Consumption and the Literary Cookbook. Edited by Roxanne Harde and Janet Wesselius. Routledge, 2021. 254 pp. $160 (hardcover), $48.95 (ebook).
In the edited collection Consumption and the Literary Cookbook, Roxanne Harde and Janet Wesselius define literary cookbooks as books with cooking instructions that "blend generic conventions and plait gastronomy with narrative" (3). This broad definition includes a group of cookbooks that represent the foods of fictional worlds, such as Alice Eats: A Wonderland Cookbook and The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook, examined in Wesselius's contribution to the collection (15-26), and the cookbook based on the HBO series Treme, examined in Harde's essay (216-227). Literary cookbooks can also be conventional cookbooks with significant narrative elements, such as Ronni Lundy's Victuals: An Appalachian Journey with Recipes, published in 2016 (examined in Stacy Sivinski's essay, 190-202) just as easily as they can be unpublished nineteenth-century manuscript cookbooks (Avery Blankenship, 177189). The term literary cookbook also applies to food memoirs, such as Pat Mora's House of Houses (Meline Kasparian, 41-51) and Michael Twitty's The Cooking Gene (Brita Thielen, 64-76), as well as novels such as Monique Truong's Book of Salt (Shuyin Yu, 52-63) and the Broadway musical Waitress (Allison Kellar, 149-60). What binds these primary texts together under the umbrella of literary cookbook is their ability to connect the imaginative world of narrative and text to the embodied experience of cooking and consumption. Readers can participate physically and intellectually in the stories they read through cooking and eating with the instructions literary cookbooks provide.
Consumption is a key unifying factor of the collection, encompassing the literal consumption of food, the economic consumption of texts as goods, the figurative consumption of story and information. The collection is divided into three parts: "Textual Consumption," "Consumption and Community," and "Cultural Consumption." All the essays in Part One are about cookbooks connected in some way to another narrative text like a novel or memoir, establishing the basic definition of the literary cookbook as intertextual, genre-bending, and boundary-crossing. These essays question the utility of dividing texts that are easily categorized as "literary" from cookbooks, which some readers still resist classifying as literature. Each examines the implications of fictional worlds spreading beyond the pages of their original texts for readers to consume their favorite stories and characters in new ways that are not strictly possible without the interactive scripts provided by recipe text.
Part Two, "Consumption and Community," is less about the relationship between texts and more about the relationships between readers/ users and texts/authors. The essays examine how the text of cookbooks gives evidence of the practices of communities or how cookbooks create imagined communities of readers. Interestingly, though-none of the cookbooks in this unit are what we call community cookbooks. They are all commercially published and canonical texts such as Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Caroline Barta, 93-106) and Peg Bracken's classic I Hate to Cook Book (Katherine Kittredge 120-133). Barta argues that Child's cookbook hails an audience of "Servantless Cooks" who come to see themselves not as kitchen drudges but as a creative, cultured, and empowered community consuming the same book (105). The essays suggest that readers may consume cookbooks as imaginative literary texts while simultaneously consuming recipes as instructions for performing identity and community.
Part Three, "Consuming Culture," focuses on the potential for cookbooks and cooking narratives to make space for voices that might not make it into our history books or common knowledge--from nineteenth-century hired cooks (Blankenship) to the ancestors of slaves (Nicole Stamant's analysis of Edna Lewis's cookbooks, 203), New Orleans fusion chefs (Harde) to innovative residents of Appalachia (Sivinksi). These cookbooks represent cultural objects that can be consumed as economic goods in the marketplace or as cultural performances in the kitchen.
Harde and Wesselius-and the contributors in this volume-make a convincing argument that writers of literary cookbooks are self-consciously engaged in a kind of play. In Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman define play on its most basic level as "free movement within a more rigid structure" (304). The conventions of the cookbook genre may appear at first glance to be too rigid for much variation, but the expansive corpus of texts examined in Consumption and the Literary Cookbook shows that significant literary expression, creativity, artistry, and cultural work are being done in the choices that writers make as they subvert and conform to conventions of genre.
The diversity of the collection is perhaps best represented by Erin MacWilliam's essay, "Taste in Question: Recipes and Subjectivity in Martha Stewart Living, goop, and the Early Printed Cookbooks of Hannah Glasse and Ann Cook" (161-176). MacWilliam's analysis draws a historical connection between eighteenth-century household manuals with recipes and the twenty-first century lifestyle empires of Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow. The essay represents the genres of conventional cookbooks, magazines, television shows, and blogs to discuss the implications of making the domestic and private work of cultivating a "lifestyle" into a public action of exchanging the cultural capital of "taste." The breadth of time, geography, genre, and authorial identity covered in this collection is reminiscent of Consumption and the Literary Cookbook's foremothers: Anne Bower's collection Recipes for Reading: Community Cookbooks, Stories, Histories (University of Massachusetts Press, 1997) and Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster's The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions (University of Nebraska, 2003; Routledge, 2017). This new collection is a welcome addition to these oft-cited and groundbreaking texts.
Consumption and the Literary Cookbook contributes new insight into the intersection of literary studies and food studies. The collection is a wide-ranging meditation on the cookbook as an object for literary and cultural study. Each contributor brings a primary text for analysis that expands and complicates the understanding of what is literary and what is a cookbook. Together, they demonstrate a framework for applying recognizable literary theories and analytical methods to texts that have been on the margins of what is considered eligible for the status of literature. The essays are brief (most running ten to fifteen pages) and appropriate for both students and scholars. Perhaps the greatest contribution of the collection is simply more variations on the recipe for doing scholarship at the intersection of literary and food studies.
Carrie Helms Tippen
Carrie Helms Tippen is assistant professor of English at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches courses in American Literature. She is the author of Inventing Authenticity: How Cookbook Writers Redefine Southern Identity (University of Arkansas Press, 2018) and host of the New Books in Food podcast on the New Books Network. Her new book project examines the rhetorical function of stories of pain and pleasure in the cookbook genre. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.