Dana Goodyears new book, about being a wallflower at the American food orgy, won me over on its second page. Thats where she admits that, as a kid in the back of the family station wagon, she used to nibble on Milk-Bone dog biscuits. Im not sure why this image lit up my pleasure sensors. These Scooby snacks were, she writes, tastier than you might expect.
Beginnings and endings are important. The last page of Goodyears book Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture is hard to forget, too. Its an upchuck scene in slow motion, the start of a wet heave. Its as if her psyche and stomach were rebelling, finally, after the onslaught of harrowing foods (bugs, guts, blood, ox penis) to which she has subjected them.
Goodyear is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and a poet, and the possessor of a gentle, almost demure prose style. Todays best-known food writers tend to be noisy boys; her soothing sentences are a balm. Like the shy girl in the back of class whose occasional whispered utterances are masterpieces of marinated snark, she gets off a lot of vivid observations.
Anything that Moves is an eyes-wide-open exploration of the foodie avant-garde; Goodyear sets out to meet the people who are stretching our notions of what is edible. Theres a Caligula-like decadence to the proceedings. To look at the food for sale in our best restaurants, youd think that our civilization had peaked and collapsed; what we see on our plates is a post-apocalyptic free-for-all of crudity and refinement.
The phrase that comprises this books title anything that moves used to be an insult when applied to another cultures ostensibly filthy eating habits. Now it is a foodie-to-foodie brag, Goodyear notes, used to celebrate unchecked appetite.
At heart, this book is a series of profiles, some of which originally appeared in The New Yorker. She hangs out with the scruffy Los Angeles food god Jonathan Gold, the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, a Falstaffian biker type who almost single-handedly upended our notions of what tasty means. He has a lot to do with people eating at restaurants with a C from the health department, one avid eater tells her.
Where are our appetites leading us? After centuries of perfecting the ritual of civilized dining, there is a furious backpedaling, a wilding, Goodyear writes. We are becoming nerd-savages.
She quotes one big eater who sums up my conflicted avidity: If this is the end of the world, give me a fork and a knife.