Book review by Michael Flamini

A.W. Logue has written a fine textbook, well established for the academic market, dealing with what goes on in our heads when we encounter food and drink. I am not a professor but rather an enthusiastic home cook. Therefore, I’m happy to wade through the book’s textbookishness to make the acquaintance of Alexandra Logue, a psychologist who clearly understands the power and importance of eating and drinking in a way that appeals outside the classroom as well as in.

At first blush, Dr. Logue might seem an odd duck to write such a book because she confesses to a wide variety of food aversions. To her credit, she hilariously owns up to them in a travelogue of her trip to Japan with her son. You see, she does not like fish, and that pretty much left out most Japanese specialties, causing her to return home lighter than when she left. Her gustatory aversions, though, may make her the perfect escort through the world of food and human psychology. They seem to make her more objective when confronted with the plat du jour than those of us who swoon at the mention of anything on a plate. At the beginning of her wonderful and essential The Psychology of Eating and Drinking, she writes, “on a recent day I used a stopwatch to record how much total time I spent thinking about or touching food. My total was four hours and thirty-three minutes and I’m not any more obsessed with food than is the average person.” Well, I’m the first to admit that I’m obsessed with food, and anyone who takes note of how much she thinks about food all day long is okay by me. That, combined with her embrace of evolutionary theory at a time when people would like to turn back the clock on real science, predisposed me to her at once.

Be advised that much of the book dwells on, should I say, the “darker” side of eating and drinking: obesity, anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism, and other disorders. All of Logue’s chapters on these important subjects are well informed and not prey to some of the hocus pocus that passes these days for social science. While I respect these chapters, I love cooking and, therefore, tend to favor the lighter side of the book, focusing more on chapter fifteen, which deals with cuisine. As I read her book for this review, I was preparing a winter dinner party for eight, the focus of which was a grand choucroute complete with sausages, smoked pork, and a steaming pot of well-seasoned sauerkraut. As I read and cooked, I wondered what Dr. Logue would bring to such a table. As it happens, she can be a genial guide to what goes on at a dinner party and brings more to the event than a bunch of flowers or a bottle of wine. First, she gives you a context for understanding the food you’re cooking. In a fine discussion of culture and food preferences that focuses on the work of Elizabeth Rozin, I finally understood the oddly Germanic dish I was preparing and how it came to be a French staple. The book also has a fine chapter dealing solely with women and their reactions to food. If only I had read that chapter’s pages dealing with the early stages of pregnancy, I would have understood the reaction of the female half of a married couple when I put the steaming platter of pork down in front of her. Instead of thinking that one of my foodiest friends was turning green because she was unhappy with the Alsatian dish, I would have understood that, in the early stages of pregnancy, 25 percent of women are averse to high-fat foods. If I only had Alexandra Logue at my side, I might have guessed that my friend and her husband found out they were soon to be three that very afternoon.

In a way, A. W. Logue’s The Psychology of Eating and Drinking is a wonderful companion to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. While McGee tells us how to get the skin of a turnkey crackling crisp, A. W. Logue tells us why such a dish evokes certain biological as well as psychological responses. I would love to invite her to dinner and encourage her to delve more deeply into the lighter side of food and why so many of us enjoy it. My own gastronomical adventurousness would make me encourage her to meet her food aversions head-on and devour life’s banquet. The table would abound with plenty of things she’d like, but I’d start her off with a little plate of tuna carpaccio, just to get the conversation rolling.

Review by Michael Flamini, New York, NY
Gastronomica, Winter 2006, pp. 104-105.