Book 28 of 52: A Short History of the American Stomach by Frederick Kaufman

I wanted to like Frederick Kaufman’s A Short History of the American Stomach. I really did. How could I not? I write about health and fitness, and I think a lot about our country’s love/hate relationship with food. It’s hard to ignore it when you consider that 66 percent of American adults are obese or overweight, yet every woman staring at you from a magazine cover is impossibly, photo shopped thin.

But I thought there might be a problem with the book when I opened it because of one factor and one factor only: the font size.

This is a generously spaced book. The font size is on par with those of young adult novels (it reminded me of Spanking Shakespeare, which was book 3 of 52). A lot of the quotes aren’t included in paragraphs but broken apart from the narrative. For example, say this block you’re reading right now was a portion of the book.

The quote would be hung out to dry like this.

And the narrative would continue on. It’s not uncommon to see blocks of longer quotes in books, but some of the blocked out quotes were only a sentence long, and some pages has two, even three of them, each.

My instincts were right: this is an unfocused book. What I hoped would be an intense study of food culture is intead a glossing over. There’s little about Kosher diets, and almost nothing about veganism. I expected at least something about anorexia and bulemia, and got nothing exept how the Puritans embraced it. Even in parts where Kaufman could have delved into modern examples of the binge/fast split — like a food eating contest — his descriptions are short and bland.

And I have to question the accuracy of the book, too. Toward the end, Kaufman writes: “I had even examined the social elements of pumpkin mania and could have told the story of the dedicated pumpkin hobbyist who had watered and manured an Atlantic Giant until it weighed more than 1300 pounds. A world record.” Anyone who’s read Backyard Giants: The Passionate, Heartbreaking, and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever or read anything about giant pumpkin growing knows that the world champion weight is over 1500 pounds — and has been since 2006 (and even the 2005 winner was over 1400 pounds).

I struggled to finish the book. I’m not sure I would have made it through if I didn’t have a review assigned (and I struggled with that, too).

If you have an interest in this topic, I suggest picking up David Kamp’s The United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold Pressed, Dark Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution. Even though it doesn’t try to tackle the binge/fast topic, it does cover more about the evolution of the American menu, and it’s a well researched, interesting and fun read. It’ll take a lot longer to munch through than A Short History of the American Stomach, but, then again, with the way this book is spaced, just about every other grown up book will.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Anonymous on February 4, 2008 at 8:59 am

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