New Book Celebrates Talismanic Trash

Bill Griffith’s soda bottle, Christopher Walken’s bagel: They only look like garbage.Courtesy Princeton University Press
Food, even of the most exalted kind, is rarely long for this world. Occasionally, some baron of gastronomy will announce that the floorboards in his new restaurant were salvaged from the original automat, or some credulous soul will make the News of the Weird by seeing the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. But food and cooking objects tend toward the ephemeral. Which is one reason we are so enjoying Taking Things Seriously, a new collection of essays about particular treasures. (Another is that we contributed one of its essays, about a damaged but durable old cast-iron skillet and what it means to us.)

A surprising number of the things celebrated in the book are either foods or food-related. There is the Zippy soda bottle Bill Griffith claims to have magically found one day, which supplied the logo for his beloved "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strip. There is a bagel incompetently cooked by Christopher Walken at Robert De Niro’s Tribakery and saved by the actor’s biggest fan. There is a single ancient artichoke and a whole collection of preserved cupcakes. And they all matter, because each one comes with a highly personal story, boiled down to its bare essentials. The book is available in bookstores everywhere or from the publisher.