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...

Licensed to Ill

In America of yesteryear, you often had to be sick to eat well
In America of yesteryear, you often had to be sick to eat well You have to feed a flu and starve a cold, the saying goes. I've never been one to insist on such distinctions. When I get sick, I feed. Nothing makes my appetite go viral like a cold or flu. This otherwise unpleasant condition becomes for me a sort of camphor-scented Carnaval, a brief time when forbidden foods are not only permitted but altogether transfigured, acquiring healing powers unknown to me when well. Fever calls for a chocolate bar taken every two hours, a sore throat for a banana shake sipped as needed. The staunchest resistance mounted by stuffed sinuses melts when met with a buttery toddy. Apricot conserve eases the worst miseries of congestion. The medicinal properties of milk are well known, but they require vodka and… Read More...

Upper Crustacean

On how to claw your way to greater distinction
"A man of taste is seen at once in the array of his breakfast-table. Chocolate, coffee, tea, cream, eggs, ham, tongue, cold fowl, -- all these are good, and bespeak good knowledge in him who sets them forth: but the touchstone is fish; anchovy is the first step, prawns and shrimp the second; and I laud him who reaches even to these: potted chard and lampreys are the third, and a fine stretch of progression; but lobster is, indeed, matter for a May morning, and demands a rare combination of knowledge and virtue in him who sets it forth." --Thomas Love Peacock, Crotchet Castle (1823) Read More...

Preservation Society

Early Americans brought a "can do" attitude to the problem of food storage
Early Americans brought a "can do" attitude to the problem of food storage Once I've settled in a town, I make a point of visiting the local farmer's market. Only there may I get a sense of what's in season, as well as a sense of place -- no mean feat in a country littered with strip malls housing Trader Joe's, where kale and apples spring eternal. (more…) Read More...

Feeding Animosity

Hell is eating with other people
"To dine in company with more than two is a Gaulish and a German thing. I can hardly bring myself to believe that I have eaten in concert with twenty; so barbarous and herdlike a practice does it now appear to me: such an incentive to drink much and talk loosely; not to add, such a necessity to speak loud, which is clownish and odious in the extreme." --Walter Savage Landor, "Lucellus and Caesar" (1829) Read More...

The Inn Crowd

Bad food and lousy beds didn't keep early American taverns from turning a tidy profit
Bad food and lousy beds didn't keep early American taverns from turning a tidy profit Verminous hotels, lackluster eateries, dubious rest stops: the open road has its perils. I remember a night I spent in Clovis, New Mexico. I took a room in a thirty-dollar motel during a cross-country drive. From the freeway its sign, a bright green clover superimposed on a royal flush, had beckoned me. The tiny room smelled the same as the town -- like cow flop. White-line hypnosis blinded me to the stains on its carpet, the holes in its walls. On a creaky twin bed I fell into black sleep. Not long after I awoke to tremendous itching. I flung back the covers. Fleas were biting me all over my body. I'd have no rest that night. After twenty minutes of fruitless pleading for a… Read More...