Consuming criticism

<strong>Table Talk: Sweet and Sour, Salt and Bitter</strong>

A A Gill <em>Weidenfeld & Nicolson,

Few jobs attract more envy than that of the food critic: free food, fine wine, and the rest of the day for deliberation and digestion. Trawling various gastrocrats’ attempts to capture the personality of a lobster bisque, it’s clear that much food writing bears little relation to an everyday function.

A A Gill’s Sunday Times column is a worthy exception, taking a refreshingly broad look at food.

His brash intolerance is bound to alienate, but he goes beyond the forensic dissection of whatever lands on his plate, to consider the meanings and the rituals of dining.

This selection of articles testifies to the diverse range of Gill’s interests. Fine dining has its place, but the more memorable pieces deal with vernacular cuisine: Tex Mex, Starbucks, the Rainforest Cafe. Gill is not above indulging in some articulate sneering when he detects a travesty of good taste.

But he has reserves of curiosity that lead him to places like the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, through which 2,500 tonnes of fish pass every day, the “daily massacre” that places fish at the centre of Japanese life.

At his best, Gill shows how real insight into a culture can be gleaned from the manner in which its food is produced, distributed, prepared and consumed.

Matthew Taunton is a Leverhulme Fellow in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, and is currently working on a book about the cultural resonances of the Russian Revolution in Britain.

This article first appeared in the 19 November 2007 issue of the New Statesman, New best friends?