The Nasty Bits: Book Review

>> Friday, April 2, 2010

(image from Courier Journal)

Now, before you read my review -- you should definitely go check out the growing list of posts Foodie Book Club members have written about Bourdain's The Nasty Bits. It was certainly an interesting read to kick off the Foodie Book Club. I found myself laughing out loud at points and grimacing at others. Seriously, the man's descriptions of food -- but also of people and places -- kept me on my toes throughout the collection of essays and articles. The picture he paints in my mind of a fast food hamburger -- a "soggy disk of ground-up assholes and elbows" (sorry, mom!) -- is definitely raw. And I think we can all agree that's what his writing does best: Propels his image as the quintessential bad-ass cook from NYC.

Back to this ground-up elbows mess. The particular selection I've quoted above comes from an early section titled "The Evildoers" . . . where the whole fast food main chains comes up for debate. I completely agree with Bourdain's view that we should "whenever possible try to eat food that comes from somewhere, from somebody." And what I like best about his argument is that he shows how not all "fast food" is inherently bad. In fact, across the globe, people are enjoying quick bites on street corners. Slurps from noodle bowls on docks. Good food from humble and appreciative entrepreneurs. Yes. That's the best part -- most of this street food is prepared fresh by the person behind the counter (or hot dog stand, etc.). With fresh ingredients. Most of the food is also healthy.

I continued on with my quest to finish the book in time to find myself angry only a few sections later. The selection entitled "Are You a Crip or a Blood?" centers around the slow food revolution, featuring local, sustainable ingredients. I, myself, am interested in eating more locally -- at least striving toward a good balance, not only to support our local farmers, but also to eat seasonally and avoid all the crap dumped on food from far away places (you know, the stuff that makes their shelf lives longer). Bourdain seems to have mixed feelings on this topic.

He writes: "I always liked to think of myself as a Blood. Having recently traveled the world, often to very poor countries where being a Crip is not an option, I was enchanted again and again by cooks making fresh, vibrant, hearty, and soulful meals, often with very little in the way of resources."

However, a page or so later, he states: "Though I use the New York foie gras for pan-seared, I will continue to order the Fresh for terrine. My Arborio rice will come from Italy, my beans for cassoulet from Tarbes. Because they're better." And I can certainly understand that. he's a chef after all. OK. I'm good with that. But then he continues on to write: "When those cute little baby eels from Portugal are available again, I'll be ordering them; who cares if there'll be none left for the Portuguese?" I mean, is he being sarcastic? Sometimes I'm bad at reading sarcasm. I just think -- either way -- it was a jerk statement.

But that's also what I like about his writing. It's -- again -- raw. And it's what we ultimately love about reading his books and watching his TV show. Bourdain doesn't care if he offends (and he offends vegetarians and vegans often!). And he will never apologize. It's just not rock 'n roll.

Anyway, I didn't stay angry for long. I agreed with most of what he was saying, really. Staying with local ingredients is great. Actually, if you're able to craft fine cuisine using what's available, you're even doing "God's work." Wow. What I decided after reading this chapter -- something that's larger than the book itself -- is that I want to cook up some meals using completely local produce. And ASAP! So, my book review will be accompanied by a recipe as soon as I can get myself to our local farmers market. (Are you interested in this topic, too? Here's some more information I have found helpful.)

I also found myself enjoying Bourdain's commentary on the pieces at the end of the book. As a former writing major (I have a BA in expository writing), I can share his sentiments. For example, as he read back over the first piece ("System D" -- you know, where we learned about squeezing the blood out of filet mignons), he said it made "[him] kind of sad" because he was "yearning for something . . . [he] suspected [he'd] never get back." Of course, he's referring to his bad-ass life as a cook. The life he alludes to throughout. Now that he's a celebrated TV personality and author, it's harder for him to get back to his roots.

Anyway, I like these comments on his own writing because I've experienced similar emotions, feelings after reading my own works, if you can call them that.

Overall, I'd say if you haven't read the book (and, in all honesty, I am still reading it -- I haven't started the fiction section yet), it'd a good one to put on your summer reading list. Bourdain's descriptions never disappoint. And his opinions definitely rouse discussions (both with yourself and with others) about food, life, and everything else you can imagine.

I'm looking forward to moving on, though. Our next book in the first rotation is A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. If you'd like to read more about this book -- as well as May's selection -- go check out this post. If you're a procrastinator, like me, you may not have added your review of The Nasty Bits to the link love list yet. You can do so over at this post.

Interested in joining the club? I've received some emails. I'll be posting a new sign-up sheet soon, but for some reason I can't get the link list to work right now. Please leave your name, blog, and whatever else in the comments :)

And here are the members that took part in our first month! Thanks again for all your help and support!

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