I want to start out by saying I remember really liking Jeffrey Steingarten’s first book The Man Who Ate Everything. I was looking forward finally to getting to his second.
As with the first book, It Must Have Been Something I Ate: The Return of the Man Who Ate Everything is a collection of Steingarten’s essays on the subject of food, spanning the 90s into the early 200s. Again, as with the first collection, many of the essays in It Must Have Been Something I Ate are full of both research and snark. I was expecting strong opinions, backed up by a lot of academic and expert-driven research (mostly). The research is often what keeps Steingarten from becoming (for me at least) an outright jack***. The only problem is that even with the recipes and source locations provided, outside of New York City, the average reader is likely to have an extreme amount of difficulty procuring the ingredients and, in some cases, the equipment.
What was not so expected was the mean-spirited and elitist attitude in the first third of the book. For example in the essay “Fear of Formaggio”, the essay opens and closes with the author lecturing a woman who avoids dairy, but in the sermon in between the tone is as nasty as the ignorance he attributes to people who follow dietary fads. In “Addicted to Losing” he laments the then very recent ban on the weight-loss drug combo Fen-Phen. He criticizes the research that was used to suggest that the combination might cause heart damage, and then decides to pursue the drugs on his own by going to Mexico. There is also a passing reference to this in a later essay on how to replicate a perfect taco which ruined the second essay for me too. I do understand the frustrations of losing weight, which must be especially hard for someone whose business is food. What really bothered me about this essay in particular was the apparent utter lack of consideration of other (more natural) means of dieting, like exercise or smaller portions. For a final example, in “Thailand” the phrase “I am contemplating a race-change operation…” appears early on. It seems like an attempt to compliment the appearance of the native Thai people, but the suggestion is still off-putting.
Later essays were a welcome return to the Steingarten I remembered. Most of these were not based on personal beliefs as many of the early problematic essays are; rather, they are mini-ethnographies and recipe/ingredient research and reviews. One of my favorite moments in these was in a piece title “Coq au vin” in which Steingarten recounts his attempt to replicate an especially memorable version of the French classic that he had in Oxford, England. In this essay, he apologizes to CrockPots, having discovered that the slow-cookers are in fact very useful in achieving a good modern version of the eponymous chicken stew.
Overall, I would recommend reading Steingarten’s first book over this one. Starting with this one is likely to cause a reader unfamiliar with the author to toss the book away in disgust after the first few essays. But if you are already a fan of Steingarten, then you can go ahead and read this volume. Just remember, that the classic Steingarten does return, so either skip the first several essays or take them with a grain of salt (a topic of an early essay “Salt Chic”), knowing that it gets better later on.