the story

In this gripping, smart, and beautifully written book, Robin Shulman places today’s urban food production in the context of hundreds of years of history, and traces how we got to where we are. She introduces the people of New York City who have in the past and in the present grown vegetables, butchered meat, fished local waters, cut and refined sugar, kept bees for honey, brewed beer, and made wine. In the most heavily built urban environment in the country, she shows an organic city full of intrepid and eccentric people who want to make things grow.

Meet Willie Morgan, a Harlem man who first grew his own vegetables in a vacant lot as a front for his gambling racket. And David Selig, a beekeeper in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn who found his bees depositing a mysterious and unnatural red substance into the hive. Meet Yolene Joseph, who fishes crabs out of the polluted waters off Coney Island to feed her family homestyle Trinidadian curries. Meet Jacob Ruppert, a German American who ran a beer empire on the Upper East Side as the country rallied against alcohol, and who also owned the popular New York Yankees. Meet the creators of the stickily sweet Manischewitz wine, whose brand started as one of dozens of kosher Lower East Side wineries specially licensed during Prohibition. Eat the City shows how the efforts of many more people to produce food have shaped city life.

This book is about how the ability of cities to feed people has changed over time. Yet it is also, in a sense, the story of the things we long for in cities today: closer human connections, a tangible link to more basic processes, a way to shape more rounded lives, a sense of something pure.

Eat the City focuses on food producers in New York, but the same story could be told about any city. If you look, you’ll see the cracks in the urban fabric, where the natural world pushes through, and where people live off the fat of the landscape. Eat the City shows how people have always found ways to use their collective hunger to build their own kind of city.