Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World

by Gina Mallet
ISBN: 0771056532

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A Review of: Last Chance To Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World
by Brian Fawcett

Gina Mallet has written a wonderfully crabby-and timely-memoir Last Chance To Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World. Mallet was the Toronto Star's much feared drama critic during the 1970s and the early 1980s, and has since had stints writing perceptive restaurant reviews for the Globe and Mail. Her approach to restaurant reviewing acknowledges that people actually drink wine and talk during meals. From that I understood that she clearly loves and understands good food. This book takes my regard for her into a higher dimension.
She has some firm ideas about what does and doesn't constitute good foods. But somehow, the book's title, which seems more like a marketer's than her own, is slightly misleading. This is much more a memoir of what constitutes good eating than a polemic against factory-produced food stuffs or the corporate/government conspiracy to permanently disable our tastebuds. Oh, the polemic is there in the book, and it is both articulate and sensible-and it is backed by convincing evidence that we have been assaulted by culinary cretins and over-zealous health Nazis for more than half a century. But when it comes to food, Mallet is a better lover than a fighter.
This book is a marvelous thing, and so is Mallet at the dinner table: a feisty, articulate woman in the midst of a lifelong feast. I learned more about why today's eggs, cheese, and meat are devoid of flavour from Mallet than from the dozen or so other books I've read on the subject. Probably because she can not only explain why, say, most Bries now taste like chalk, she can also make you taste Brie as it should be tasted. Only very fine writers can do this, and it puts her in a very exclusive and small group of food writers. Virtually everything else that lands on her gourmet plate in this book is enlivened by those rare skills. She's not always 100 percent correct, but she's always 100 percent interesting, even on the tricky-for-Eastern-seaborders subject of Japanese cuisine.
Throughout the book she makes a useful distinction between nutritional commodities-fuel-and food, which for her lies somewhere between culture and art. It's a useful distinction, and not just because Mallet's combination of passion and astuteness enables her to build a convincing rhetorical framework for it. Because of the topical constraint the editors force on her, the book isn't perfect. There are some oddities in the book, like her strange admiration for Martha Stewart, who is-or was-as much about dcor as about food, and wasn't an adequate replacement for the late Julia Child even before she went to jail. Still, each of the dozen or so recipes dotted throughout literally beg you to taste them, and the several I've tried were remarkable. Great read, great food, a truly feisty feast, and one of my favourite recent books in any category.

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