If you’ve ever heard comedian Jim Gaffigan’s standup routine, you’ve heard him riff on two of his favorite topics: his laziness and his love of food. The New York Times best-selling author of “Dad Is Fat” (Three Rivers Press, 2013), which was about living in Manhattan in a two-bedroom apartment with his wife and five children, has finally come out with a book about his favorite topic.
In “Food: A Love Story” (Crown Publishing, Oct. 21, 2014), the comedian who made his name joking about microwaveable Hot Pockets and his hatred of vegetables has managed to write an insightful -- and hilarious -- book about Americans’ unhealthy relationship to food.
Although it might look at first glance as if Gaffigan is merely offering his junk food anti-thesis to the foodie thesis offered by the Michael Pollans and Anthony Bourdains of the world, “Food: A Love Story” finds Gaffigan providing more of an overview of prosperous Americans’ strange relationship to food, casting an ironic and comic eye both on foodies, who “seem to be on a never-ending search for new restaurants and interesting dishes,” and people like himself, an "eatie" who admires foodies but is too lazy to be one and for whom “the meal isn’t over ... until I feel sick.”
The book is divided into sections about foods he loves but still manages to lampoon, with titles like "Gyro: The 'Last Call' Meat" and "Bacon: The Candy of Meat," along with paragraph-long sections that eye fast-food joints like Subway:
[I] still go to Subway, and not just because it's fun watching a clinically depressed person throw together my sandwich. You'd think they'd do it with a little bit of flair. I'm not expecting the enthusiasm of a Benihana chef, but it's always a little awkward while they sloppily slap the ingredients onto the bun. I usually stand there wishing the sneeze guard were facing the other way as I watch them do everything in those plastic CSI gloves. Those plastic gloves are always a little suspicious because they're wearing them before they even start on my sandwich. 'Let me just ring up this other guy's order, tie up this garbage bag, scoop up these heroin needles. ... Now, what type of triangle of cheese would you like on your sub?'... If you prefer your cheese melted, you can get your sandwich heated up in the crumb-filled toaster oven it appears someone stole from a dorm room. ... Subway is another place that shows you how lazy we've gotten in our society. I can understand the appeal of fast-food burgers and fries. Who has the time to make a burger? Who has a deep fryer? But we are too lazy to make a sandwich? I could make a sandwich at home for like 20 cents, or I could watch this sociopath make it.
Gaffigan ranges over his targets in a loose and random fashion, much like his standup. One chapter called "Cup of Gravy" details his encounter with a man in his 70s at a Kmart wandering around taking sips of the gravy normally reserved for KFC mashed potatoes. Another chapter takes on what he calls "the new American Manifest Destiny," or "the ongoing public desire for innovation and variety" in our food represented by "a potato chip that tastes like steak and Jim Beam jalapeno-flavored sunflower seeds."
Although Gaffigan definitely talks about Americans' obesity problem -- "Maybe our country couldn't handle the post-World War II financial boom. Maybe we are just better than all the other countries at eating"-- and America's recent love affair with kale --"it tastes like bitter spinach with hair"-- it's clear that ultimately, Gaffigan is a meat-and-potatoes guy.
But if news out of San Francisco is any indication, his particular brand of exasperation with foodie culture might be a sign of things to come. The tide may be turning against foodies and their precious preoccupations with wild-crafted, artisanal, cold-pressed and cage-free foods. On Sept. 19, a day that will live in foodie infamy, the owner of San Francisco restaurant SO abruptly closed his doors and pasted an angry message over his windows in response to picky customers that read: "We are closed because of you [customers]. Yes we use MSG [monosodium glutamate]. We don't believe in organic food. And ... don't give a s--- about gluten-free." And in a perverse fit of solidarity, the popular Mission Chinese restaurant decided to leave salt shakers filled with MSG out on their tables as a rebuke against alarmists who say it's unhealthy.
"I am ... way too lazy to be a foodie," Gaffigan wrote. "I just don't need a Japanese taco or cranberry sauce on my steak. There is plenty of regular food I still want to enjoy. I wish it were more complicated than that, but it's not."
â€” Mission Chinese Food (@Missionstfood) October 3, 2014