A Short History of the Dining Room (Part 1)

As more people found a place at the table, the concern became that of finding a place for the table
As more people found a place at the table, the concern became that of finding a place for the table For the first time in my adult life, I have a something approaching a dining room. Accustomed to eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a breakfast bar, coffee table, or some other makeshift means of support, I find myself strangely delighted by the idea of sitting down each evening at a table that seats four in a space reserved only for eating. For one, meal time is easier. (There’s no better way to test your coordination and patience than carving a turkey that’s perched atop a folding table.) I’d say having a dining room makes me a fully fledged grown-up, were it not for the fact that I still rent. Precarity is Neverland. (more…) Read More...

Chewing Through History

Imagine teeth chomping on a human face -- forever
Claude, swinging his arms loosely, took long, regular strides and enjoyed watching their shadows, happily lost in their sway, which he further exaggerated by putting his shoulders into the rhythm. Then, as though suddenly waking from a dream, he asked, "Do you know 'The Battle of the Fat and the Thin'?" Florent, caught by surprise, answered no. Claude excitedly praised this series of prints, pointing out favorite parts: the Fat, bursting from their enormity, prepare the evening glut, while the Thin, doubled over from hunger, look in from the street, stick figures filled with envy; then the Fat, seated at the table, cheeks overflowing, drive away a Thin who had the audacity to approach humbly, looking like a bowling pin among bowling balls. Claude saw in these drawings the entire drama of mankind, and he took to classifying all people… Read More...

Bodies Without Organ Meat

The offal truth
"I imagine that someone might ask me what my favorite meal would be, an utterly crazy undertaking. It’s true that I always come back to three things because they are three things that I always found sublime, but that are quite properly disgusting: tongue, brains, and marrow." --Gilles Deleuze, Gilles Deleuze from A to Z (1989)   Read More...

Native Regard

Some colonial women held captive by Native American tribes found the experience liberating
Some colonial women held captive by Native American tribes found the experience liberating One clear spring afternoon in 1758 a raiding party descended on the Jemison farm in western Pennsylvania. The party, which consisted of six French soldiers and four Shawnee warriors, managed to capture all the family members except the two oldest sons, who escaped. "Every one trembled with fear," one Jemison daughter, Mary, later recalled in her 1824 account of the event. Without “a mouthful of food or a drop of water” they marched until nightfall. Whenever Mary and her siblings cried for something to drink, they were told they may have urine or nothing at all. The Jemisons' captors began to think that they had taken too many captives. Mother and father, along with two of their children, were led behind some trees and killed, their scalps… Read More...

Negative Dietetics

Kant turn back
"The trajectory leading to aesthetic autonomy passes through the stage of disinterestedness; and well it should, for it was during this stage that art emancipated itself from cuisine and pornography, an emancipation that has become irrevocable." --Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (1970) Read More...

Life of Pie

You won't mind filling yourself in on the history baked into this dessert
You won't mind filling yourself in on the history baked into this dessert During the nor’easter that descended on New England last week I spent many dull, rainy hours fixing a bicycle and baking pies. Fixing a bike has its charms. There’s a certain sense of accomplishment in taming a balky bottom bracket. But it's baking pies that I find more absorbing. It’s great fun seeing just how many foods can be transformed into dessert. At one time or another this past month I’ve sprinkled sugar over various fillings and packed them into inexpertly shaped crusts. Some pies have turned out better than others. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, and even green tomato pie find takers when I give one away. Great northern bean and evaporated milk pie, however? Not so many. (more…) Read More...

Room for Improvement

Tenants had a real beef with the food served in New York boarding houses
Neurotic landladies, ill-sorted fellows, uncomfortable beds -- these characteristic annoyances of boarding house life pale in comparison to most boarders' "chief objection," writes Thomas Butler Gunn in his 1857 book Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses, which applies "all most universally to the cuisine." American journalist Mortimer Thomson, writing in his 1855 book Doestick's Letters: And What He Says, echoes his contemporary Dunn in this vivid anecdote: Another search and another home. Here for a week things went on tolerably well; the steak was sometimes capable of mastication, the coffee wasn't always weak, nor the butter always strong; but one day there appeared at breakfast a dish of beef, (Bull Dogge asserts that it was the fossil remains of an omnibus horse) -- it was not molested; at dinner it made its appearance again, still it was not disturbed; at tea fragments of… Read More...

The Potato System

Peeling back the layers of this humble vegetable's history reveals that, no matter how you slice it, there's power in spuds
Peeling back the layers of this humble vegetable's history reveals that, no matter how you slice it, there's power in spuds Nothing orients like food. Wherever I find myself living I try to eat according to the region and season. In Rhode Island I ate mussels and stuffed quahogs. Nopales, carnitas and citrus sustained me in Arizona. Pennsylvania presented me with a real cornucopia -- beets, cucumbers, duck eggs, garlic scapes, delicata squash, ground elk meat. Now that I’m in Maine, it’s potatoes for me. (more…) Read More...

Noshing with Nomads

Wandering peoples knew no distinction between home-cooked dinners and meals "on the go"
Wandering peoples knew no distinction between home-cooked dinners and meals "on the go" I’m moving again. This move will be my fourth in eight years and, like the three before it, owes not to any restless impulse but to banal necessity. Contrary economic winds have blown me from Arizona to New England, from New England back to Arizona, and from Arizona to western Pennsylvania. Now I’m returning to New England. Relocation ranks just below divorce and illness in terms of unusually stressful events. I feel this fact palpably. (more…) Read More...

Radish Malorum

Tolstoy's take on the "guns versus butter" problem
"We have pink radishes on the table, beautiful yellow butter, plump golden bread on a white tablecloth.... Our ladies in their muslin gowns are so happy, sitting among the green plants in the garden, because it is hot and they are in the shadow. But beyond, the evil devil famine is already hard at work, covering the fields with weeds, crazing the arid soil, tearing the soles of the peasants' calloused feet and splitting the animals' hoofs, and will so shake and agitate us all that we, too, under the shade of our lime trees, with our muslin gowns and our lumps of butter on our flowered plates, will get what's coming to us." --Leo Tolstoy, "Letter to Afanasy Fet" (May 16, 1865) Read More...

Dutch Treat

Enlightened government, humane ethics, and bustling trade meant that even the lowliest in the Low Countries shared in the high times
Enlightened government, humane ethics, and bustling trade meant that even the lowliest in the Low Countries shared in the high times The 1806 summer trip British writer and barrister John Carr took through Holland wasn't easy. The Netherlands and Britain had long been enemies, and he had to borrow a passport from an American friend to sneak past customs. The subterfuge paid off. As Carr later noted in his reminiscences, which he published in 1807 as A Tour through Holland, the "aqueous kingdom" impressed him as happy and prosperous. Her stone houses he found "very noble"; her streets, broad and magnificent. Dexterous were her boatmen, and beautiful were her women and cathedrals. (more…) Read More...

Hyperreality Bites

We'll all float on okay
"You could say that the social is just like the sense of taste in American cuisine. It is a gigantic dissuasion from the taste of food: its savor is, as it were, isolated, expurgated and resynthesized in the form of burlesque and artificial sources. This is flavor, just as there was once cinematic glamour: erasing all personal character in favor of an aura of the studio and the fascination of models. Likewise for the social: just as the function of taste is isolated in the sauce, the social is isolated as a function in all the therapeutic sauces in which we float." --Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies (1983) Read More...

The Tao of Chow

First there is some mutton. Then there is no mutton. Then there is
"From food are born all creatures, which live upon food and after death return to food. Food is the chief of all things. It is therefore said to be medicine for all diseases of the body. Those who worship food as Brahman gain all material objects. From food are born all beings which, being born, grow by food, and, when they die, food feeds upon them." --From Taittiriya Upanishad (ca. 5th century BC) Read More...

History Made Queasy

A fresh look at rotten food's influence on world events
A fresh look at rotten food's influence on world events Joyous but hellishly hot is no doubt how those in attendance would have described the Washington Monument’s groundbreaking ceremony, which took place July 4, 1850. Yet the heat didn't dampen the appetite of President Zachary Taylor, who presided over the event. "Old Rough and Ready," as he was affectionately known, snacked on cucumbers, "a generous quantity of cherries," and iced milk during the festivities, and he munched a few green apples while strolling afterward along the banks of the Potomac River. On returning home to the White House he capped his afternoon by drinking a few quarts of water. (more…) Read More...