Welcome

Here's where you can find links to samples of my writing. I write about food, books, film, and other topics for various publications.

Latest

imageThis review appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers
By Scott Gold; Broadway Books, 355 pages; $24.95.

Reviewed by Miriam Wolf

If the title "My Year of Meats" hadn't already been taken, it would have made a dandy name for Scott Gold's first book. Titled instead "The Shameless Carnivore," Gold's book chronicles his yearlong gonzo journey into the savory heart of meat-eating.

Gold explores the many facets of being carnivorous. He consumes (and often prepares for himself) nearly every edible creature under the sun, from rattlesnake to guinea fowl to kangaroo. His travels take him to the wilds of Montana, where liquored-up bikers and their ladies participate in wet T-shirt contests and eat the bull testicle treat known as Rocky Mountain oysters, to the West Village for dinner at one of New York's best vegetarian restaurants for a peek at how the other half lives. He hunts squirrels with one Leroy Nuckolls in the wilds of his home state of Louisiana. And he indulges in his own nose-to-tail adventure by eating cow brains, heart, feet and tripe.

Gold's writing has a naive tone that works best when he's joyously discovering that he loves the "strong , heady flavor ... that is simultaneously sweet and gamey" of the llama that has soaked up the Cajun flavors of his cross-cultural invention "jamballama" or goading his friends into accompanying him to an Ecuadoran restaurant to sample the roasted rodent known as cuy.

Where that naivete runs aground is in the sections where his inexperience shines through. Although his screw-ups in the kitchen can be endearing, more seasoned cooks and food literature fans will be frustrated by his I'm-learning-as-I-go-along style that often doesn't lead him any deeper into his subject than quoting from the Larousse Gastronomique or Food Lover's Companion. Then there is his tackling of the larger issues surrounding meat-eating. The book is subtitled "A Manifesto for Meat Lovers," and Gold takes his manifesto-creating responsibilities to heart, exhorting us to be discerning and mindful in consuming meat, to choose humanely raised animals and take responsibility for the animals that died so we could eat.

All well and good, but it chafes to be lectured on conscientious consuming by a guy who doesn't know enough not to pick his nose after deveining chiles without gloves. He's all for cloning of meat and genetic manipulation, without acknowledging that reducing the gene pool puts livestock in greater danger from disease. Despite being a "shameless" carnivore, Gold spends a not-small portion of the book addressing vegetarianism and the ethics of eating meat. He declares himself a moral relativist and tries to answer the question "Are Vegetarians the Enemy?" by creating a list of the kinds of vegetarians, complete with made-up Latin translations that haven't been funny since the heyday of Warner Bros. cartoons: "Vegans (Vegetarianus soyburgerus)." Even more irksome, Gold plays a zero-sum game with vegans, calling them "watery-skinned, anemic" and using the sad tale of the death of Crown Shakur - the baby whose parents fed him apple juice and soy milk instead of (equally vegan) breast milk or soy formula - as a stick to beat vegans with. Being a happy carnivore (especially in a country that is overwhelmingly omnivorous) doesn't mean you have to diss those whose dietary preferences are different from yours, a vice Gold attributes to vegetarians but indulges in himself.

Still, my respect for Gold jumped exponentially when I got to the chapter where he kills and butchers a steer. Responding to an ad on Craigslist, he volunteers to help a small farmer with the difficult but necessary task in exchange for some of the meat. He dutifully heads upstate to the farm, where he meets and has a chance to get to know "Ernie" before dispatching him. It is emotionally difficult, not to mention full of blood, frightening sights and smells, and hard work. It's the ultimate act of reconnecting with your source of food; Gold even notes the transition that takes place mid-butchering when Ernie ceases to be a dead animal in his eyes and becomes future steaks.

In an era when the best food writing has the inquiring scholarship of Michael Pollan, the coherent and piercing politics of Marion Nestle, and the raucous humor and obsessive focus of Jeffrey Steingarten, the bar is set pretty high; an ambitious food tome by a first-time author is going to pale in comparison. But "The Shameless Carnivore" does have its pleasures, mainly in witnessing Gold discover the flavors, textures and essence of each new animal or animal part, and how he enthusiastically shares those discoveries (and many fine meals) with his friends.

Miriam Wolf writes about books and food for various publications.

This article appeared on page E - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 2008