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Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food    by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson order for
Word of Mouth
by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson
Order:  USA  Can
University of California, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Food is no longer something we need to nourish our bodies. Today we have elevated food to a place where it is the focus of television programs, media articles, and numerous blogs. Food talk has gone far beyond the publication of cookbook and restaurant reviews.

Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, a professor in Columbia University's Department of Sociology, addresses the rise of food talk to its new dominant place in today's society in her new book, Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food.

This book asks a series of questions about food. How we think about food, what we do with it, and what effect it has are just some of the topics the author delves into. In the opening chapter she discusses conversations that occur in the kitchen and at the table that help define culinary country.

While Chapter Two looks at some of the food fears (the danger and delight factor) we harbor and how we deal with them, the following chapter moves to what Ferguson calls 'the talk to the talkers'.

Chapter Four and Five recount America's culinary coming of age (we borrowed heavily from the French) before chapters six and seven shift the spotlight to consumption and the consumer. It is here that you'll find the answer to such questions as 'Who cooks what, why, when and for whom?' and 'Who dines with whom, on what occasions, and to what purpose?'

Since France and fine food seem to be synonymous, what individuals like Marie-Antoine Careme, A.B.L. Grimod de La Reyniere, J.A. Brillat Savarin, and Charles Fourier brought to the table is explained in this book.

The reader may be surprised to discover that films such as Haute Cuisine, La Grand Chef, Chocolat and Ratatouille are brought into the food discussion along with Winnie-the-Pooh and the Dagwood cartoon character.

Do you know the difference between a cook and a chef? No? Well, by the time you finish this book you'll be able to explain how the two differ. Where Julia Child, Fannie Merritt Farmer, Irma Rombauer and M.F. K. Fisher fit into the food talk picture will also be explained as will the fascination with extreme cuisines or cutting edge, experimental culinary endeavors.

Although this is an interesting book, it is probably best to consume it in small portions. Ferguson's narrative can be a bit quirky; thus, at times I found my mind wandering or my eyes closing as I slipped into a quick catnap.

Devoting the entire book's epilogue to a discussion of Ratatouille and how the Disney movie 'dramatizes responses to questions about the way that food shapes the world we live in' was an interesting touch. Not only did this reground this look at food talk and bring it back to the table, but it also restated the core elements of this rather academic discussion.

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