EAT THE CITY
A Tale of the Fishers, Trappers, Hunters, Foragers, Slaughterers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beeekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York
By Robin Shulman Crown. 335 pp. $26
A buzzing, savory, lively world comes to life in Robin Shulman’s extensively researched “Eat the City.” The subtitle reads like a recruitment post at Monster.com, but the collective efforts of those producers are compelling stuff. The book provides what’s missing from much of the breathless media coverage of New York’s modern food artisans: culinary context. Europeans who landed in what became New York Harbor found hillsides red with strawberries and 12-inch oysters in the waters? That’s history made delicious.
A mere 50 years or so before the butchers of Williamsburg became rock stars, “cows, pigs and sheep were still walking through Midtown Manhattan streets en route to massive slaughterhouses,” Shulman writes. Today’s urban farmers in Harlem might be surprised to learn that late-17th-century Queens was one of the biggest vegetable-producing regions in the colonies. Later came industrial progress and transport via the Erie Canal, but there was also food contamination and the beginnings of America’s sugar addiction. The author, a longtime Big Apple resident and former Washington Post staff writer, relishes her discoveries, from the dangerous environment of a 19th-century sugar refinery to the appreciation of what it took to produce Manischewitz wine.