New York City is one of the world's most food-centric cities, but this isn't new. It began four hundred years ago -- and without the help of Instagram -- when New York's earliest Dutch settlers made their new home a center of food-making and innovation. And it hasn't stopped since.
In her meticulously researched and you-are-there-written book, Food City: Four Centuries of Food Making in New York, Joy Santlofer tells a story of urban development through the lens of food. She reaches far back from today, when nearly everything we eat is brought in from elsewhere else, to a time when NYC grew, slaughtered, baked, brewed, and produced all its own food right in its five boroughs.
Today's star chefs, artisanal breads and chocolates, rear yard chickens, and micro greens grown on urban rooftops owe a debt to these four centuries of urban gastronomy and commerce. Likewise New York's vast influence on our daily meals and the city's deserved reputation as a global culinary leader.
This is the story that Ms. Santlofer tells -- how we got from our earliest settlers and immigrant influences to how New Yorkers eat today.
It's a colorful and appetizing history. Dutch roots meant our founders poured lager over their porridge. Immigrant meals became New World favorites, such as German frankfurters becoming Coney Island hot dogs. Some familiar and even iconic foods began in NYC -- like Twizzlers, Hellmann's mayonnaise, Thomas's English Muffins, and Oreo cookies. It was in NYC that commerce and food first linked: at a time when each New England household was still making all its own food, in New York there was what Santlofer calls "New Amsterdam's shop economy" where for the first time, foods were made by others and then sold to many.
If you love to read history, especially American and urban history, and if you are curious about how America transitioned from a completely agrarian to diversified economy, or what everyday life was like for the first New Yorkers, this book will be a treasure trove. The anecdotal details are plentiful (herds of cows crossing 42nd Street to west side slaughterhouses, John Jacob Astor beginning his career as a bakery delivery boy, George Washington being sworn in as our first president while standing in front of a confectionary shop on Wall Street, the invention of canned goods and Sweet'N Low, Gulden mustard on Elizabeth Street, Durkee spices in Brooklyn, and many others) and give color and life to how New York became world-known as Food City.
Author and food historian Joy Santlofer was editor-in-chief of NY Food Story and the assistant to the chair of the New York University Food Studies program. Very sadly, this scholar and New Yorker died, just as she was finishing this impressive and epic work. Her book was finished by her husband, writer Jonathan Santlofer, and her daughter, Doria, who also launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the book completed and published. The book's foreword is by Marion Nestle, the respected author and professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU and a colleague of Joy Santlofer's.
FOOD CITY: Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York, W.W. Norton & Company, November © 2016, hardcover, $28.95.