fun, and very successfully, and only those in the firing line are likely to condemn it. For the rest of us it's just a hoot; I never even knew about the more ludicrous excesses he describes, and cringe for those who participate.
I originally deducted one star for the aforementioned naive overdisplay of erudition, but I've restored it - but only because other Vine reviewers appear to have taken an overly narrow view. One reviewer even suggests that Poole is attacking all who, like himself, simply enjoy cookery, and, worse still, appears to read it as a personal attack on himself ! He surely can't be serious; but if he is, it doesn't sit well with one who aspires to the status of top 100 reviewer... I've been a "Hobby-cook" for 33 years, with a huge culinary library, and found much I could identify with, and nothing to offend - apart from the literary style, that is (but do remember that literary style is a matter of taste, as with every other art); and please don't be misled into thinking that the silly words appear on every page, or even every other page; they irritate when you come across them, but they don't otherwise necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the book - which other reviews might persuade you to think is so.
The book performs an entertaining, expert and well-researched demolition job on the more frivolous and cretinous aspects of what should be a serious and expertly-managed factor of our lives; anybody who reads it with a serious mind and is thereby forced into careful thought may well feel embarrassed enough hastily to banish any hint of this kind of foodism from their lives forever. Of course, if everybody did so, it would be a very bad thing indeed, since there would be another financial crisis with many more unemployed...
Great fun; polemics do tend to offend those whose obsessions are attacked; that's part of the general idea. Perhaps, as the publishers hoped, the debate is already inflamed !