Jim Gaffigan kicks off his new book, Food: A Love Story, by explaining his pedigree for writing about food. It’s fair to say that anyone who’s seen his standup will need no convincing that he’s the man for the job. In fact, his food-love is so well known that he casually mentions the “lunatics on Twitter” who send him photos of crispy bacon, and concedes that many of his standup set lists could double for grocery lists.
Food, like his first best-selling effort, 2013’s Dad Is Fat, is a collection of light-hearted, conversational essays, some of it culled from his standup. It picks up exactly where that book left off – we’re back in the New York City two-bedroom apartment he shares with his wife and five kids. The family plays a role in this book as well, and pictures of his adorable brood eating all variety of foodstuffs are sprinkled throughout the pages.
The book starts with a geography lesson, as he moves around the country discussing the various gastronomical specialties around the United States: from seafood in the northeast (he’s not a fan) to barbecue and Tex-Mex in the south (he’s a big fan). He also embraces, as New Yorkers do, the snobbery that comes with the deliciousness of even our most basic meals. “I love my children,” he writes, “but I can’t articulate the depth of feelings I have for a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese.” He then moves leisurely through other culinary delights, as if he’s rummaging through your cabinets and commenting on the things he finds.
Subtly, he traces his relationship with food throughout his life, from memories of childhood dinners and college junk food to post-show food stops with comedians and the favorite meals he shares with his kids. There are occasionally interesting tidbits – I learned a few things about the way chili is made in Cincinnati – but it’s not meant to be a book that teaches you about food. There’s not a recipe to be found, and Gaffigan proudly describes himself as an “eatie,” not a foodie.
While he does devote a few pages to fruits and veggies, the books is mostly an unabashed celebration of all things unhealthy and irresistible; it can’t be a coincidence that the meals I ate while reading it included hot dogs, french fries, and fettuccine alfredo. (Pasta, disappointingly, doesn’t get its own chapter.) And 188 pages in, he addresses “the eight-hundred-pound stuffed pastry in the room” with the chapter “Hot Pockets: A Blessing and a Curse”, which recounts both his feelings towards the frozen turnovers and how he became so synonymous with that particular brand that people simply yell “Hot Pocket!” at him in airports.
Some of his thoughts will sound very familiar to anyone who’s seen his standup in the last few years, and fans will be able to hear the droll voice and high-pitched intonation in their heads as they read. There are times when he veers close to Homer Simpson territory, as when he waxes poetic about cheeseburgers or lists his daily meals as “breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, late-night dinner, [and] pre-breakfast”. And at times, some of the stereotypes are a little out-dated – men like steak (and fixing cars), and they need a wife or a mom around to ensure they eat real food – but they feel innocuous.
While Dad Is Fat has enough universal themes of family and parenthood to make it an easy Father’s Day present for years to come, Food: A Love Story probably isn’t destined to be such a classic. It’s hard to say how well it will date – the “everyone’s eating kale” idea already seems like it’s on its last legs, and I’m not convinced that Triscuits v. Wheat Thins will be remembered as the defining cultural debate of our era. But as is clear from his standup, Gaffigan is delightful company, and he has a gift for comedy that is both clever and friendly. This book is a great use of his talents, and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish – as long as it doesn’t make you too hungry along the way.