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American Cuisine's Awkward Stage,
This review is from: Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste (Hardcover)
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Anybody out there remember the suburbs in the 1960s? The food, I mean? We had roasts and burgers and tuna casseroles and franks & beans. If we wanted exotic food, we went to the neighborhood Italian restaurant for lasagna or pizza, or to the Chinese restaurant for chop suey. There were no Thai restaurants or Indian restaurants or Greek restaurants. In California we had Mexican restaurants, but they were non-existent outside the Southwest. Hawaiian food was available - in Hawaii.
If you were inclined to adventurous cooking, you were limited by what was available at the market - and in most American towns it was almost impossible to find olive oil or lettuce other than iceberg. Cheese came in three flavors - American, Swiss, and Cheddar.
The premise of Luke Barr's book is that when the major American food personalities of the time arrived in Provence in late 1970, it was the threshold of a change in American dining. He makes a case that those writers (Julia Child, Richard Olney, James Beard, and Barr's great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher) were drivers of that change.
My initial reaction to the notion that several food writers could change the way America ate, was skepticism. But when I recalled how limited our diets were then by today's standards, I had to concede that something caused that change. Maybe it was those few personalities or maybe they were just quick to see what was already happening and jumped on board. Either way, we get to spend a couple of months in Provence with an outspoken bunch of characters.
Barr's access to M.F.K. Fisher's papers make this an original work, since much of his research revolves around a detailed diary that she kept while in Provence that year. Her daily letters to her confidante/lover provided more detail. Fortunately for us, letter writing was more common in 1970 and apparently the correspondents neglected to throw out all those letters, which must have filled quite a few shoeboxes.
As much as these food writers were immersed in French cooking, they were still very much American. Some of them had had it with food and wine snobbery. While Fisher was deciding to stop writing so much about the past, Julia Child decided to expand beyond French cuisine. James Beard, as big a presence as Child, tried to define American cooking. They cooked and talked, argued, drank wine, ate and talked some more. And for a while, we get to sit in on the conversation.