Food and Philosophy: Selected Essays

Food and Philosophy: Selected Essays

Food and Philosophy: Selected Essays

Food and Philosophy: Selected Essays

Synopsis

These essays on food and philosophy were written over several decades. Not only philosophers and historians but individuals who have an ongoing interest in food should relish them. The essays cover wide-ranging topics that include genetically modified organisms, chocolate and its world, food as art, the pornography of food, and the five flavors of Chinese cuisine. In addition, there are several chapters that deal with the refinement of erudite (professional) cuisine from popular (regional) cuisine in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. One chapter stands alone as an analysis of the Native American cultural foundations of maize. The book opens with an essay on the philosophy of food history that addresses three fundamental problems: the duplication of sensations and taste, the understanding of recipes from other historical periods, and the sorts of judgments that are included or excluded in a historical narrative. The book ends with an exposition of R. G. Collingwood's anthropology of eating and dining, which completes the discussion with an analysis of the magical symbolism of those cultural activities.

Excerpt

Food and Philosophy is a relatively new area of philosophy that lies in the intersection of the two activities. Obviously, there is much to do about food that has nothing to do with philosophy, and conversely, a lot of philosophy is not concerned—even remotely—with food, but there is an interesting middle ground. This middle ground is the preoccupation of the following chapters. By “food,” I mean agriculture, preparation, and cooking, in addition to the food products and their consumption. These activities have cultural and social significance besides philosophical concerns. Those concerns can be conceptual, ethical, aesthetic, historical, or scientific and are usually manifested in issues and arguments over controversial points. the chapters that make up this book are conceptual investigations that cover a broad range of these issues. Let us look briefly at each of these thirteen chapters.

Chapter 1, entitled “Philosophy of Food History,” addresses three fundamental problems: (1) the duplication of sensations and taste, (2) the understanding of other recipes, and (3) the sorts of judgments that are included or excluded in a historical narrative. First the duplication problem: how can we duplicate or reproduce flavors and tastes when tastes and sensations are private, unique, subjective, and nonrecurring? Under a Cartesian view of sensation, it is impossible—they cannot be duplicated or reproduced. One of the principals holding this view is R. G. Collingwood. But the literature and history of food abounds with instances where many insist that tastes and sensations can be duplicated. Novelists, chefs, and gourmands think that dishes and whole cuisines can be reproduced. This takes us to the second problem: how can someone understand a recipe from another period or culture? (The problem of other recipes is analogous to Arthur Danto’s problem of other periods in his book, Narration and Knowledge.) in ancient times, Roman recipes are notoriously silent about certain things—for instance, the quantities of ingredients. Or a recipe just mentions adding wine in a preparation. Is it red or white and is it sweet or dry? Quality is an issue, too. How does modern-day pork compare to ancient Roman pork? To anticipate an answer, the Italians over the centuries have preserved the ancient breeds of pigs, so we can taste the Roman pork of old. Personally I see no comparison between today’s American mass-produced pork and the Italian pork. the American pork we find in the supermarket is generally tasteless and can be tough if care is not given to it in cooking. Italian pork, in contrast, has more flavor and takes on the herbs and spices more readily than its American counterpart. I have found it more tender and tasty. I remember a few years ago eating a fabulous lunch in Tuscany during a wine tour; the cut of meat was what . . .

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