Thanks to Bourdain for sharing my reservations about a cookbook, and taking that conversation from the literally dozens of readers the Cod has to his considerably larger audience. A few things, in hopes of steering the conversation in positive directions:
1) The Smithfield cobranding is a major problem for folks who care about eating responsibly, but there is a lot to like in the Whole Hog Cookbook, and I'm looking forward to Libbie Summers's next project. She has a good eye and a good palate.
2) Given the circumstances as they appear, Emile DeFelice has every right to be furious that pictures of his farm were used to promote Smithfield-branded product raised under very different circumstances. Check out his farm here, and buy his pork here.
3) In the meantime, if you are looking for a Southern-inflected cookbook by someone who is serious about working with local producers.* Hugh Acheson is the man, and a New Turn In The South is the book. Cookbooks either codify (MTAOFC, Lee Bros), or extend (Momofuku, Zuni, most socalled ethnic cookbooks). Acheson does a bit of both and rethinks a lot of Southern verities -- with exciting results.
*When they stopped selling pigs at my day job, and I needed a pig, I called Hugh, and he told me where to go, which turned out to be near Ila, GA. It was in the shadow of a bucket loader w/ my pig dangling from it that I formed my theory that it is impossible to talk to a Georgian for more than five minutes before Michael Adams is mentioned unfavorably.
I'd run across Libbie Summers on the Twitters, and was looking forward to her book, The Whole Hog Cookbook -- nose to tail, heritage, etc., in a way maybe a trifle more accessible than Fergus Henderson. I was looking forward to seeing the book. And it's a handsome book -- interesting receipts, well articulated and well photographed. These virtues make the book's glaring liability all the more disappointing. The book begins by laying out Summers's assocations with hogs, and proceeds to a discussion of artisanal pork and runs through descriptions of heritage breeds. All very useful, and all very inspiring. And then:
"Armed with this information, you now have the luxury of being selective. But let's be honest. Let's be real. Not everyone has access to a corner butcher or farm that boasts heritage-bred and pasture-raised organic pork."
True enough. But, Summers continues:
"And that's okay, because you can still buy exceptional pork from a family run business at your local grocery store."
That family-run business? Smithfield. The notion that a cornerstone of the big ag meat oligopoly is somehow just like an organic/heritage/artisanal pork producer because it is not publicly held is the sort of late capitalist hallucination that would have Fred Jameson reaching for the smelling salts. What's more, the branding permeates the book, up to and including little logos next to trademarked meat products.
The Cod was pretty indignant at first. The idea that the difference between, say, a hog from Caw Caw Creek is to Smithfield meat products as, say, Cognac is to Armagnac puts the whole fautisanal enterprise in the shade. Summers works w/ Paula Deen, who shills for Smithfield. So, is The Whole Hog Cookbook a diabolical effort to coopt the heritage/artisanal meats movement for Big Ag?
In short, how do we read this cookbook? I read a bit, and this fall, have spent a bit of time with two chestnuts that constantly challenge the reader to decide how seriously to take them. The Whole Hog Cookbook is shorter than Moby-Dick, and more exciting than The Scarlet Letter, but like those books, we can't afford to dismiss the idea that as DHL said of Hawthorne's jawn, this is a colossal satire.
Nobody would write a book hailing nose-to-tail heritage pork, and then suggest that cryovaced loins sliced from factory hogs by harassed and beleagured assembly line workers are just as good. It would be impossible to take that book seriously. Summers is winking at us, cashing checks from Smithfield/Deen, and actually telling us that we need to find local and sustainable food, right? I sure hope so.
Eater says yes, w/lavish praise for th Pat LaFrieda iPad app. Some cool things in it, but spending money on proprietary device ($500-800), to enable the buying of an app ($6.99) that is basically a butcher's brand extension? I'd rather save my money for steak. Also, Eater links to one of its earlier posts on digital cookbooks: The headline there was "Is the future of cookbooks digital?" The link text to this post from the rave for the LaFrieda app was is "while future of cookbooks is inevitably digital" -- once again, the digital book allies are fronting like W in a on an aircraft carrier.
We've been over this before, several times, but there is new evidence that if you are a billionaire like Nathan Myhrvold, you can buy whole words, and not just vowels. I saw via Ideas In Food that they were talking about "modernist cooking" with Serious Eats. Eternal optimist that the Cod is, we clicked through, looking forward to a fritatta receipt from Ezra Pound, or perhaps even Vorticist gelato. Unfortunately, instead it's folks repeating the lazy mistake that Nathan Myhrvold made when he rebranded molecular gastronomy as "modernist cuisine" -- perhaps b/c of negative stereotypes associated w/ molecular gastronomy. It's fine, as long as you are not concerned with words and what they mean, which is ok, if you are in a non-verbal line of work. On the other hand, if you have just published a cookbook, or if you run a blog you want people to take seriously, all the digital scales in the world will not redeem sloppy and imprecise use of language. IIF's Tweets are inspiring, and I like what the SE crew does, but people who care about food and who care about language should be able to come up with a term that is not misleading and imprecise.
Against wisdom, hoping to take care of some cookbook business this week. Some good, some ugly. In any case, the Cod hopes to explore an idea that cookbooks either codify or extend your cooking repertoire. This binary, overlaid with an essential/inessential binary, creates four slots for cookbooks -- essential codifier (Joy), essential extender (Momofuku), inessential codifier (Bon Appetit) and inessential extender (Sous Vide with John Stamos).
But there is another series of choices. Do you release a book in book format, or as a DVD? Do your recipe demos feature bad boob jobs stuffed into camo bikinis? Is there archery in cutoffs? If you answered "DVD, Yes, Yes," then be forewarned that it's been done. Congratulations to noted herbivore Les Miles, and by way of hommage, we revisit the Only Cookbook That Matters:
Derp. In one analogy, (The Cod is no enemy of analogy, beetubs), this Glen Duncan fellow reveals his total incomprehnsion of literary fiction, genre fiction, intellectuals, dating, and sex work. And "hanky-panky pay dirt"? Is this a Playboy Advisor from 1970? And he drops "deconstruction" like Hilton Kramer had a column in Highlights. But the good news is that Colson Whitehead, consistently the best thing about Twitter, wrote a book with zombies. Fuck this guy in the Times, want you some Colson Whitehead zombie novel? Get you some.
Son, if you don't know what a roux is, you best should not be cooking out of MTAOFC. Warm up with Bittman or something for a few months. But here is the picture of Julia Child and K.I.T.T. again, because it is awesome. Thanks, @pennypascal.
Eater asks "is the future of cookbooks digital"? They say yes, and to an extent, they are right -- the future of cookbooks is digital, just the way it was back when folks were wondering if cooking blogs would make cookbooks obsolete. There will always be someone stoked about a future platform that will turn your digital Julia Chilld MTAOFC into a vertiable KITT of the kitchen, because "publishers speculate you'll soon be able to turn the pages using voice commands so you won't have to get your reader dirty." But the Cod's bet is that the all digital book utopia will continue to reside in the future, right where it's been for decades.
Dirty is one not the only, issue, but worth considering. Not even the most sophisticated tablet/iPad/etc, can eliminate the need to bring your sophisticated and costly tablet/iPad/etc. into an environment where there is fire, water, grease, and any number of other things that are not good for electronic device. If your kitchen looks like Thomas Keller's, maybe it's viable, but for the rest of us, it seems like a a dicey proposition.
The predictions the almost always savvy Paula Forbes makes is based on a "future of books" timeline from a website called TechCrunch. It's either a troll contra paper advocates, "The book is, at best, an artifact and at worst a nuisance," or, more charitably, asking a tech blog theabout the futre of text is a little like asking your Zumba instructor what the most popular cardio exercise will be in 2025.
The future Forbes sees for "dead tree" publication is an art object niche:
Achatz, Adria, Blumenthal etc. are the usual suspects here, but predicting a niche this narrow for print cookbooks does not account for how people exchange and use cookbooks. The social relations that are constellated around a cookbook make no sense in a digital realm. A digital cookbook as a wedding gift calls to mind Roast Beef's speculations about how robots have sex; a digital cookbook as heirloom is ridiculous, even if DRM permitted passing the text from mother to son.
The Cod imagines that digital cookbooks will grow -- it would be handy to have access to MTAOFC while you were on a business trip, in case you needed to poach a trout all of a sudden. But they will displace print cookbooks slowly and partially. At the risk of sounding like George Wallace, print today, print tomorrow, print forever. And many thanks to @pennypascal for the Peerless Photoshopping.