We Eat What? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Unusual Foods in the United States. Edited by Jonathan Deutsch. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2018. 339 p. Acid-fee. $94.00 (ISBN 978-1-4408-4111-8). E-book Available (978-1-4408-4112-5), call for pricing.

Fried crickets. Boiled pig intestines. Sautéed bull testicles. And that’s just the sampler plate. Bon appetite! All joking aside, these and other—ahem—interesting food items are discussed and illustrated within the pages of this well-written reference work. Approximately 114 alphabetically arranged entries, each signed by its writer, cover mostly regional specialties, from alligator meat served in Florida restaurants to Whoopie pie, a sweet treat made in bakeries throughout New England. The writing style is straightforward; at once entertaining and enlightening, articles variously provide background on the derivation of the names for individual items (“fastnacht” is German for “fast night,” referring to a “slightly sweet fried dough, similar to a doughnut, that is prepared and eaten on Shrove Tuesday, particularly in the Pennsylvania German [also known as Pennsylvania Dutch] community”[118]), how a particular food item found its way to these shores, and a smattering of botanical/zoological background (“Huckleberry ice cream is a regional and seasonal specialty of the Western United States, mainly found in the Pacific northwest, Idaho, and Montana, where huckleberries are a native plant species” [176]).

In his preface, the editor states that the impetus for creating such a work was to provide a companion volume to his well-regarded prior title, They Eat That? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from Around the World (ABC-CLIO, 2012). Both volumes are designed to explore the dichotomy of foodstuffs: what some regard as wholesome and everyday comestibles, others consider to be revolting. Everything is relative, it would seem, including that which we ingest.

A number of features stand out. While not a cookbook, recipes for selected dishes are included. Sidebar articles provide cultural and historical context. All entries conclude with a further reading list, in addition to a more lengthy bibliography at the end of this work. Many articles are illustrated with crisp black-and-white photographs.

The editorial team consists of general editor Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, contributing editor Benjamin Fulton, and recipe editor Alexandra Zeitz. All three are affiliated with Drexel University, Philadelphia. Contributors all possess advanced degrees in various aspects of food science.

A literature search suggests that this title maintains a unique position in the reference literature regarding foodways of the United States. However, a complementary volume, which does have some overlap in coverage, is The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, edited by Andrew F. Smith (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Considering the emphasis on ethnicity/diversity/multiculturalism within American society of late, this title would be expected to generate interest among many readers, not just the “foodies” out there. For this reason, as well as it’s feature rich content, We Eat What? is strongly recommended for purchase by all public and academic libraries.—Michael F. Bemis, Retired Reference Librarian and Independent Reference Book Reviewer, Oakdale, Minnesota


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