Book Reviews
7:28 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Hard-Core (Food) Porn In 'Anything That Moves'

Originally published on Fri November 22, 2013 2:06 pm

There are, among connoisseurs of pornography, many stratified tastes. To cater to those tastes, there are many levels to which the pornography itself might rise (or sink, depending on your moral stance on the topic). There are categories, boundaries, territories of smut that run the gamut from the (relatively) tame to the out-and-out horrifying.

These divisions exist for a purpose: to better deliver to the porn consumer whatever it is that really rocks their Casbah, so to speak. They exist to create a taxonomy of perversion as finely honed as that employed by any lonely entomologist sitting alone in his lab, carefully trying to keep his Drosophila melanogaster from his D. immigrans.

Food porn, on its surface, is the same. It exists to deliver illicit thrills to those stuck at home while, it sometimes seems, everyone else is out there just rolling in strange. And as such, it deserves a chronicler who can peek into its darkest corners and talk honestly of its more gross excesses. And that's what Dana Goodyear does in her new book, Anything That Moves. It is straight-up hard core — unbounded and unblinking. But whereas the vast cosmos of porn-porn is actually a highly codified universe of flesh, the world of food porn is not yet so bounded and rigorously circumscribed. Here, you enter into a world where, literally, it's all just laid out on the table.

"The butter stayed in the fridge until I got word of a Primal Diet potluck," Goodyear writes, about a pound of raw milk, completely safe-word-free butter she'd scored from some extreme raw food enthusiasts. "Etiquette required that I bring something from [splinter-sect extreme foodista Aajonus] Vonderplanitz's recipe book—'Nuts Over Meat' (raw lamb on a pile of zucchini, covered in fresh nut butter), say, or a flask of 'Power Drink' (raw liver, thyroid, testis or ovary, lung, brain, adrenal gland; raw milk; red onions). I took the butter instead, placing it on the counter in the kitchen, next to room-temperature oysters, raw chicken chunks, strips of raw red bison, cut fruit bobbing in cream, and a few open jars of raw milk. The whole room stank: warm, bilious, inescapably animal, like a nursery full of neglected babies surrounded by panting carnivores."

And that's just one moment. One of many — of dozens that are discomforting, weirdly compelling, graphically described, wholly or partly witnessed by Goodyear herself, and filled with people named "Aajonus Vonderplanitz" all at the same time.

Goodyear runs the tables on the freak end of the food spectrum here, going deep into the muck and worldviews of bug dealers, blood drinkers, pet-eaters, the historic food importers who first shaped the American palate, rogue chefs, coup-counting foodies who get their kicks eating whales and ant pupae, law-breaking devotees of the raw food movement and outlaw chefs doing secret dinners for those who style themselves as true devotees of cuisine because they will eat, well, anything. It's a buffet of gastronomic weirdness, of weed dinners and police stakeouts and back-alley deals where ants and lion meat are traded for fat stacks of cash in the way that duffel bags full of cocaine once were.

If food is the new sex, and food is the new drugs, and the eating of anything and everything is the new social rebellion of this still young-and-dripping new century, then Goodyear is a fair guide to the underbelly. She looks, she tastes, she hangs out, and she reports on the street-level emergence of what she believes is a new food culture and a new way of thinking about what, exactly, food is.

To her credit, she doesn't judge. She seems to move through this world in a slick bubble of anti-bias, putting those who cook tarantulas competitively on the same footing as a guy like Craig Thornton who runs Wolvesmouth in Los Angeles — a private, invite-only (from an email list that runs in the thousands) recurring dinner party in his apartment — while flaunting all rules and laws about who gets to cook what for whom. She shows us the out-and-out insanity of those who will eat raw chicken meat of dubious provenance, gotten from questionable sources, but never points her finger, jumps up and down and shouts, "Holy crap, look at these nut jobs over here!"

And while that might appear noble, it's also the book's major weakness. There are moments that, to me, seem to not just require but demand some jumping and finger-pointing — for an educated, embedded voice to step back a moment from the wash of blood and guts and semen and say, simply, that this, then, is too much. That some people, in their quest for the new, the rare, the strange and the slimy, take their obsession too far.

But Goodyear does not. She goes in with her eyes wide and her mouth open and leaves it to us to decide what, on this extreme edge of cooking and eating, is food and what is not.

Jason Sheehan is an ex-chef, a former restaurant critic and the current food editor of Philadelphia magazine. But when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about spaceships, aliens, giant robots and ray guns. A Private Little War is his newest book.

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