By Rhonda Johnson
Updated March 03, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Sallie Tisdale (Talk Dirty to Me) knows that behind the next global-fusion food trend or the newest diet book simmers our furtive desire for tamale pie, Velveeta cheese sandwiches fried in butter, and Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup., Her absorbing, wide-ranging look at our cultural food perversions in The Best Thing I Ever Tasted: The Secret of Food sifts through layers of history, sociology, and personal experience to excavate that wildly contradictory phenomenon we call American cuisine. Tisdale can’t decide whether to criticize or celebrate what we eat. Nevertheless, her trenchant reporting on such topics as the evolution of processed foods and the corporatization of the natural-foods movement makes for a rich, pungent stew. B+