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Sustenance & Desire - Cookbook Review

A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor

by Bascove

(David R Godine, 2004)

Sustenance & Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology Of Sensuality & Humor by Bascove

For a book entitled Sustenance & Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor, it's a no brainer to open with a piece by M.F.K. Fisher. While we're great fans of Fisher's counterparts, such as Elizabeth David and Patience Gray, none had the voluptuousness that set her apart, which is probably why their writing, although lovely, is not found in this volume. Fisher described food the way others describe love and sex — on that note, we appreciate her included "Why Do You Write About Food?" essay, but we were disappointed that her "Borderland," about saving the "kiss" of a tangerine for her first husband Al, wasn't in here.

This isn't to say we found the book disappointing. Not in the least. It's beautiful. Although not a picture book, it features a series of food-related paintings by its editor, Bascove. Those readers of Italo Calvino and Robertson Davies will recognize her signature style, for along with being exhibited around the globe, she has been a cover art illustrator for years. Her still lifes — of eggplants, melon and peaches, and artichokes and leeks—are evocative. They remind us why in this microwave-friendly era we are seeing a renaissance of heirloom vegetables and farmers markets.

Sustenance & Desire is well compiled, beginning with Bascove's choices by Pablo Neruda ("Artichokes") and Czeslaw Milosz ("A Confession"). Both men are earthy poets, and very few can match them when it comes to writing about common aspects of daily life with such acuity and unfussy grace. Divided into sections whose titles can just as easily be related to amour as they can to gastronomy — Nourishment, Desire, Hunger and Sustenance — the book spans centuries, cultures and styles. As the subtitle suggests, humor is represented, but we feel that might simply have been an excuse to include the brilliant Roy Blount, Jr. and Calvin Trillin.

On these pages you will read about U.S Commodities canned food by our old friend Sherman Alexi, tea (of course) by Matsuo Basho and Indian take-out by Jhumpa Lahiri. Those who love name-dropping will adore the table of contents, which is a who's who of literary greatness, from Colette to Allen Ginsberg to Barbara Kingsolver. Because of the universal scope of the contributions, loving food is not the only prerequisite for enjoying this book. To really get the most out of these pages, you must understand that food is life itself. As Laurie Colwin wrote, "One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends."

Reviewed by Kim Fay




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