Book Review: You and I Eat the Same
Reviewed by Danny Palumbo, Fri., Oct. 26, 2018
"Food brings everyone together" isn't a trailblazing theme in literature or television. Most cookie-cutter travel shows center on the prevailing sense that wherever you are in the world, food is a pillar of familiarity and togetherness. But You and I Eat the Same takes the idea of cultural unity, puts it in its crosshairs, and delivers a laser-accurate shot of urgency. While the book doesn't shove the political implications of an all-embracing mindset down your throat, it doesn't shy away from it either. Author and editor Chris Ying stitches together a memorable anthology of stories and essays with the goal of delivering a simple message: Humanity is on top of its game when it's inclusive, and exhibit A is our culinary history. Even the cover of the book resembles some sort of late-Seventies food-centric orgy where every culture is accurately represented, drawn in the style of a community center mural. It's a hopeful worldview for dark times, and a reminder that chefs are at the front lines for this sort of optimism.
René Redzepi, owner/chef at Noma and founder of the MAD symposium (think the food world's G20 summit), drives this anthology in the foreword by being open about its thesis: Cooking is our greatest human connection, and resisting anything other than total inclusiveness is not only fighting history, it's fighting human nature.
Ying starts off by introducing easily digestible historical anecdotes in "Everybody Wraps Meat in Flatbread," then delves into more scientific writing in "Your Fire and My Fire Burn the Same," but the real memorable stuff lies in the compelling success stories of immigrants and refugees. In them, readers are asked to confront the prejudices of themselves and of the nation. It also makes you painfully aware of how food has been used to alienate cultures. The rise of the term "ethnic food" and the total lack of recognition given to African-Americans for their role in the birth of American cuisine both take focal points. What was once considered "icky" is now trendy and delicious, which makes an excellent point. You can resist change and cultural integration all you want, but in the end you'll just be wrong.
You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another (MAD Dispatches, Vol. 1)by Chris Ying
Artisan, 216 pp., $19.95
Ying will discuss cuisine with Edward Lee at “Breaking Bread and Building Community” at 2pm Saturday, Oct. 27, in the Central Market Cooking Tent, and sign You and I Eat the Same at 3pm in the Adult Signing Tent on Congress.