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The Importance of Lunch and Other Real-life Adventures in Good Eating

by John Allemang

There is an expression: Why eat hamburger when you can have steak? A reading of The Importance of Lunch, a collection of essays on food, with accompanying recipes provokes this very question.

Author John Allemang used to write a food column for The Globe and Mail ““ called “On the Table” (he’s now the paper’s television critic), and many of these pieces appeared there originally. That’s the most important thing to know about this book, because it tells you about Allemang’s voice.

Writing about food is tricky. One must convince the reader that it’s better to stay and read than to go and eat. It’s not good enough to have facts, anecdotes, and recipes. A taste for prose that equals, if not surpasses, that for food must shine out. It’s a duel of the tongue. The fare must be delectable.

There is much in Allemang’s book that is good. He has a witty mind, a strong knowledge of food, and some excellent (if not all original) recipes. But he writes like a journalist. Cliché, over-alliteration, rhetoric, pun, hyperbole; these are the cynical space-saving tools the journalist uses to get from witticism to witticism, from fact to fact, from beginning to end.

And Allemang’s book is very cynical. He expends at least as much energy in railing against, say, what corporations are doing to food (as though we don’t know), how nutritionists can’t cook (as though we care), and Martha Stewart (stale), as he does in singing the praises of, say, blood oranges, baklava, and prosciutto.

It may be an unfair comparison, but this somewhat forgettable collection completely disappears next to great food writing, like A.J. Liebling’s Between Meals, Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything, and Austin Clarke’s Pigtails n’ Breadfruit.

Unfair? That’s the point. Why eat hamburger?