When most people picture the job of a food writer especially one who works at The New Yorker visions of white tablecloths, sumptuous sauces, and delicately perfumed desserts probably come to mind. Dana Goodyear, a staff writer for that magazine who also teaches writing at USC, has had her share of those meals. But in researching Anything That Moves, which explores the fringes of America's current foodie movement, Goodyear piled her plate with luxuries of a different kind. Ox penis, fertilized duck eggs, whale meat, cow throats, stinkbugs, marijuana pesto the author ate it all in the name of food reportage. For the record, whale has ''an oily flavor that recalled the smell of a burnt wick in a hurricane lamp,'' while the duck embryo incites ''a shift in my upper stomach, a violent bubbling, and the beginnings of a catastrophe.''
Goodyear's extreme eating doesn't just come from an appetite for thrills. She wants to understand how and why America is moving out of its peanut-butter-and-jelly dark ages into a veritable renaissance. In a wandering yarn that interweaves new writing with previously published New Yorker material, the author traces key figures in the foodie counterculture, from the flamboyant specialty importers of the 1950s to today's molecular gastronomists. She meets some of the world's great chefs and ponders the interplay between food and government regulations, sustainability, and changing tastes. (As she notes, sushi was unmarketable in the States mere decades ago.)
But time and again, it's the ick that catches Goodyear's interest. She watches a pair of entomophagists translation: bug eaters devour a tailless whip scorpion fried in tempura batter. She hangs with a group of raw-food radicals in L.A. who are at war with the FDA over their love of unpasteurized cow milk and eggs covered in chicken poop. (With them, she hits her adventure-loving limit, bolting from a raw-meat potluck ''before I embarrassed myself by throwing up all over the faux fur.'') The mix of mini-profiles, memoirish passages, and research reports doesn't always blend seamlessly. But the overall effect is of sharing a story-packed meal with Goodyear, an experience any real gourmand would savor as long as you can occasionally opt not to have what she's having. B+