I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reading about how bad I am for eating that extra nibble of bread, buttered no less, AND last week to boot. I’m sick of seeing pictures of anorexic models in every magazine I flip through. When Ina Garten appears on the covers of her cookbooks looking normal, like almost all other women past 40, I cheer.
Brillat-Savarin, a French philosopher, once wrote “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” He sure had that right. Food serves as a metaphor for some larger truths about humanity. In contemplating food and our ways of dealing with it, we learn certain things about ourselves. When we talk about food, we’re really talking about ourselves. What’s revealed in the way a culture approaches food and eating? What’s revealed in our culture when we contemplate those approaches to food and eating?
We get to know the greater world, and ourselves, when we read about food. By the very act of eating, we take in the world, broken up, chewed, and digested, and it literally becomes part of us. It becomes us. We become it. The bounty of the earth, in other words.
Today we eat on the run, we eat alone, we eat too much, or we simply don’t eat at all. No one knows how to cook anymore. Take-out food pops up everywhere, like bad popcorn at a movie theater, and is just about as pricey. What does this say about us as a culture? As opposed to a culture like that of Italy, where the Slow Food movement is cutting big swathes?
Reading about food seems to be taking the place of cooking in many cases. The number of new food magazines, cookbooks, and food memoirs boggles the mind. And yet, at the same time, the food pages in many local newspapers shut down, while articles on weight loss weigh in heavily.
I read about food because I love food, the fruit of the earth, the work of human hands. I love the way it tastes, feels, smells. I love to read about people who also love to eat, love to feel pleasure. Forget the sin and guilt, pile on some more whipped cream and suck that strawberry. When I read about food, I want to smell the meat frying in the oil and the pungency of the garlic, just before it turns bitter and brown. I want to go to another place, maybe the womb, or at least a place of peace and satiation, pleasure and rest, where the gifts of the earth join in making my flesh pulsate with life. I want to wallow in the beauty of imagery created by words. I want to gaze at the exquisiteness of tiny green parsley leaves and dimpled canary-yellow lemons.
Reading about food is reading about life. Food affirms life. Eating is the most mundane act possible. It is also the most intimate and sublime and divine thing we can do …
© 2008 C. Bertelsen