Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Delicious History of Edible Edens

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Delicious History of Edible Edens

Article excerpt

Think of paradise and what springs to mind? Sun, sea and sand, perhaps. Peace, almost certainly. Yet while most fantasies of heaven absolve us from bodily necessities (toenail clippers have no place in Arcadia), surely we'd all like to arrive hungry. Eternity would be an awfully long time to go without chips.

The novelist Julian Barnes has the right idea. In his book A History of the World in 10V2 Chapters, a man wakes up in the afterlife to a sumptuous breakfast: "... the grapefruit of my dreams... Three slices of grilled streaky bacon... crispy fat all glowing like a bonfire" and a sausage ("dark umber and succulent") that all earthly sausages had merely been leading up to.

After four such feasts, he ventures out to a supermarket:

   I bought breakfast, I bought
   lunch, I bought dinner, I
   bought mid-morning snacks,
   afternoon teas, aperitif
   munchies, midnight feasts.
   I bought fruit I couldn't
   name, vegetables I'd never
   seen before, strange new cuts
   of meat from familiar animals,
   and familiar-looking cuts from
   animals I'd never eaten before.

He even buys a freeze-dried lobster souffle with cherry-chip topping, just for the hell of it.

Skipping through sunlit meadows has its place but that supermarket sounds like actual heaven. A 14th-century Irish poet had a purer vision:

   For what is there in Paradise
   But grass and flowers
   and green rice?

   Though there be joy and
   great delight,

   There is no food for
   the appetite...

Not only that: "Nothing but water man's thirst to quench." Even the notoriously ascetic Thomas More allows the inhabitants of his Utopia to knock back "wine, cider and perry" in their dining halls.

Humanity has always dreamed of an edible Eden, from the biblical land of milk and honey to Harry McClintock's Depression-era Big Rock Candy Mountain. …

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