Wonnerful World of Food

“Her satirical cookbook,
The Wunnerful World of Food,
written with Robert Kushner,
still makes me laugh out loud.”
—Linda Nochlin





The Wonnerful World of Food

 I have been trying to remember when Amy and I started collecting bad recipes. I think it must have been the summer of 1970 or 1971. I do remember being up in the country with her at the Rothenberg’s little house. There were some old 1950s cookbooks around and we enjoyed reading them.  Particularly the ones published by Campbell’s Soup or Miracle Whip Mayonnaise with a panoply of recipes using the advertiser’s ingredients in order to create a greater demand for their products.  We liked picturing the harassed recipe editor needing to squeeze out just ten more barely plausible recipes to round out another collection.

 At that time,  American cuisine, as we now know it, was still very much in formation. Middle American taste was ubiquitous. And, to us, quite humorous. One of our mottos was: bad taste is timeless. Why? Because it never goes out of style.

 We, or perhaps I, began to look for cans and boxes in the grocery store, particularly the supermarket in nearbyJeffersonville, an upstate town which seemed to be in some sort of time warp of its own. I did not care about the contents of the box, I was looking for particularly egregious recipes on their backs. Sometimes I would buy something I/we did not particularly want anyway just for the recipe, cut it out, and save it in a little plastic recipe file box. Gradually the collection grew.

  Finally in the fall of 1977, we decided to make a small artist’s book out of the crème de la crème. Amy’s sister, Ruth, was back again from Greece, and needed a job to do which was part of the agenda. With no particular expertise, Ruth became the book’s designer.  We decided we wanted to select 50 of the funniest recipes. The title and its spelling was Amy’s.  We wanted to add comments, as some old fashioned cook books still did: Best prepared on a bright sunny day; And black and white illustrations.  I was busy with a number of projects that fall, so Amy revived her drawing skills, exhumed her speedball pen and ink bottle and produced many of the best illustrations in the book: the still life halo on the cover, the title page with a can opener and a shallot and many of the title pages, such as Oeufs with thumb prints as a motif.  I can clearly see the difference in our illustrational approaches. Hers was rougher, less charming, uncompromising. Mine, more slick and seductive.  As time goes on, I like hers more.

It is interesting to me that this and the Manny Farber essay were two of the last projects she completed. Amy complained about her drawings, but looking at them now, there is such innovation and discovery in them that I think she must have been enjoying herself in her own crusty way. We included such monstrosities as Tripe à la King, Blue Cheese Chicken, Rutabaga Macaroni Salad and Verre de Terre (earthworm) Butterscotch Delights.

 As Amy’s illness became evident, Ruth took over more of the work which included using Lettraset to lay out the title pages and hand writing the comments in Suzy Creamcheese handwriting. Part of Ruth’s responsibility in the project included finding a cheap printer, which she did.  I think I paid for the printing.

 We had also checked with my cousin, a patent and copyright attorney, about copyright infringement. He advised us that if we changed one or more proportions in each recipe we were free.  Ruth retyped all the recipes with small changes. Looking back, I wish we had not made any changes at all, as it subtly undermined the shock and awesomeness of these recipes’ innate awfulness.   

 By now Amy had died, but after all that work, we felt that we still wanted to produce a small run of the book (I think we printed either 500 or 1000 copies). I sent a copy to someone I knew at the Village Voice, who listed it, and from the notice in the Village Voice, it was then picked up for some reason by one of the syndicated columnists through whom it ran in about fifty regional newspapers.  People could order them via mail from Ruth which they did in droves. I was the fulfillment center with weekly trips to the post office. Eventually we sold out.

 Ruth and I took the meager profits and blew them on an over the top lunch at the Four Seasons.
                                                                                                                                                            — Robert Kushner, New York