Anyone remember the horror film The Stuff? Were its scenario to come true - junk food transforming people into ghouls - the fugitive hero could do no better than be armed with a copy of a recently published book called The Food We Eat (Michael Joseph, pounds 7.99). The author is Joanna Blythman, veteran food writer for this newspaper, the Guardian and twice a winner of Glenfiddich awards for her work in Scotland on Sunday. Her decoding of the information on the back of packets of products we regularly consume, from decaffeinated coffee to the household loaf, is calm, thorough and quietly devastating. Consider this entry for flavoured crisps: "A sweetness is deemed essential to flavoured crisps. This comes in the form of sugars, such as lactose and dextrose, and artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin. Another common type of additive is a flavour enhancer. Commonly used enhancers include yeast extract, monosodium glutamate and hydrolised vegetable protein. HVP has now been taken out of commercial baby foods because of worries that it may affect growth and cause brain damage."
However, Miss Blythman does not set out to put us off our food, so much as on to the best of it. Buy this book and she will knowledgeably and appetisingly explain the best sorts of fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and staples on the British market, how to judge the firmness and, finally, how to buy them. Here is her description of how to judge the quality of lamb: "When you are buying spring lamb, look for deep pink meat which is nicely marbled with pearly-white fat. More mature 'winter' lamb will be dark red with more marbling, which will be creamier in colour. All the cuts should be neat and well-butchered. That means nice, even-sized chops and joints, with the 'fell' (the outer layer of skin) trimmed off and the bones free of excessive fat."
Never heard of Cheyne Publications? Nor had I. It would appear to consist of one chef and his word processor. The chef is Simon Scrutton, for 20 years proprietor of Byrons restaurant in Sussex, latterly a likeable, eccentric, self-employed cookery writer. Mr Scrutton has written and published a rather charming book, Foolproof Entertaining. It starts with marinated olives, and shows us how to make some big boy chef dishes such as artichokes Nissarda, a Richard Shepherd recipe from Langan's Brasserie. Foolproof Entertaining has a home-made quality, which may be preferable in food rather than books, but I like it. The food sounds good, the method appears right and it is a spirited book. The publishing industry should take note. It tends to prefer pundits with newspaper columns or television series to write its cookery books; it might just turn its voracious eyes to an unlikely source of knowledge: cooks. And Mr Scrutton might take a lead from the publishing industry - it helps to put a price on a book. To apply for a copy, write to 94 Cheyne Walk, London SW10 0DQ.