Posts Tagged ‘Food Culture’

Yes, I said “that”, not “what”.

Interesting article from The Economist, titled “What’s Cooking” from The American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Please do ignore the obvious capitalized letters and what they state in the shortening of that group’s name).

YOU are what you eat, or so the saying goes. But Richard Wrangham, of Harvard University, believes that this is true in a more profound sense than the one implied by the old proverb. It is not just you who are what you eat, but the entire human species. And with Homo sapiens, what makes the species unique in Dr Wrangham’s opinion is that its food is so often cooked.

Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals.

Sounds good to me. In fact, it reminds me of a poem.

We may live without poetry, music and
We may live without conscience and live
without heart;
We may live without friends; we may
live without books;
But civilized man cannot live without
He may live without books,-what is
knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope,- what is
hope but deceiving?
He may live without love,- what is
passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live
without dining?
Owen Meredith

Honestly, I got so excited about this idea that I just held out my hand to grasp my coffeecup and down a bit of the subtle delicious brew and was so focused on the page that I grabbed my pen and pencil pot instead, and almost swallowed a handful of sharp pencils and pens.

That’s the worst part.

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Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

Lewis Carroll (who of course was really Charles Lutwidge Dodson)

I was reading the New York Times the other day. It was a story about a new place to see and be seen in, in L.A. I was reading it because of the title, which said something about ‘Mrs. Guggenheim’. Oh well. I thought it would be about art, or philanthropy, or any number of things – but it turned out to be about none of those things. It was her name that it was about, and it was not a whole lot about that, even. Just the usual pulling out of a hat of a name drenched in celebrity for the attention-getting of it all.

This was a ‘hey this club is cool’ article. And in the article there was a phrase that caught my attention.

Chef Jared Simon delivered small plates of steak tartare and seared scallops, nibbles he calls “promiscuous dining,” while a bartender, James Bobby, mixed delicate yet potent drinks with names like Peacock’s Breath and the Jezebel Blanc.

I bet you thought it was ‘Peacock’s Breath’ that made me sit up and take notice.

No. The only thing I thought when reading ‘Peacock’s Breath’ was that I really did not want to get that up close and personal to any peacock that I could smell his breath.

What stunned me into attention were the words ‘promiscuous dining’. Well, really. Wouldn’t it you?

I wanted to know all about this thing. What was it? Who did it? How often did they do it? And all the other little details, at great length please.

In 1990 the phrase was used at a meeting of the Jane Austen Society of America (in Oronto, Maine of all places). Here is the phrase, in context of the report:

Obviously our speaker had thoroughly researched the subject of food and drink in the time of Jane Austen, and her address was replete with odd and charming details – “quirky lore,” my wife says – like the fact that the great houses of Austen’s time knew nothing of afternoons. Their mornings lasted until dinner time. I like that. Here’s another one: residents of the great houses discovered the pleasures of “promiscuous dining” at this time. Heretofore ladies had been seated on one side of the table; gentlemen on the other. Now they alternated around the table: a lady beside a gentleman. Thus the promiscuity.

Well well well. What have we here. Daring, that. But still I wanted more. In 2006, and again in the city of Los Angeles, there is a report on a restaurant that was a “Best Date Spot” for the year. Since then it has closed.

Lest you forget that this Pico Boulevard boite is built on the idea of “promiscuous dining”–where you’re never forced to marry just one entree–sexy (and uber-tatted) Chef Jared Simons will remind you when he’s walking around greeting guests like some unassuming rock star.

Now we’re getting somewhere! But yet there is something wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh. I know. Did that just actually say ‘unassuming rock star’? Oh. I guess it can happen . . . maybe . . .

There was only one other reference online I could find on this promiscuous dining thing that offered any food for thought. It was in a story titled ‘The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King’ and this time the location was not Los Angeles, the story did not mention Peggy Guggenheim, nor did it mention any unassuming rock stars.

Jesus was also a religious reformer. His religiously promiscuous dining practice was both visionary and confrontational. The encouragement for anyone to come in off the streets to his table breached the purity codes that were deemed essential for personal holiness. What food you ate, who you touched or were in close proximity with, who you spoke to, was believed to affect not just your health and social standing but also your relationship with God. To dine with say a woman was to lower you to her inferior spiritual status. It was similar with a leper, or child, or tax collector. Jesus was challenging the rules about holiness.

The frumious Bandersnatch has always been shunned.

But times change, and apparently so does the shape the frumious Bandersnatch takes.

Will the frumious Bandersnatch ever completely disappear? Or will he/she/it always be with us?
Who are the Bandersnatches in your life? (That is, of course, if you know any. It’s possible though not probable that there exists someone who has never met a Bandersnatch.)

Promiscuous dining.
(It’s not what I thought it was.)

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