“The Gallery of Regrettable Food”
James Lileks (Crown)
This book is so fabulously snarky it would be easy to write it off as a one-gag wonder: retro recipes can be pretty scary. Read deeper and you realize it actually has surprising insight buried among the gruesome photographs and over-the-top copy (“I don’t know what this is,” the caption with barbecued apples in foil reads, “but pour enough liquor in a frat boy and he’d try to have sex with it”).
Lileks collected promotional cookbooks from the Fifties and Sixties, culled the most staggeringly hideous examples of Jell-O salads and mystery meats and turned his sinister imagination loose. Along with the jokes about “burned wieners in a drunken scrum” and “the Swamp Thing’s brain,” he illuminates an era when only men were chefs, women were housewives and children were captives to creative cooking as dictated by manufacturers of major manufactured foods, Spry shortening and 7-Up chief among them.
“Regrettable Cuisine” is a rather tasty answer to all the pretentious food books emerging from academia lately, now that American cooking has become the deep scholars’ answer to Madonna. Reading it, you realize it’s okay to acknowledge: Sometimes a congealed salad is just a congealed salad.