Cover image for The gallery of regrettable food
The gallery of regrettable food
Lileks, James.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Publishers, [2001]

Physical Description:
192 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TX714 .L555 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



WARNING: This is not a cookbook. You'll find no tongue-tempting treats within -- unless, of course, you consider Boiled Cow Elbow with Plaid Sauce to be your idea of a tasty meal. No, The Gallery of Regrettable Food is a public service. Learn to identify these dishes. Learn to regard shivering liver molds with suspicion. Learn why curries are a Communist plot to undermine decent, honest American spices. Learn to heed the advice of stern, fictional nutritionists. If you see any of these dishes, please alert the authorities. Now, the good news: laboratory tests prove thatThe Gallery of Regrettable FoodAMUSES as well as informs. Four out of five doctors recommend this book for its GENEROUS PORTIONS OF HILARITY and ghastly pictures from RETRO COOKBOOKS. You too will look at these products of post-war cuisine and ask: "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?" It's an affectionate look at the days when starch ruled, pepper was a dangerous spice, and Stuffed Meat with Meat Sauce was considered health food. Bon appetit! The Gallery of Regrettable Foodis a simple introduction to poorly photographed foodstuffs and horrid recipes from the Golden Age of Salt and Starch. It's a wonder anyone in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s gained any weight. It isn't that the food was inedible; it was merely dull. Everything was geared toward a timid palate fearful of spice. It wasn't nonnutritious -- no, between the limp boiled vegetables, fat-choked meat cylinders, and pink whipped Jell-O desserts, you were bound to find a few calories that would drag you into the next day. It's just that the pictures are so hideously unappealing. Author James Lileks has made it his life's work to unearth the worst recipes and food photography from that bygone era and assemble them with hilarious, acerbic commentary: "This is not meat. This is something they scraped out of the air filter from the engines of the Exxon Valdez." It all started when he went home to Fargo and found an ancient recipe book in his mom's cupboard: Specialties of the House, from the North Dakota State Wheat Commission. He never looked back. Now, they're not really recipe books. They're ads for food companies, with every recipe using the company's products, often in unexpected and horrifying ways. There's not a single appetizing dish in the entire collection. The pictures in the book are ghastly -- the Italian dishes look like a surgeon had a sneezing fit during an operation, and the queasy casseroles look like something on which the janitor dumps sawdust. But you have to enjoy the spirit behind the books -- cheerful postwar perfect housewifery, and folks with the guts to undertake such culinary experiments as stuffing cabbage with hamburger, creating the perfect tongue mousse when you have the fellas over for a pregame nosh, or, best of all, baking peppers with a creamy marshmallow sauce. Alas, too many of these dishes bring back scary childhood memories.

Author Notes

James Lileks is a syndicated columnist for Newhouse News Service. He comments weekly on BBC Radio's "American Food Trends". He lives in Minneapolis.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Lileks pokes fun at food advertising and promotional ideas from the `50s nascent food industry. Making sport of the assumptions that underlay American cookery at mid-century is an easy target. The reigning belief that anything technological or manufactured was by definition superior to nature's bounty today appears naive at best. Add to that the mindless nutritional opinions of the era, and there's plenty of laughter to be found in these ads. A vibrantly rendered shot of a thick, untrimmed porterhouse steak slathered with ketchup and then topped with sliced hard-boiled eggs looks ready to clot every coronary artery, not to mention its complete void of fresh flavors. Most hilarious are advertisements showing pretentious "French" chefs promoting their favorite ways to use marshmallows. How a dish of scrambled eggs topped with cheese, ketchup, and cream of mushroom soup earned the moniker "Eggs Oriental" goes beyond the inscrutable. --Mark Knoblauch

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Ketchup Pistachio Cake. Meat Pie with Meat Crust. Baked Peppers with Creamy Marshmallow Sauce. Daring readers will come face to face with these and worse in this excellent book that's bursting with photographs, recipes, and bits of text and "tips" taken from mainstream American cookbooks of the 1940s-70s, when "the only spice permitted in excess [was] fat." Fascinating and valuable in their own right as cultural artifacts of the era, the entries are irresistible when accompanied by Lileks's hilarious running commentary. Jell-O gets its own chapter, and deservedly so; other sections include "Horrors from the Briny Deep" and "Cooking for a MAN: Tested Recipes to Please HIM!" YAs already familiar with the author's popular Web site "The Institute of Official Cheer" ( will be thrilled to see that the book is just as wonderfully designed as the site. Those encountering Lileks for the first time are in for an even bigger treat than the "foamy prune whip with cherry gel" found within.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.