The Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food by Sallie Tisdale, 2001
This book combines food history combined with her own history, talking about how our (primarily U.S.) perceptions of food change in reaction to world events, changes in technology and social mores. I had difficulty with her obsession for reminding people of the feminist part of the story, particularly in relation to how changes in our (food) culture adversely affected women. But now that I've had some time to mull over the whole picture of her book, I can see her point better.
Essentially Tisdale shows us that what we eat - and what we like to eat - is shaped by forces far outside our control. Advertising and popular media are big influences, of course. Economics play a huge role as well. Dieting - eating less - became popular during the Depression when, conveniently enough, people had less to eat. Even social conventions play into what we eat. The rich have always set the trends, as they could procure unusual foods or more foods than could others. When those rare foods became more affordable, they went out of favor with the wealthy and in favor with the poor, who could pretend to be rich for eating the food of the rich. Even those who chose to not follow the mainstream eating habits are stuck in boxes created by the very people who are trying to step out of the box. The author describes herself in this mold. She was a 70's era vegetarian, working in a co-op a couple days a week, wearing frumpy, hand-dyed clothing. She still has vestiges of this today, and mentions realizing that she doesn't quite fit with her diet-obsessed friends.
The point of the book is that the "best thing" changes with the times, and is very dependent on how we were raised and the foods that connoted "home" to us, whether that was hotdogs, pizza, rice pudding, jello, or any other home food for you.
Interestingly, this book ties in with my comments the other day about not believing everything you read. Tisdale goes to lengths to dispell the common myths about household behaviors and changes, particularly as they related to the role of women through the 20th Century. Examples: The nuclear family was a very short lived phenomenon after WWII. Women have always worked outside of the home, just not a majority. In some cases, the "don't believe everything" even applies to our own memories.
The best thing Tisdale ever tasted? An airport english muffin, overflowing with processed cheese.
The best thing I've ever tasted? I'm not sure. Maybe the first macaroni and cheese I made out of the box in college - mom had never made it for us as kids. Cheesey goodness. [Update: My mother claims she made mac and cheese, but I don't remember it.]