Review: Vegetables: A Biography

Review: Vegetables: A Biography

Michele Berger
Published: 03/14/2012

Vegetables: A Biography
By Evelyne Bloch-Dano
The University of Chicago Press
112 pages, $20

“Because vegetables connect us to the earth, to that Mother Earth of whom the ancients spoke, they occupy a very specific place in the history of food, as well as in our imaginations, our myths, our customs, our family heritage.” With that view at its core, Vegetables: A Biography takes root, as writer Evelyne Bloch-Dano profiles 11 plants—the artichoke, tomato, and chili pepper, among them.

Derived from presentations Bloch-Dano made at the Université Populaire du Goût (“the People’s University of Taste”), each chapter eloquently details a single vegetable’s life history and its present-day uses, its flavor profile and its versatility. The minutest of details—that pumpkins can be yellow, blue-gray, dark green or bright red, or that Jerusalem artichokes can be used as fuel after they’re fermented and distilled—elevate these common veggies to a place of floral stardom.

Her chapter about cabbage, of all things, evokes family dinners and unlocks the secrets of the vegetable’s many cousins, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi included. “A vegetable that we have all known forever,” she writes. “That’s what cabbage is: a concentrate of affective memory, a substantial food for the body, but also a vegetable that speaks to us.”

Simply put, Vegetables is a lovely book that makes you feel at once hungry for these plants and satiated by the knowledge you just reaped about them.

A review of Vegetables: A Biography originally ran in the March-April 2012 issue of Audubon.