Book Review: Gastronaut

I know that by now, people are starting to wonder why I keep doing all of these book reviews.

Am I catching up on my reading?

Well, sort of.

Have I given up on cooking?

Not a chance, though cooking has been a challenge of late, and when I have cooked, it has all tended to be simple boring things that everyone has already heard about before, like rice or mashed potatoes.

No, I am writing about books for a very good reason, one which I will finally explain, right here, in this very blog, tomorrow evening.

So, keep that in mind–tomorrow evening, the mystery of -why- Barbara has not been writing much directly about food will be solved. Right here. Stay tuned.

Until then–oh, yeah, I was writing about a book I read.

I have no bloody idea who Stefan Gates is, other than what his bio on the back of his book, Gastronaut, has to say about him, but I reckon he’s probably a fun guy to hang out with. The blurb on the back describes him as “a culinary desperado,” who lives for “culinary quests, weird foods, and hardcore feasting–and he revels in destroying the kitchen every time he cooks.”

Sounds like my kind of guy–so long as I don’t have to clean up behind him.

Gastronaut is an odd little book. I had to pick it up after seeing the author, dressed in a white suit, flying across the cover with a bouquet of greens preceeding him in one hand, and a pig’s head, clutched in the other hand, trailing behind him. The image was too surrealistic and bizzare to be ignored, so I picked it up on a whim and bought it.

It consists of a series of essays loosely based on food or around food, or about food, as it relates to cultural norms, bodily functions and sensuality, and a whole bunch of recipes, all written in a sketchy but very amusing manner. Gates includes a number of recipes that are only there for the sake of horrified curiousity, and he vociferously warns his readers to avoid cooking them at all costs.

He examines cannibalism, and relates how he set out to determine if eating people is explicitly illegal in Great Britan. He tried reading online material, talking to a cop (who was not amused by his questions), looking it up in legal tomes, and finally, asking some lawyers. The answer he got was, “probably.”

Of course, that is the end of his quest, but not the end of the chapter. He goes into detail about various recipes for human, and how those who have tasted human have described the flavor, just, you know, in case his retelling of the odd tale of the man who recently ate another man (who gave his consent) in Germany, hasn’t caused his readers to fling the book down in disgust and run away.

As if that is not stomach wrenching enough, he goes into the eating of bodily bits–fingernails, and the like. I will go no further with the descriptions of this, except to say, that while some might have found that chapter funny, I mostly found it disgustingly fascinating. In a very purile way, of which I am not proud.

Of course, the next chapter is about flatulence, and I do have to admit to laughing aloud several times as he described his experiment in trying to create the worst possible case of gas in himself by eating beans, jerusalem artichokes, broccoli, garlic and asparagus all in one day.

Of course, Gates didn’t bother to warn his wife or daughter that he was going to go through with this experiment–he just did it.

Okay, I did laugh, and more than once, but I have to say, that I grew up in a household where fart jokes were all the rage, and well, in truth, my husband channels Beavis regularly, so flatulence amuses me.

But, I just have to say this: if I were his wife–I would have kicked him out of the house for that night.

She must have the soul of a saint to sleep next to him while his guts were busy poisoning the air with noxious fumes.

It isn’t all grotesqueries, though Gates does glory in the potty humor. He gives good, servicable recipes for UK favorites such as clapshot (turnips and potatoes mashed together), and rabbit pie, and his instructions of how to go about cooking heroic dishes like turducken, pit roasted kid, goat, lamb or deer, suckling pig and Brillat-Savarin’s truffled turkey are clear and sensible, while still being entertaining.

But, clearly, this is not really a cookbook: it is a, well, I don’t really know what it is. It is a book of loosely-connected essays on topics loosely related to food that is pretty entertaining, if thoroughly odd.

I think that is what I liked best about it–it was odd, in that truly dry and witty way that good British comedians tend to be.

It was eccentric.

And I do like the odd book penned by an eccentric author now and again.


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  1. I have a suspicion about what your news will be, but I’m probably way off the track, so will keep quiet until then and wait in anxious anticipation!

    That book sounds like fun – will have to pick up a copy from my library. I like that very random, dry British humour, and if it’s also about food, then so much the better.

    Comment by Stephanie — April 14, 2006 #

  2. Barbara, I happened upon your earliest posts and was reading for a quite a while. I like listening to peoples life stories, yours is truly unique and I like the way you tell it.

    Comment by Linda — April 14, 2006 #

  3. That’s funny – I only found out about gatronaut yesterday when cookie crumb left a comment on my blog that referenced him. I then spent a while on his site and had fun taking his surveys, so will definitely need to get thte book next.

    WIll be back later to find out your big news.

    Comment by sam — April 14, 2006 #

  4. Well, Stephanie–I just posted the announcement, so let’s see if you are right!

    Linda–thank you–I am glad you have been enjoying my blog. How did you find it?

    Sam–it is a fun book. Not a heavy book, not really informative. It is silly, but fun–and fun is a good thing.

    Comment by Barbara — April 14, 2006 #

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