6 · Not on the Label

It isn’t often you can say “This book changed my life,” but Felicity Lawrence’s Not on the Label did. Since reviewing it here in July, I’ve been to Tesco no more than half a dozen times: we’re getting a veg box delivered to our door by a local organic producer instead. So our diet has changed, at least: more cabbage, more carrots, more scrubbing away dirt; and I’m reading more new recipes than I had been for quite a while. The other night I even donned rubber gloves to peel and grate four fresh beetroots to make a garish red risotto. Try doing that with a jar of Baxter’s finest.

I read a couple of other food-related books around that time. The first was Jeffrey Steingarten’s collection of columns and articles, The Man Who Ate Everything. With that provenance it was a bit hit and miss, but some chapters were excellent—particularly his debunking of the notion that because total fat consumption should be moderated in one’s diet, everything you eat should contain little or none (is there anything more pointless than a fat-free brownie?). Steingarten’s travel tales of truffle-hunting in Italy also left me hungry, while his tales of chip-frying left me horse. (The best frites are made with graisse de cheval, apparently.)

I lost my appetite more than once reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, a rollicking confessional account of what really goes on in a restaurant. It was great entertainment, even if it left me wary of Monday-night menus and dishes covered in sauce. If you’re planning on reading it, avoid the copy at Edinburgh City Library: the whole thing has been annotated by a militant vegan. Bourdain’s heat-blistered hands and profligate drug-taking drew nary a pencilled-in peep, but when it came to foie gras and sushi, boy, did they tell him. Me, anyway.