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The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food
304 pp., $24.95
A Way of Giving Thanks
"Suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?"
—C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
To Lewis, writing from England in the early 1940s when meat was extremely scarce, the point seemed obvious: it is perverse to admire food that one cannot eat. Today's foodies, however—accustomed to glorious food photos in Bon Appetit and mouth-watering recipe demonstrations on the Food Network—might understand his comment differently. Looking at food is a great deal of fun, but why get excited about a mutton chop or a bit of bacon?
Prosperity has a lot to do with our changed attitude, but it doesn't entirely explain why food has become our luxury of choice, why we spend enormous sums on vast kitchens and then go to pricey restaurants whenever we feel like celebrating; why for fun we pore over cookbooks and browse the Williams-Sonoma catalog and attend wine tastings; why we have become The United States of Arugula, the title of David Kamp's description of the American food revolution of the last fifty years. Many people, of course, have contributed to today's consuming passion. Surprisingly, one of the most important is neither a restaurateur nor a chef nor a food critic. Judith Jones is an editor.
Jones, now 83, still holds the title of senior editor and vice president of the Alfred A. Knopf publishing company, where since 1957 she has worked with such luminaries as John Updike, Langston Hughes, and Anne Tyler. In her twenties Judith lived for several years in France, where one of her jobs was assisting the manager of Doubleday's Paris office. One day a manuscript she was supposed to reject caught her eye, and she began to read. "I couldn't stop," she writes. "All afternoon ...