One of my favorite food people, Alton Brown, wrote the introduction to “Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork” by Simon Majumdar. In it, Brown wrote something that made me want to read the book: He said Majumdar was smarter than he is. That was enough for me!
A native of England, food writer and Food Network star Majumdar — a regular judge on "Cutthroat Kitchen" and "Iron Chef America" — had a decision to make when he moved to the United States. Would he become a citizen? Part of the answer was figuring out what it meant to be an American. His wife Sybil suggested discovering the answer in a way that made sense for him: “It’s always about the food with you, honey. You should ask Americans to tell you about their food.”
So he set off to look for America's take on food, and “Fed, White and Blue” is the story of what he found. It’s a travelogue and food memoir, one of my favorite hybrid genres. True, I usually like to get lost in pages that take me to Provence or Tuscany, but I loved exploring this book, which defined America through its people, places and cuisines. Here are just a few of them.
- In Maine, Majumdar starts the day on a lobster boat where he catches lobsters, the main ingredient in his dinner of Maine lobster rolls. His description of his first bite of lobster roll from the “slight crisp bite of the outside of the bun” all the way to licking his “fingers clean of the last remnants of mayonnaise” made my stomach growl and my mind start to wonder if I can plan a road trip to Maine this summer just for a lobster roll.
- In Los Angeles, his experience eating ddukbokki (spicy rice cakes), deep-fried chicken gizzards, corn cheese and Korean fried chicken while washing it down with soju (a rice liquor) and beer with the Seoul Sausage boys required three days for him to recover.
- In Overland Park, Kansas, he shared a family’s Shabbat celebration, took part in blessings, and then judged a kosher BBQ competition.
- In Texarkana, Texas, a “shockingly large number” of the city’s population is food insecure, living in a food desert, so he spent time with the Harvest Texarkana food bank. Majumdar helped collect food donations from Walmart and loaded food to be delivered to food pantries. He visited homeless shelters and churches supplied by the food bank. He learned that the food bank takes anything non-perishable donated because “sometimes people are in need of calories first and good calories second.” He also learned that “hunger isn’t just about statistics ... Hunger is about people.”
These four American experiences are only a few of those shared in “Fed, White, and Blue.” By the end of his many meals and visits, Majumdar came to some powerful conclusions about America, the “great land of opportunity and reinvention.”
Did he decide to become a citizen? I’m certainly not going to give that away. You’ll have to read the book. Just be warned. If you’re anything like me, this book will fuel both your appetite and your wanderlust as you travel with Majumdar, finding out what it means to be an American.
Related on MNN:
- 5 summer must-reads for food lovers: My 2015 list
- Books that travel the world, from extreme adventures to contemplative journeys
- 5 must-read biographies about quirky, influential men