CRITICAL FOOD READER # 1 : TOWARDS A SCIENCE OF AESTHETIC FOODERY (AND ITS SOCIOLOGICAL IMPLICIATIONS)

By MAX HARTSHORN


About two years ago, I had the honor of “eating” lunch with a very dear friend of mine at Evelan’s in New York City. My meal consisted of but a cracker, a nubbin of fine cheese and a single Chesterbury raisin, elaborately positioned within a layer of misted quail. A new diet perhaps? Non! I’ll have you know I walked away from my table fully satiated. The dish, a perfect example of counterpoint in the food form.

Ah, do I sense surprise? Can one actually achieve that blessed state of “fullness” through such meager portions? Alas young nube, you have much to learn. In the words of the master critic RESLAIN (famous for rejecting his mother’s own breast milk as an infant; a gesture made all the more pointed by the fact he now only subsists on the milk of human mammary): formositas prius impleo! Aesthetic satisfaction as a prerequisite for physical satisfaction. So simple, yet so overlooked. To alleviate hunger, one must first satiate the more worthy appetites.

I have little doubt that the hunger and starvation gripping the world today is due not to malnutrition of the body, but malnutrition of the soul. Indeed we speak of empty calories, but do we truly comprehend the depth of the term? Yet it is not with despair but delight that I suggest we greet this notion. The world needs us critics, even more than ever before, to teach them, to school them in the principles of “the most ancient art.” And it was with this spirit that a group of plucky young graduate students and I headed out to the monetarily-poor but semiologically-rich East End neighborhood to put our theory to praxis.

Oh what whimsy! The burlesque comedy of it all! Such an endless tide of endearing stupidity, if only a playwright were at hand! Yes, we managed to get some message across, only to see it manifested in a perverted, debased form. To put it in language even they could comprehend: we gave them the tools, but they lacked the hands to use them. However the experiment was quite instructive for us as it revealed the true extent of the problem.

Truthfully, if aesthetic satisfaction is key, the masses are at an instinctual disadvantage, as their palates remain more or less uncultivated. They lack the capacity to differentiate between ‘high’ artistic representation and mere lolli-gaggery. I mean try telling Betty Biscuit that the zested broccoli florets she’s steaming for her family of x are so tonally pithy they sog limp under the weight of their own pretensions. And how would the average lubbock respond if you told him his braised hen cacciatore was positively cogno-‘scenty’? While our intentions were indeed noble, we may in effect have been breeding an army of middlebrow culinary frauds!

But we must soldier on. For it is the burden of our profession (much like the burden of that race many of us just so happen to inhabit) to educate and enlighten. Yes, the critic may appear cruel and cynical to some (perhaps even fouler than the food he’s forced to critique)! But I assure thee it is only through a steadfast belief in the transformative power of his work that the critic enacts his own peculiar form of tough love. To appropriate another colloquialism (ah yes, they’re rubbing off on me) the chef provides the carrot, we provide the stick.

I must admit I find more than a little irony in the fact that we food critics must busy ourselves with the most base of all desires, hunger. Yet I take solace in the fact that it is not with our taste buds but with our pen strokes that we make our mark. It is with words that the critic truly digests a meal.

Ah language, light of the gods, one true salvation! The time has come to put our linguistic prowess to the test. We must heat up our rhetoric. No remark is too cruel, no witticism too scathing. If we wish to get through we cannot be afraid to hold back. Prepare dutifully critics, for the great work has begun.

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