The Butterfly Effect, Part 4

The Butterfly Effect
Part 4: A cookbook or other written work

The Man Who Ate Everything
by Jeffrey Steingarten

Tmwae I’ve been writing professionally for over a decade, starting out in technology. I really enjoyed being a software reviewer during the early days of the tech boom of the mid-90s, taking in products faster than we could digest them, learning, assessing, reviewing. As Internet usage crept into the homes of normal people across the country, I shifted to covering the Web itself, observing its development from a patchy conglomeration of incoherent ramblings and sites with pictures of people’s cats to … well, we still have all of that, but so very much more, too.

But shortly before the Internet economy developed a nasty cough that threatened to turn to a death rattle, I grew weary of technology as a topic, and shifted my focus to travel. Yet, the more I paid attention to my own writings whilst traveling, the more I became aware of the fact that I wrote at least as much about the food as about anything else.

I took a food writing class, taught by Jeannette Ferrary, at Berkeley Extension with a coworker in 2000. To be honest, I found the class of limited use. The big takeaway, in fact, was when my coworker turned me on to this book. Steingarten was everything I aspired to be: Erudite, witty, well-informed and just plain enjoyable. If I didn’t exactly want to be him, I at least wanted to mimic his best qualities as a writer.

Granted, I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I still chuckle when I think back on his madcap (yet informative!) experiments with bread leavened with airborne yeast and with an expansive variety of espresso makers. Being a former lawyer, he has an amazing ability to drill down to the tiniest degree of detail, yet never gets lost in the minutiae.

My most favorite of his essays deal with debunking food myths. The highlight of this book is "Salad the Silent Killer," wherein he illustrates how each element of a typical raw salad is potentially not only utterly non-nutritious but potentially can block the absorption of valuable nutrients from other foods. It is of course hyperbole, but makes for a very enjoyable read.

The follow-up book, "It Must Have Been Something I Ate," is as enjoyable, and he still writes for Vogue and other outlets (as well as making the occasional Iron Chef appearance).

Next: Part 5 >>

  • I’ve heard that Mr. S is sort of overbearing in person, but I don’t care because I love his books so much. His writing is methodical without being dry, and his voice is so specifically him that it is a joy to read. When I read about his quest to become a perfect omnivore it was an inspiration for me to get over my few remaining food issues. Years later, some of the foods that skeeved me when I first read the book (raw oysters and olives, for example) are now some of my favorites. Add to that his lack of patience with imaginary food allergies and I’m sold.