Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York
When a book is a labor of love, it shows on every page, and it truly does in Food City. Joy Santlofer was chair of New York University’s Food Studies Program, and she passed away in 2013, leaving her book to be published posthumously. Her colleague Marion Nestle wrote the forward.
This book explores the history of New York City through food. I was expecting bagels, roasted chestnuts and Chinatown. Instead, I got a fascinating education about beer, bread and so much more. I learned that the early Dutch settlers in the 1600’s drank beer – all of them, including the children, because it was cleaner than the water. I learned that the hipster paradise of Brooklyn was all farmland, and later on that giant of the food industry, Nabisco, got its start there making hard crackers for the Union army. I learned that there was a New York Tea Party four months after the Boston Tea Party.
German frankfurters paved the way for Coney Island hot dogs. Many of our most beloved foods started out in New York – Oreos, Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Thomas’s English Muffins, Gulden Mustard, and Twizzlers.
Santlofer isn’t just dispensing facts here, she makes it really interesting and fun to read. I loved the stories about George Washington being sworn in as president (which for some reason I assumed had been done in Philadelphia,) John Jacob Astor’s first job as a delivery boy for a bakery, and I could easily visualize the herds of cattle being moved across 42nd Street to the slaughterhouses. I learned what life was really like for those first New Yorkers and how those lives changed over the years.
You don’t have to be a New Yorker to appreciate this book. Foodies will love it, as will history buffs. There really is something for everyone.
It seemed somehow fitting to write about this extraordinary book on Thanksgiving, a time when we are all thinking about food, and maybe thinking about those no longer sharing our table. I miss my mom and dad every day, but especially on Thanksgiving, it was her favorite holiday.
I didn’t know Joy, but I know her husband, the über talented Jonathan Santlofer – author, artist, and teacher at the Crime Fiction Academy at the Center for Fiction in New York City. It was Jonathan’s diligence and determination to honor his wife’s work, and their daughter Doria’s to honor her mother, that got her book published, and readers everywhere should be grateful. I know I am.
11/16 Stacy Alesi AKA the BookBitch™
FOOD CITY by Joy Santlofer. W. W. Norton & Company (November 1, 2016). ISBN: 978-0393076394. 480p.