Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Dec. 6, 2013
Riverhead Books, 272 pp., $27.95
We've come a long way, we Americans, in terms of our collective palate. Where we once viewed Perfection Salad (gelatin studded with fruit or meat) as the pinnacle of culinary sophistication, many self-styled foodies now seek out the nastiest, slimiest, most deconstructed versions of food legally (and sometimes illegally) available. Anything That Moves finds New Yorker food writer Dana Goodyear exploring the various nooks and crannies of contemporary American culinary culture, the slimier and squishier and more dangerous the better.
Goodyear's narrative is loosely organized into the broad categories of eating as adventure, rejection of industrial processed food in the form of living and raw foods and "ice cream speakeasies," and the dark world of way off-cuts like frog fallopian tubes and ox penis. She follows people like Jonathan Gold, the LA Weekly food critic considered to be one of the forerunners of eaters who blur the lines of ethics and abjection at dinnertime, always walking the razor's edge of food poisoning in the interest of adventure.
In her descriptions of how, over the course of the 20th century, the food industry successfully normalized "other" foods through marketing, labeling, gimmicks, and straight-up flim-flammery, Goodyear directs us to Brett Ottolenghi, the resourceful Las Vegas-based fancy-food purveyor and importer who goes to great lengths to source rare, banned, and outlawed foods or find reasonable simulacra or alternatives. Along the way, she also reveals the seedy (yet unsurprising) underbelly of high-end foods; for example, it's likely that your $20-per-pound black trumpet mushrooms were foraged for $50 a day by a grubby drifter with a warrant out and a meth problem.
Goodyear's explorations are certainly entertaining – the book is a very fast read, its characters and their tales at once vibrant and galling – but her analysis and conclusions aren't entirely satisfying. As Americans become more comfortable with "marginal" foods, it's normal to wonder why. While Goodyear gestures toward post-millennial anxiety about decadence and hedonism, her working thesis, that such eating is simply pleasurable, is pretty thin gruel.