Tag Archives: The Tastemakers

Best of 2015

Hi everyone,
After a long, (very long) hiatus due to technical difficulties I’m back with my list of the best books I read this year. I was trying to pick five, but just couldn’t narrow it down so there are 6 books on here. While I was trying to read 100 books in 2015 I only made it to 99 (so frustrating, but oh well), and so here I present to you my 6 favourite books that I read this year.

Jennifer Egan – A Visit From the Goon Squad
This was a great book because while it is a collection of short stories that can all be read individually, they are all still connected. Through her writing, Egan follows the lives of characters involved in the New York music scene from the 1960s to the present day. While exploring the obvious themes of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll,” Egan also asks the question of what does it mean to be happy? It is a question that is so fundamental to human existence and Egan’s book has the ability to speak to any audience.

David Sax – The Tastemakers
I’ve always been a huge fan of food writing and David Sax’s The Tastemakers did not disappoint. Exploring the world of master chefs and artisans bakeries Sax looks at how a food becomes a “trend” and traces the life cycle of food trends from their inception to their popularity and eventually their demise (RIP Fondue of the 70s). He draws really interesting connections (like connecting the rise of cupcakes 9/11) and writes in an interesting and accessible way. If you love food, I highly recommend this.

Rebecca Solnit – Men Explain Things To Me
As much as I enjoyed Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of GirlMen Explain Things To Me, just spoke more to me, especially the titular essay. There is no denying that Rebecca Solnit is brilliant, and in her essays she exposes the ways that sexism can manifest itself in subtle ways. This essay gave rise to the term “mansplaining” which has become a part of our vocabulary. This year was a good year for women, but things like the attacks on planned parenthood or all the reports of workplace discrimination remind us how far we have to go. This collection of essays is important and well worth it.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Americanah 
As another notable feminist, Adiche gained notoriety this year for her TedTalk and subsequent publication Why We Should All Be Feminist. I chose to read this novel because I was unfamiliar with her work and am always a fan of a “fish out of water” story. Americanah follows Ifemelu and Obinze when they are young and in love in Nigeria and follows their respective immigrant experiences. This books was so much more than just an immigrant story, it was a story about love, between two people, between people and their country, and between the people we were and the people we’ve become. Adiche explores important questions about what it means to belong and the ideas we have surrounding identity. This novel made me laugh and cry, it broke my heart and caused me to reexamine my own life. It is powerful and thought provoking and wholly, totally, amazing.

Lev Grossman – The Magicians (Review Forthcoming)
This is kind of cheating because this is a trilogy as opposed to a single book, but I loved the whole thing. It’s fantasy without being fantastic; wondrous without being wonderful. Its a critique on established fantasy (Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings) while also establishing itself as its own fantasy series, worthy of its own upcoming Showcase series. Essentially Grossman wants the reader to realize that not all problems can simply be solved my magic, and sometimes magic creates more problems than it solves. Imagine Harry Potter as an incredibly angsty and bored teenager (a la Holden Caulfield, not book 5 Harry) who gets sucked into a twisted dark version of Narnia and you have The Magicians. 

Aziz Ansari – Modern Romance (Review Forthcoming)
I LOVE Aziz Ansari, and my respect and admiration for him only grew after reading this book. To be completely honest I bought this book knowing nothing about it thinking it was just going to be another bio along the same lines as Bossypants or Yes Please. NOPE! Ansari teamed up with a social psychologist to write a non fiction, but still hilarious book about dating in the modern age. He explores how technology (Tinder, OkC, etc) has affected the way we meet people and fall in love and compares the dating cultures in different cultures. It was funny, smart, so interested, and actually relatable. There’s a lot of overlap between this book and Ansari’s netflix specials (Live at Madison Square Garden as well as Master of None), but it’s not too much so that it gets boring over overdone. Ansari is smart and he’s using his platform as a stand up comedian to talk about issues that he feels are important. The book is great and I can’t recommend it enough.

 

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David Sax – The Tastemakers (2014)

TastemakersI have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with food writing. I love to eat, and I love to read so for me, books like this are really the best of both worlds. I loved this book, not just because it was informative, well written, and so interesting to read, but because David Sax is from Toronto (Shout out to Amaya for trying to rise above the notion that Indian Food is only good for cheap-take out). It’s always fun to read about places that you actually recognize, especially in a book about food trends where a majority of the focus might be on places like New York and LA.

Sax takes the reader on a journey through the life of food trends, how they are born, why some catch on more than others, the factors involved with making a food trend, the money, the politics, and eventually the death of trends. He interviews people who predict trends, food writes, chefs, and heads of corporations like Whole Foods to gain a better understanding of how food trends work.

He starts by introducing us to cupcakes, and the rise of “cupcakeries,” which everyone will be familiar with. Taking off after 9/11 he mentions that the cupcake boom was due to the American search for comfort and safety after the attacks on New York, and what could possibly be safer than a cupcake? Cupcakes also became tied to a certain type of lifestyle after “Magnolia” appeared in an episode of Sex and the City. He talks to a cultivator of exotic Black Rice and a family growing Red Prince Apples in Ontario discussing the risks involved with trying to start an agricultural trend, (an entire species can be wiped out due to mother nature). He also profiles the popularity of chia seeds and how health fads come and go.

When looking at how food trends break out, Sax takes us to the Fancy Food show, a trade show that I would love to attend, and sits in on focus group meetings for marketing and naming new products. (Canola oil was originally called Rapeseed oil before everyone realized that it would never sell with a name like that). He then looks at the importance of food trends such as how food trends have the power to open people’s minds to different cultures, affect legislative change, and of course money, using the popularity of Bacon as an example for how that food trend has entirely reshaped the market for pork bellies.

All through Sax’s writing it becomes clear that food trends are a relatively new phenomenon simply due to the media. We have an entire network devoted to food where chefs compete in T.V shows to be the most creative, and shows like Eat St. and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives help propel food trends. Would cupcakes have become a major trend if it wasn’t so easy to take an instagram photo of a perfectly iced cupcake and upload it for the world? Maybe, but we won’t know for sure.

Sax points out that while there are down-sides to food trends, such as the constant one-upmanship and desire to be as outrageous as possible, (You need only visit the CNE to understand, in fact Sax uses the Cronut burger fiasco of 2013 to illustrate just how fragile food trends can be) food trends are also an expression of the creativity and democracy associated with North America. He writes that the Cronut never would have taken off in Paris, nor would the Ramen Burger have become popular in Japan. It is in North America that we allow food trends to grow and thrive be it for better, or for worse.

Rating 5/5