One man's meat

by E. B. White

Hardcover, 1944




New York, Harper [1944]


First published in 1942, One Man's Meat has been in print almost without interruption. Now these classic essays on Maine life have come home to roost with a Maine publisher. E. B. White began this collection as a series of pieces for Harper's when he left New York City and moved to a saltwater farm in Brooklin, Maine. His observations on town meetings, poultry, the weather, songbirds, com-post, taxes, war, winter, and much more will resonate just as strongly today--to anyone attuned to Maine life--as they did more than half a century ago.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The essays of E. B. White in his delightful collection, One Man's Meat, represent a style of writing that is very welcoming to the reader. I found myself laughing out loud at his subtle humor and, while some in our Thursday night book group found the book somewhat superficial, I found a connection that suggested deeper thoughts. Written in the late 30's and early 40s during the approach of and beginning of World War II, White's essays comment on the world around him and chronicle his life on a farm in Maine as he gradually comes to grips with country living. In many instances they seem very contemporary in spite of having been written more than fifty years ago. A long time contributor to The New Yorker, one recognizes the "New Yorker style" in White's writing. One of our group found a resemblance to Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel which we had read several years ago. Certainly this was a great read with my enjoyment augmented by both the down to earth meditations and wonderful style.… (more)
LibraryThing member missmel58
One Man’s Meat is a collection of essays written by White in the late 1930s and early 1940s. White interjects world politics, children’s literature and farming in to this eclectic series of essays that have an eternal quality to them. White’s ability to blend several topics into one coherent essay is humbling to this writer. I was very fascinated by the way White intertwined the completely mundane with the overwhelming world, here is just one example:

“While the old wars rage and the new ones hang like hawks above the world, we, the unholy innocents, study the bulb catalogue and order one dozen paper-white Grandiflora Narcissus (60 cents) to be grown in a bowl of pebbles. To the list my wife made out I have added one large root of bleeding heart to remind us daily of wounded soldiers and tortured Jews.” (14)

Let’s look at catalogues, oh by the way there is this awful thing going on and you should think about that! He used this technique successfully, in my opinion, throughout the text. Of everything I read during this period, the craft of this text impressed me the most (which surprised me because I did not like Charlotte or Stuart). In places it appeared stream of consciousness, while in others crisp journalistic prose. In no situation did he seem to not be in control of the writing.
White’s original/intended audience likely didn’t read his work as critically, or perhaps as writers would. White offers his reader a lot of carrots. A “regular” reader of his work in Harpers may come to expect a level of politics in his essays—because, at least at this point in his writing, it is present more often than not. White had to have been aware of that.
In my opinion, White is a consummate writer. It appears, over the distance of sixty years, that he was concerned about his audience. He is both eloquent and economic in his use of the language. He has shown amazing discipline, craft-wise. He didn’t send me searching for obscure references, I wasn’t lost in a maze of footnotes, reading dictionary in hand, working to decipher meaning, there were precious few dead-ends in the text, and I wasn’t left asking why. Occasionally, I checked a World War II timeline – to refresh my memory as to the order of events (I remember being surprised at how early he was writing about the Holocaust in an American publication)—but it was strictly for my own edification—such clarity was not necessary for the content of any specific essay.
One can see the future writer of children’s books in many of the essays. His use of vivid imagery is, to me, amazing – who couldn’t see those peeps/chicks huddled up in overcoats? Or a crazed over-stimulated dog? Or even a trailer park in the Keys? He didn’t show us anything – he immersed us in it: the sights, smells, feels and the emotional impact of each situation. And yet, he rarely loses the context of the larger world around him—this is the approach most successful writers of juvenile literature write.

I think we lose something if we don’t read for the beauty in a piece—what is meaning without beauty, even if that beauty is terrible (as Yeats suggests). When the artistry is completely removed we end up with Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) and not Bernini’s Trevi Fountain (1629) in Rome. Over time bold political statements fade away and all that remains is the beauty.
As to “One Man’s Meat”, what White is saying is there is no such thing no matter how far one works to remove themselves from the whole – we are all in this together. He comes back to this over and over again in some very subtle ways, in hunting, in school trips, in helping his neighbor with the sick ewe, in taking the government subsidy (and thus connecting himself to a larger structure). Even in the beginning with the $450 turkey – he is acknowledging that we are interdependent. We depend on our community as individuals – and nations must depend on a world community. In “The Practical Farmer” he acknowledges that his taste in meat (so to speak) may not be for everyone—and that it does take an outside income to survive.
It is important to remember that these essays originally appeared in 3-4pg segments. Two-hundred-seventy-five pages of farming, fishing, and foreign affairs might seem overwhelming – four pages might not. This text successful as a whole.
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LibraryThing member pnorman4345
Very good to start and then gets better. Essays on city versus country and aspects of his little farm on the coast of Maine.
LibraryThing member gbelik
E.B. White and his wife Katherine move from New York City to Maine in 1938 and he begins farming. He sends essays approximately monthly to The Atlantic and what wonderful essays they are. He will write about his farming and animal experiences later in his wonderful childrens' books, but here he reflects on country things as the world (and eventually the US) go to war. These are wonderful, thoughtful essays, immaculately constructed and full of phrases you must read aloud to someone.… (more)
LibraryThing member Tara1Reads
I read the second edition which has been updated to include columns from not only Harper's Magazine but the New Yorker too. The essays were rearranged to be in chronological order by the date White wrote them so that the whole collection of One Man's Meat spans 1938-1943.

Since these essays coincided with WWII, it was a topic that was very much on E.B. White's mind so many of these essays are about war vs. peace, freedom, democracy, diplomacy and foreign relations, uniting with other countries, patriotism, etc. But during this time in White's life, he, his wife Katherine, and their children, all packed up and moved to a small coastal town in Maine where he started keeping sheep, chickens, and some pigs and eventually a cow. White grows vegetables, does some boating and makes his own boat, and goes hunting. There are many essays about city life vs. country life since he mostly lives in Maine but his family still makes regular trips into New York City. The essays almost alternate being about something farm-related and then something political but many times the topics interweave.

I think White was very prescient and much smarter and more literary than he gave himself credit for in many of the interviews he did. It was obvious from One Man's Meat that he was a reader. White read very widely including newspapers, magazines, the children's books his wife got from publishers, farming manuals, dog training guides, Mein Kampf, some Charles Darwin and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, new books that were coming out at that time about WWII, poetry, etc. I have almost a full notebook page of the writers and books he referenced. And White made a few predictions about what would happen in the U.S. in the coming years some of which have came true and some of which haven't although some of it is debatable.

I honestly wasn't expecting to like this book as much as I did but it's just a treasure trove of insights and great writing. I can't wait to read more E.B. White essays.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
Here is a collection of essays written from [[E.B. White]]'s saltwater farm in Maine from 1938 to 1943. I love these seemingly meandering thoughts, so perfectly written that not a word is out of place. Full of gentle humor, introspective thoughts about the war and the future of mankind and nations, and farm anecdotes, it is like visiting with a favorite uncle. This will always have a place on my shelves.… (more)


Local notes

Gold Medal Edition


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