Food & Eating
Preface by Paul Geary
In 2011, one of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, elBulli in Spain, closed its doors for the final time. The last year of this three-Michelin-starred restaurant is documented in Gereon Wetzel’s film, elBulli: Cooking in Progress, and in it we encounter a chef whose approaches, techniques and artistry have been appropriated and used by some of the leading chefs around the world. Much as Marco Pierre White was the enfant terrible of the British classical cooking scene, Ferran Adrià was in the avant-garde of the Molecular Gastronomy movement. His work at elBulli, voted for many years as the best restaurant in the world (by Restaurant magazine), not only saw the production of amazing, spectacular and unusual food, but a period of experimentation with what food is, what it means to those who produce and consume it and where the future of cuisine may be heading. In Adrià’s book, A Day at elBulli, through photographs, descriptions and reflections, the work of a single day at elBulli is disseminated, demonstrating the care, skill and artistry of a typical day at the restaurant (if, indeed, there could be such a typicality in their work). There are reflections throughout the book on the creative processes and methodologies employed by Adrià and his staff, but when I first read it, a small section of his writing seemed to offer the key to understanding the complexity of his cuisine. Adrià talks of four pleasures being in operation in his food, with his aim being to satisfy them all with each dish he prepares: the pleasure of the satisfaction of hunger, the pleasure of the sensual, emotional pleasure and the pleasure of the intellectual. We have here a means of conceptualising the multiplicity of food as an object of desire, intrigue and provocation. Ranging from the presentation of food to the body to the notionally ‘higher’ realms of aesthetic and scholarly contemplation, food, in its many different articulations, offers a nodal point for the intersection of a multitude of perspectives, understandings and approaches.
As an object and practice, food offers a site of coalescence of these multiple and diverse approaches. Ranging from the embodied to the figurative, the literal to the metaphorical, the following articles explore food in its diversity and complexity. The articles in this issue of HARTS & Minds address food as embodied and personal, placing it within ideas around the social, political, historical and cultural, exposing it as an intervention into the philosophical.
At the level of the personal and embodied, there are ideas raised across this edition around the connection between food and memory or nostalgia. Often called Proustian memory, after the infamous reflections on the smell of the Madeleine cake and its power as a spark to memories, the connection between food and memory is often spontaneous and bitter-sweet; something K.DeAnn Bell’s short story ‘In My Kitchen’ attempts to convey. To return to a taste or smell, or even the idea of a particular food, can offer comfort, stability and escapism, with the potential to satisfy each of Adrià’s four pleasures. The sensuality of sensory experience combines the power of the senses themselves with emotional complexity, bringing aesthetic and intellectual contemplation into the realm of the embodied. (Dis)pleasure can operate at the intimate and immediate level, with one bite bringing to the fore of consciousness a wealth of ideological and personal history: an immediate contemplation that troubles the notion of intellectual or aesthetic distance.
Many of the articles in this edition consider the notion of ‘consumption’ – with its double meaning in relation to eating and economics – in relation to gender, its ability to restore health, as well as discussion of the hospitality evoked by, and enacted through, the sharing of food. Randi Pahlau’s article on hospitality and food in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, for instance, explores the interdependence of hospitality and hostility. The sharing that is emblematic of hospitality sets up a relationship between host and guest, where the generosity of the host is enacted, not freely, but only in light of seemingly unnecessary gratitude. The proffering of gratitude in return for hospitality allows space for the host to acknowledge their own generosity; a generosity that only exists after gratitude. In this vein, the sharing becomes selling: one thing in return for another. Like the problem of the selfless good deed, the selflessness of hospitality is undermined by the return gift of thanks.
The interrelation between eating and social taboo is explored in Katie Rawlinson’s article, in which she discusses the role of cannibalism in Neanderthal society from the perspective of the genetic sciences and anthropology. Rawlinson’s discussion of cannibalism provokes reflections on the consumption of food and, indeed, how we think about food itself. In psychologist Paul Bloom’s How Pleasure Works, he writes that the pleasure that may arise from cannibalism is the projection of an essence onto the body as food, as though human flesh may contain the key to imbibing qualities from the deceased. What Bloom’s argument reveals is the over-writing of text and ideas, perceived as essence, onto food – as though it contains some essential quality – in much the same way that Judith Butler argued the performativity of gender as the play of surface signifiers that produce the effect of a perceived and imaginary essence.
In Georges Bataille’s philosophical and investigative writings on the economics of excess, he draws out the connections between food, sex and death as the underlying principles of the economy. The connection between food and sex is, perhaps, obvious. Both offer this thing that is Other for the pleasure of one’s own self and attempt (although always, inevitably, failing) to satisfy the appetites of the body. Claire Lenviel’s article on food and female consumption in American Psycho raises issues of both food and women as consumable object. Similarly, Jessica Hamel-Akre’s article explores the regulation of the female body through food; in a patriarchal framework, one consumable is used to regulate another. The reaction to this perspective of women as commodity can be seen, elegantly, in Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic. Modelled on a female-shaped mannequin, Sterbak’s dress made entirely of meat (perhaps made most famous through Lady Gaga’s appropriation of the idea) exposes the view of women subjected to a stereotypical male gaze: the contours of the body are presented as meat, meat that is both consumable in principle and inedible in actuality. In Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat, she draws a direct comparison between meat consumption and sexual violence. In Sterbak’s flesh dress, as with American Psycho, the female form becomes a surface of meat, both reminiscent of the violence that gave it form and the thing unto which violence and sexualisation are directed.
Bataille’s three human ‘fundamentals’ of food, sex and death each offer a means of conceiving of the excesses of modern Capitalism; each offers a means of enacting expenditure without economy; each offers a means of conceptualising the relationship between pleasure and disgust. Ashley Somogyi’s timely article on food in World War One literature offers an acute example: the pleasure of memories of home and food are brought into clearer light in the disgusting conditions of the tranches. Each is taken to excess and the war itself, according to Bataille, was a necessary expenditure of the excesses of post-Industrial Europe. The death and destruction of the war allowed for the disposal of an excess of pleasure that arose from industrial technologies: expenditure without economy. Set against the daily destruction, food itself became an excess, both excessively pleasurable in its rarity and excessively disgusting in light of its continuation of bodies that would inevitably be destroyed.
Here we move into the realm of the philosophical in relation to food. Food exposes and explores the surfaces of the body, as well as offering a focal point for the discussion of humanistic philosophy. In Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense, he explores the paradox of the surface, arguing that all events are in some sense superficial – operating at the level of interplay on the surface. In this vein, food opens out the body, not as depth to be penetrated, but as Möbius strip. Rather than conceiving a depth of the interpretation of food, we can think of it as palimpsestic: a building of layers of discourse, each bearing the traces of that which it overwrites. The discourses on, around and through food are not a mapping out of a web of ideas (see Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life), but a layering and building. The incompatibility of the parallactic exploration of food is exemplified through the palimpsest: not a complete erasure of one idea in favour of another, or a writing of one idea alongside another, but a layering of ideas that do not neatly cover over others in operation, producing the effect of a seemingly clumsily written notation, but one that, on the surface, articulates the interplay of ideas that produces something greater than the coming together of its constituent parts.
This menu for the food edition of HARTS & Minds can be á la carte or table d’hôte. You can choose your own courses, perhaps a review as a starter, followed by an article as a main course and a piece of creative writing for dessert. Or you could see the journal as a tasting menu and graze through each piece, looking for the correspondences between the articles, moving between different experiences and exploring how they make sense as individual courses and as a meal as a whole.
The menu is both a functional and literary device. It allows you to map out an entire meal, whether it is a set menu or an array of dishes to choose from. Its literary function offers a means of framing the experience – in this case reading – and suggests points to consider while reading and presents ways of making sense of different courses and dishes in relation to one another. The layout offers a thematic approach to its consumption. However, as was explored here in the preface, other themes and correspondences emerge. There is a wide range of choice. You can return to this journalistic restaurant again and again, try courses you have already had and find a new appreciation of them. Or you can try something exciting and new. You can even take the leftovers with you to enjoy later.
Swallowing Sepia: the Skin, the Stomach and the Squid in Catherine Bell's 'Felt is the Past Tense of Feel'
Reality, Identity, and Memory
Chicken au Gratin, Galettes, and Brotsuppe: A Comparison of Food Motifs in Three Variants of the Donkey Skin Fairytale Cycle
'Do Not Swear And Eat It': The Food of Hospitality in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
BOOK REVIEW Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the Nineteenth Century by Kyla Wazana Tompkins