Food writer Michael Ruhlman is back with a new book, Grocery. Taking an in-depth look at the stores that offer us a mind-bending number of choices for cooking and eating, from fresh, locally sourced vegetables and organically fed beef to frozen or boxed convenience foods. The grocery store is more than just a place to buy food. It's where we go to plan and organize the feeding of our families. It's where we spend our hard-earned money. It's a cornerstone of the community.
To study this phenomenon, he went back to the grocery stores of his childhood in Cleveland, Heinen's. It's a local, family-owned chain of 22 stores. He shadowed the owners, fraternal twins Tom and Jeff Heinen, to see the bigger picture of the grocery business. It's a complicated business model, one that incorporates both a mercantile (stocking things to sell) and a manufacturer (creating new products to sell), with an incredibly low profit margin. You don't get into the grocery market to make money; you do it because you love it and you want to help your community.
Ruhlman did his homework for this. He studied each part of the store, from the produce to meats to the aisles. He even bagged groceries to get a feel for the front of the store. Like his memoir on the Culinary Institute of America (The Making of a Chef, highly recommended, by the way), he mixes facts and figures with stories of the people he encounters. His mix of meticulous research, personal emotion, and memorable personalities makes this a readable sociological treatise on the basis of our own personal food culture.
Yes, Michael Ruhlman's Grocery is An Important Book About Food, but it's also a charming and readable one. If you care about the food in your refrigerator, about where it came from and where it will come from in the future, you'll pick up a copy of this book. It's just smart shopping.
Galleys for Grocery were provided by Abrams through NetGalley.com, with many thanks