ANYTHING THAT MOVES: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture. By Dana Goodyear. Riverhead Books. 262 pages. $27.95.
Among the questions most frequently asked of restaurant reviewers, "What's the weirdest thing you ever ate?" hovers pretty close to the top (the other popular questions revolve around weight and money: Apparently when dealing with critics, all etiquette's off.)
My standard response is a spiel about cultural relativism, which interests exactly zero people, so I generally end up mumbling something about bugs and changing the subject. The heroic "unchecked appetite(s)," which Dana Goodyear ably chronicles in her new book, "Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture," strike me as the antithesis of dining, which is supposed to be about shared pleasures.
Goodyear, though, is in no hurry to change the subject. Her book, really a series of essays written in the dispassionate voice she's honed for the New Yorker, hopscotches from weed dinners to balut expeditions to eating tours with Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold, who's at one point described as the guy who had "a lot to do with people eating at restaurants with a C from the health department." For cautious eaters fascinated by what's considered food these days, the book's a bonanza.
But eaters already familiar with the culinary fringes (if you didn't have to look up balut, the boiled duck egg housing a beaked- and feathered-fetus, that's you) may feel shortchanged by Goodyear's safari, which frustratingly doesn't stray far from southern California. She pokes at an interesting topic when she considers the raw milk debate, but doesn't delve deeply enough into the intersection of aesthetics and legislation. She misses chances to explore class when she relates the story of a poor family that barely survives a foraging trip for valuable mushrooms, and gender, in tale after tale of tableside manhood flaunting.
The book doesn't completely bypass the big issues: Goodyear recognizes the irony of wealthy diners paying to eat like peasants, and devotes a fair number of pages to what it means to eat meat. But too much of the well-written prose lingers on the answer to the question, "What's the weirdest thing you ever ate?" without posing the all-important follow-up: "Why?"
Reviewer Hanna Raskin is food writer and restaurant reviewer for The Post and Courier.