Monday, August 06, 2012

Book Review - Eat The City

Eat The City
by Robin Shulman
Crown Publishing Group (NY),  July 2012

You know you are dealing with a truly extraordinary book when you see the jaw-droppingly wonderful subtitle :
A Tale of the Fishers, Trappers, Hunters, Forages, Slaughterers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers who built New York.

That is a tall order to fulfill, but the book achieves it easily, starting with modern-day efforts to grow food in urban areas on individual and collective levels, which in turn leads Shulman to wonder how people managed to provide food in the city in times past. The journey into the past proves to be fascinating for Shulman and the reader alike.

New York has always been  incredibly cosmopolitan, attracting entrepreneurs and impoverished immigrants alike, all drawn to the prospect of a better life or of making a fortune. Food related areas are shown on historical maps with names evocative of long ago, but people do indeed still grow food, rear livestock and produce beer and wine within the confines of the bustling city,  through the determined efforts of citizens wishing to improve their areas and use vacant lots to grow food rather than be used as hideouts for hoodlums.

The chapter about meat production and butchery is a bit gruesome in places which rather made me wish I hadn't read it immediately after eating my lunch . I particularly enjoyed reading about Andrew Cote, an urban beekeeper who has hives on the rooftops of buildings and helps an enormous variety of other people to set up their own urban hives, producing unique honey which takes its flavour from the plants growing in the area. The mystery of the glowing bees and the bright red honey was fascinating and could even have been the subject of a detective novel.

This was an engaging and absorbing book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

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