Milkshakes meet mind control, acid dropping, and American hegemony in Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow’s new book, Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified U.S. History, which makes the case that food and government conspiracy go hand in hand.
What started, in part, as a serially released zine has been turned into an intense and witty mash-up of classic shoe-leather journalism, culinary storytelling, and call for social justice. In graphic form, the authors dive head-on into public records to detail many unsavory factoids about Uncle Sam — such as how the police seemingly used a 1968 Chicago-area ice cream theft to silence Black Panther leader Fred Hampton.
Hoerger and Partlow’s innovative method makes sense on many levels. Millions of pages of declassified docs can’t readily be sifted through, the authors’ logic goes, so an efficient way to track the federal government’s inner workings is to look at a specific cultural institution — food — as an angle.
This offbeat approach winds up working damned well in a little more than 100 easy-to-read pages, creating a sort of hybrid between Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.
Without feeling slammed by too many facts in too small a space, you still get the gist of the feds’ extensive shadiness during the civil rights and Cold War eras. You learn that the CIA tried to off Fidel Castro with a chocolate milkshake — his fave snack — and that much of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s prosecution revolved around a deconstructed card stock Jell-O box. The authors eventually fast-forward to the 1980s, when the Gipper used hydroponic technology to rah-rah globalization.
The book, which has an organically edgy, DIY-vibe, also includes photocopies of the referenced documents and skillful illustrations by Nate Powell. In informational texts, comics and manga-like influences can sometimes seem contrived, almost condescending — a popular cartoon guide to physics comes to mind — but they work well here, balancing straightforward research with pithy, tongue-in-cheek writing.
The big drawback, though, might be related to one of the book’s strengths. Edible Secrets reads quickly, and doesn’t drag along like purely chronological historical surveys, but sometimes you feel hungry for a more cohesive narrative and fewer info graphics. And no, the cheeky project probably isn’t watertight history. But the left-leaning book does come with info on how to file Freedom of Information Act requests — and supplies finger-puppet cutouts of famous capitalists.
Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified U.S. History
By Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow
Microcosm Publishing, $10
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