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...

Cat Gut

9 lives meet 32 teeth
"A fellow, a shepherd at Beverley, in Yorkshire, about eleven years ago, for a bet of five pounds, was produced, who was to devour a living cat. The one produced was a large black tomcat, which had not been fed for the purpose; but was chosen, as being the largest in that neighborhood. The day appointed was the fair-day at Beverley. The parties met. The man produced was a raw-boned fellow, about forty. The cat was then given to him; on which he took hold of his four legs with one hand, and closing his mouth with the other, he killed him by biting his head to pieces immediately, and in less than a quarter of an hour, devoured every part of the cat, tail, legs, claws, bones, and everything. The man who laid the wager gave the fellow two… Read More...

Red Holidays of Genius

The Italian Futurists' marriage of man and machine was a feast for the senses
The Italian Futurists' marriage of man and machine was a feast for the senses In a room whose walls are lined with aluminum, nimble waiters flit past diners, spritzing the air with perfume. A Wagner opera blares from a phonograph somewhere hidden. On each table sit four plates, each containing a small morsel. A quarter of a fennel bulb occupies the first, a single olive the second, the third holds a minute pile of candied fruit, and the fourth, a "tactile device" of red damask, velvet, and sandpaper, which the diners fondle as they eat. (more…) Read More...

Varsity Voracity

Higher learning and higher caloric intake have long gone hand in hand
Higher learning and higher caloric intake have long gone hand in hand My first year of college I managed to keep off the dreaded "Freshman 15" by living on Grape Nuts, soy milk, orange juice, and gin. Not exactly brain food, I admit, but I faced limited options. In my dorm room I had a minifridge and microwave, and that's it (no hotpots or -plates allowed). I didn't own a car, and the closest supermarket was miles from campus. The student union was your typical gauntlet of fast food stands complemented by serving lines ladling out overpriced tray-fuls of mashed potatoes, corn niblets and chicken parts. A food co-op operated nearby, but its horn o' bowel-quickening plenty — carob almond mounds, sprouted spelt bagels, tempeh salad sandwiches — asked prices that meant only the very rare splurge. Chronically short of… Read More...

Holiday Spirits High and Low

What the Dickens gets into some people at Christmas?
"As to the dinner, it's perfectly delightful -- nothing goes wrong, and everybody is in the very best of spirits, and disposed to please and be pleased. Grandpapa relates a circumstantial account of the purchase of the turkey, with a slight digression relative to the purchase of previous turkeys, on former Christmas-days, which grandmamma corroborates in the minutest particular. Uncle George tells stories, and carves poultry, and takes wine, and jokes with the children at the side-table, and winks at the cousins that are making love, or being made love to, and exhilarates everybody with his good humour and hospitality; and when, at last, a stout servant staggers in with a gigantic pudding, with a sprig of holly in the top, there is such a laughing, and shouting, and clapping of little chubby hands, and kicking up of fat dumpy… Read More...

Domestic Unrest

The little-known history behind the current craze for all things domestic
  I have a piece in this month's issue of The New Inquiry magazine on Emily Matchar's Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity and the little-known history behind the current craze for all things domestic. Please consider subscribing. Read More...

The General Store of Yore

These fixtures of American towns dominated local markets but were later liquidated by corporate competitors
These fixtures of American towns dominated local markets but were later liquidated by corporate competitors I’ve been shopping at a certain store known more for busting unions and bloating welfare rolls than for peddling quality goods. It's pretty much the only mercantile action in my small Rust Belt town. The mom-n'-pop shop hale enough to have withstood the Walmart Wehrmacht is rare in even the biggest burgs. Where I live they're like snow leopards or skunk apes: rumored to exist but seldom seen. So with a heavy heart I step into the fluorescent glare to sift piles of shoddy junk to find whatever it was I thought I needed that day. I guess you could say I've been big-boxed in. (more…) Read More...

Spirits in the Material World

A helping of Halloween heebie-jeebies from The Ghosterity Kitchen
A helping of Halloween heebie-jeebies from The Ghosterity Kitchen Emanuel Swedenborg arrived famished to a London inn late one April night in 1745. The dinner set before him he devoured, pausing only to savor its aroma. "How pleasant the food smells!," he remarked. “How wonderful the flavor!" After cleaning his plate he sank back in his chair. "I've never enjoyed a meal more," he sighed. (more…) Read More...

Unbehagen in der Natur

He who treats the world as his own private garden is bound to come a cropper
"The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men's apples and head their cabbages." --Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac (1897)         Read More...

A Very Brief History of Viking Victuals

Though not always a smorgasbord, meals enjoyed by Norsemen sometimes offered a little taste of Valhalla
Though not always a smorgasbord, meals enjoyed by Norsemen sometimes offered a little taste of Valhalla It always surprised me that, though she hailed from a small island (little more than a rock, really) tucked away somewhere along Norway's bleak coastline, my grandmother didn't like Norwegian food. She had no truck with boiled cod. Nor did she like boiled carrots, boiled potatoes, or even boiled swedes. Reindeer meat was alien to her, elk meat revolting; and never once did I see her eating those wonderful pork and veal meatballs Scandinavians usually seem to relish. Only on Christmas Eve would she revert to type and prepare a great steaming pot of rice pudding doused in lingonberry syrup. This she ate with gusto. Otherwise her favorite meal consisted of a generous slice of Entenmann's cake, a cup of coffee and a Virginia… Read More...