Utne Blogs > Literature

Reading About Eating

by Brad Zellar


Tags: food writing, gastronomy, Brillat-Savarin, Michael Pollan, The Physiology of Taste, great writing, The Millions, Brad Zellar,

FootlongIn his 1826 landmark The Physiology of Taste, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”—literally, “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you what you are.” That imperative has always struck me as stereotypically French, sort of goofy (I am canned soup?) and, frankly, judgmental. That hasn’t, of course, stopped food cultists from carving Brillat-Savarin’s commandment into stone, and if anything the old gastronome’s words have become an increasingly shame-based creed in our present culture of hyper-conscious—and hyper-conspicuous—consumption.  

Secular transubstantiation has always been a subtext of both the ethics and the aesthetics of cooking and eating, but thankfully the history of food writing is full of entertaining stuff that owes more to decadence than duty. Plenty of it, in fact, does little but pay slavish devotion to the muse Gasterea (Brillat-Savarin felt obligated to create a tenth Muse), and celebrates in often eccentric terms the pure pleasures of chow. 

Darryl Campbell over at The Millions has a nice short history of food writing that ranges from Brillat-Savarin to Anthony Bourdain (although it curiously manages to avoid a single mention of M.F.K. Fisher). Somewhere in there, though, you will find this quote from a typically prophetic George Orwell: “We may find in the long run that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine gun.” 

Source: The Millions