The Weirdest Cookbook You Will Ever Need

Shopsin’s is a New York institution, a restaurant that began as a grocery store whose owner, Kenny Shopsin, is colorful, irascible, and talented. It is famous for breakfast but also for its vast, unusual, common-sense menu.

Shopsin has just written a book that is half cookbook and half memoir, entirely fascinating. I had never sat down and read a cookbook from cover to cover but that is what happened with Shopsin’s book (co-written with Carolynn Carreno). It is called Eat Me. The introduction is a reprint of a New Yorker article by Calvin (Bud) Trillin, a regular at Shopsin’s.

Trillin also figures in a story that Shopsin tells in the book, a story that illustrates the creativity with which we human beings barter and exchange. Gains from trade indeed. Adam Smith* would be proud:

I’ve never used cookbooks for recipes, but I do like to read them to get ideas and to see how different cooks do things — and I especially liked doing this way back when I first started cooking. Back then, Bud Trillin used to bring me the review copies of cookbooks that were sent to him. He would bring in a stack of cookbooks, and in exchange I would give him 25 percent of the face value of the books in food credit. It was a great deal for both of us.

*From Smith’s An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations: “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.”

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  1. Michael Sullivan says:

    The quote from Adam Smith is interesting in that it is, strictly speaking, no longer true. There was a case involving an orangutan at a zoo. The zookeepers came in one morning and found the orangutan in the moat separating his enclosure from the public. They moved the orangutan back to his enclosure, berated the staff for not locking the door and considered the incident closed. The next morning they found the orangutan back in the moat. Thinking that it was unlikely that the staff would forget to lock the door after being berated the previous day, they investigated further and found that the orangutan was using a piece of wire pried loose from somewhere in his enclosure to pick the lock on the door. So, they removed all wire that he could use to pick the lock. This solved the problem, for a while. When they again found the orangutan in the moat, they again investigated. What they ultimately found out was that there was a female orangutan in an adjoining enclosure who was overweight and therefore on a diet. She was giving the male orangutan pieces of wire in exchange for some of his food. I may have some of the details of this story wrong, but the basic point is that there is no way to describe the interchange between those two orangutans other than as a barter transaction, thus disproving the second half of Adam Smith’s statement.

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  2. Andrew says:

    @Michael

    Interesting story – sounds like a situation where the exception proves the rule.

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  3. VesnaVK says:

    Yes, but “proves” it in the older sense of “tests” it.

    This exception puts the rule to the test — the classic meaning of the saying about exceptions, proofs and rules.

    (The more recent misunderstanding of the saying — that exceptions somehow show rules to be true — collides smack against the scientific method. It is exactly opposite of what the saying is saying.)

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  4. XavierL says:

    @VesnaVK

    The original meaning of the idiom is yet another; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exception_that_proves_the_rule.

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  5. AK says:

    Thank you, XavierL.

    Pedants have recently been pushing this “proves = tests” nonsense. There is little better than showing a pedant that what he thinks he knows is wrong.

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