Right now, at this very moment, I’m sitting at my dining room table and trying to think very hard about The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten, which I finished about a week ago, on the train. Instead, I’m watching the sun sadly cast striped shadows across my bathroom door and feeling a cold breeze lick insistingly at my neck like an ignored and much maligned puppy. I love puppies, but this is not one I feel like indulging. I’m going to wrap my favorite scarf around myself instead and pretend I’m in Belize.
But enough with the procrastinating…
I’m a casual reader of Vogue, which means that while I don’t subscribe it is one of the first magazines I reach for at the newsstand. Once it’s in my hands, I almost automatically run my thumb down the table of contents, looking for Mr. Steingarten’s contribution.
The Man Who Ate Everything is an anthology of essays on topics ranging from what we need to eat to live to non-fat butter to microwave cookery. Mr. Steingarten covers these topics and more with a terrific sense of humor and formidable energy — the man takes the concept of research to a new level, acquiring thirty-five different varieties of ketchup and taking notes on each one’s cost, flavor and contents. It’s utterly fascinating, though I was the most excited to read the pieces towards the end of the book, where Mr. Steingarten writes about the foods consumed on his travels; this section is appropriately named “Journey of a Thousand Meals.” Here the writing is far more lyrical than when Mr. Steingarten describes the hydrazines in mushrooms or high-density lipoproteins, and for good reason — miso from Kyoto and barbecue from Memphis is leagues more lyrical than anything else related to food that I can think of right now, right now being 4.24 in the afternoon on a Thursday in January. Ask me again tomorrow; I might have something then.
My absolute favorite part of The Man Who Ate Everything comes from the chapter entitled “Hail Cesare!”, in which Mr. Steingarten truffle-hunts in Piemonte. There he meets a professional truffle hunter, or trifulau, whose wonderful-sounding dog Lola is his aide.
“‘My dream,’ Bernardo told us, ‘is to see, together in one place, all the truffles I have found in my lifetime.'”
How lovely a thought is that, to imagine seeing the produce of years of work amassed in front of you? I’m someone enamored with the idea of looking back, of seeing what we have done, what we have seen, what we have touched, thought, smelled, eaten. This small collection of words, and Mr. Steingarten’s larger collection of words exemplifies precisely that.