Long before Adam Richman began touring the United States to take up eating challenges for The Travel Channel’s Man V. Food, he kept a food journal to keep track of his meals during his travels. Those notes laid the groundwork for his debut book, America The Edible: A Hungry History, From Sea To Dining Sea. The work is a mix of food history, memoir, restaurant-review compilation, and cookbook, an unscientific survey where the choice of what cities to highlight was made by where Richman happened to be. Chicago is absent, but Cleveland is highlighted because he spent time there acting in a play. Portland, Maine, gets a chapter because he was there for a wedding.
Richman’s genuine, contagious enthusiasm for food keeps America The Edible enjoyable. His descriptions of favorite dishes are tantalizing, detailed, and accessible. He’s more prone to visiting a standout hot-dog joint than a haute-cuisine spot, making the book useful for travelers, with even more utility provided by sidebars on how to tell an authentic eatery from a tourist trap. His dalliance in culinary anthropology doesn’t get enough space to be fully fleshed out, but what’s there is filled with informative or amusing anecdotes and stories tracing how local cuisine has been shaped by the migrations of religious communities, ethnic groups, and hipsters.
Unfortunately, Richman’s writing is weak. His humor typically falls short, with lines like “For real—it’s as thick as a contestant on Rock Of Love.” Framing his quest for good sushi in St. Louis as a four-act play seems twee, as does his teasing readers over whether he spent the night with a hot Brit he shared grits with at a Brooklyn diner. Throughout the book, Richman spends way too much time opining on the merits and flaws of his female dining companions, or whoever he was pining over while he ate solo. When he isn’t too busy talking about the ladies he’s been with, his personal stories work well at conveying that food isn’t eaten in a vacuum. The book is sandwiched between two chapters about Los Angeles, one when Richman was a struggling actor, the other from right after he got his break. Both provide sweet insights as to how the comfort of friends and good food shaped his year between.