Friday, December 27, 2013
Jeffrey Pilcher is the Minnesota Author in the Spotlight here on Book Snob during the fabulous month of December. If you are a foodie, (isn't everyone a foodie?) you need to read this interview about Jeffrey's book, Planet Taco. Jeffrey has a cool job where he gets to teach food history classes to University students. Read on to learn more about this intellectual and fascinating book that details the history of Mexican food.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a professional historian and a foodie. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make a career writing about something I love.
2. What inspired you to write to Planet Taco, A Global History of Mexican Food?
Twenty years ago I wrote my Ph.D. dissertation about the history of Mexican food, but I didn’t stop to think that Mexican American food had a place in the story. It turns out I was wrong, and this is my attempt to explain why we should worry less about whether food is authentic and more about whether it tastes good.
3. How did you decide what cities and places to travel to and write about in your book?
Social scientists will tell you that careful research design is crucial to the success of any project, but
to be perfectly honest, this book came about pretty randomly. Wherever I happened to be traveling, I looked for tacos. It turned out they were everywhere, but not always what I expected.
4. Do you have a favorite type of Mexican food? If so, what is it and why?
Mexican food varies tremendously from one region to the next, just like Italian or Chinese foods. Some of my favorites are the Mediterranean-inspired seafoods of Veracruz, the rich indigenous mole sauces of Oaxaca, and the pozoles of the West Coast. But anywhere you go in Mexico you can find amazing cooks.
5. Do you have a recipe you can share with us?
I make a very simple guacamole: just chop up a tomato, some onion (I cook it because my girlfriend doesn’t like raw onion; it’s not authentic, but that’s okay), a chile serrano, cilantro, and at the last minute, mash up the avocado and mix it in. The beauty of Mexican food is that it doesn’t have to be fancy to be really good.
6. Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?
I started writing fiction in high school, but the stories were pretty forgettable. With the history of food, I definitely found my voice.
7. Tell us a little bit about the other books you have written.
I’ve written two other books on Mexican food. ¡Que vivan los tamales! (my dissertation) looks at the history of Mexican food from a national perspective. I tell the story of the encounter between indigenous maize and European wheat. My second book, The Sausage Rebellion, looks at meatpacking in Mexico City, sort of like Upton Sinclair’s classic, The Jungle. It was fun to write once I decided to approach it like a noir detective story. I wrote a very brief book called Food in World History. For every chapter, I tried to cook foods from the time and place I was writing about. The recipes for medieval Arab cuisine reminded me a lot of Mexican cooking. My one non-food book was a biography of the Mexican movie star Cantinflas.
Do you like to read? What authors or books influence you?
I read so much professionally that I rarely have much time or energy for anything beyond the newspaper and The New Yorker. To get away from work, I like to read P. G. Wodehouse.
9. What are one or two lessons you want the reader to take away from your book, Planet Taco?
People often think of Mexico as being completely different from the United States, and we appreciate Mexican food for being primitive and authentic, the opposite of fast food like Taco Bell. But the fast food taco shell was actually invented by Mexicans, not by Glen Bell. He just packaged it for gringo audiences. I dream that food can help to bridge the Rio Grande and bring our two countries closer together.
10. In one sentence tell readers why they should read Planet Taco?
As Socrates might have said, the unexamined taco is not worth eating.
If you would like to win a copy of Jeffrey's book Planet Taco, please enter here: Planet Taco Giveaway