Toward a Philosophy of Food History

By Wertz, S. K. | Philosophy Today, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Toward a Philosophy of Food History


Wertz, S. K., Philosophy Today


[The French]... talk about talking about food.

Gertrude Stein

There is a topology of time in regard to food activities which I shall briefly develop here as a context for a philosophical discussion of the history of food. This should help clarify the levels of meaning that are implicit in the phenomena of food. The broadest distinction that can be drawn is between immediate and mediate time. Immediate time, on one hand, is the present and recent past, and within this temporal category we can distinguish between the consumption and preparation of food. Preparation can be further divided into regional (popular) cuisine and erudite (professional) cuisine, as Jean-Francois Revel has done in his book, Culture and Cuisine.1

These different types of cuisine can be further developed along the lines of Slow Food and Fast Food where Revel's interplay between the regional and the erudite disappears and becomes an opposition; see Carlo Petrini's Slow Food: The case for Taste.2

Mediate time, on the other hand, is the connection of food with the remote past. (I shall mainly be preoccupied with this idea.) Several examples come to mind. First is Roland Barthes's "Sugar and Other Systems" in which he suggests that food has a commemorative function, i.e., "food permits a person (and I am here speaking of French themes) to partake each day of the national past."3 In detail, he says,

In this case, the historical quality is obviously linked to food techniques (preparation and cooking). These have long roots, reaching back to the depth of the French past. They are, we are told, the repository of a whole experience, of the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors. ... No doubt the myth of French cooking abroad (or as expressed to foreigners) strengthens this "nostalgic" value of food considerably; but since the French themselves actively participate in this myth (especially when traveling), it is fair to say that through his food the Frenchman experiences a certain national continuity. By way of a thousand detours, food permits him to insert himself daily into his own past and to believe in a certain culinary "being" of France (87).

A good fictional illustration of this point is in Willa Gather's novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop, in which a conversation about a dark onion soup ensues:

"Think of it, Blanchet; in all this vast country between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean, there is probably not another human being who could make a soup like this."

"Not unless he is a Frenchman," said Father Joseph. He had tucked a napkin over the front of his cassock and was losing no time in reflection.

"I am not depreciating your individual talent. Joseph," the Bishop [Latour] continued, "but, when one thinks of it, a soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition. There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup."4

Furthermore, this continuity of culinary "being" is a widely-shared belief among the native North American tribes and communities; for instance, Jim Enote of the Zuni Pueblo remarks: "In essence partaking of food is more than a matter of physical sustenance, it is also a personal ritual to honor the long history of our people, which is a story intimate and dense with meaning."3 Food ritualizing a national or tribal history and providing a culinary continuity with the past is a premise shared by several cultures. This particular function of food distinguishes the history of food in terms of how it accesses the past, and therefore, this makes the discipline very interesting and at the same time problematic. So the history of food raises some intriguing philosophical questions. For instance, philosophers of history are interested in what sort of judgments are included in a historical narrative and why. I shall took at two of these here: culinary judgments and comparative judgments.

Duplication Problem

The major historiographical problem of the history of food, as Revel sees it, is this: "the difficulty when one explores the past (and even the present) lies in appreciating the difference between silent cuisine and cuisine that talks too much, between the cuisine that exists on the plate and the one that exists only in gastronomical chronicles. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Toward a Philosophy of Food History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.