Synopsis: New York is not a city for growing and manufacturing food. Its a money and real estate city, with less naked earth and industry than high-rise glass and concrete. Yet in this intimate, visceral, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman introduces the people of New York City – both past and present – who do grow vegetables, butcher meat, fish local waters, cut and refine sugar, keep bees for honey, brew beer, and make wine. In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow. Whats more, Shulman artfully places todays urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are.
In these pages meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket. And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees making a mysteriously red honey. Get to know Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the waters off Coney Island to make curried stews for her family. Meet the creators of the sickly sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand grew out of Prohibition; and Jacob Ruppert, who owned a beer empire on the Upper East Side, as well as the New York Yankees.
Eat the City is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time. Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.
Of course, hundreds of years ago, most food and drink consumed by New Yorkers was grown and produced within what are now the five boroughs. Yet people rarely realize that long after New York became a dense urban agglomeration, innovators, traditionalists, migrants and immigrants continued to insist on producing their own food. This book shows the perils and benefitsand the ironies and humorwhen city people involve themselves in making what they eat.
Food, of course, is about hunger. We eat what we miss and what we want to become, the foods of our childhoods and the symbols of the lives we hope to lead. With wit and insight, Eat the City shows how in places like New York, people have always found ways to use their collective hunger to build their own kind of city.
First Line: One day when I was seventeen, I turned onto my Manhattan block to see a man sitting on my stoop, his stringy brown hair falling into his face as he leaned forward to focus on the need he was sticking into his arm.
Random Quote: During World War II, regular Americans all over the country grew more than 40 percent of the nation’s fresh vegetables themselves in victory gardens. Cabbages and corn poked out of the plaza of Rockefeller Center, bushy greens took over backyards, and some people even commuted to other boroughs to plant and weed and harvest. The Jacob Buppert Brewery on the Upper East Side ran advertisements urging, “Remember, ‘V’ stands for Vegetables … and for Victory.”
Despite all of that, regular people continue to garden, keep bees, brew beer, make wine, learn to butcher like my Uncle Shed did, hunt and gather, fish, and use all of these ongoing activities to build community and feed their families fresh and healthy food, particularly in places where none of that is available. Eat the City tells the New York side of this story. Spotlighting modern individuals and weaving the history of the city and its industries throughout, the book is unputdownable. The absolute second that I finished it, I wanted to read it all over again.
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