Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘food’

02 AUGUST, 2013

Bedroom via Kitchen: What Food Preferences Reveal about You and Your Romantic Partner

By:

“You can learn a lot about a person from the way he or she eats.”

The shared meal, Michael Pollan noted in his altogether fascinating exploration of how cooking civilized us, is where we “learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization.” But, beyond the mere mythology of aphrodisiacs and anti-aphrodisiacs, the careful observation of our relationship with food during those shared occasions can also reveal our rawest nature, most unfiltered preferences, and least civilized psychological tendencies. So argues Mimi Sheraton in The Seducer’s Cookbook (public library) — her charming 1962 guide to the lost art of seduction, illustrated by MAD’s Paul Coker — where she presents this curious culinary anatomy of romantic and sexual archetypes:

You can learn a lot about a person from the way he or she eats — about the extent of his physical appetites and the way they are satisfied. There are those who will try anything offered to them, no matter how new or exotic, while others refuse to accept any but the most familiar fare — obviously not the adventurous type to new experiences.

Sheraton argues that dietary preferences reveal a great deal about how good a dancer someone is in the intricate dance between abandon and restraint, so essential in intimate relationships:

Women who are diet-conscious should, when some tempting morsel is presented, throw caution to the wind and eat without a thought for tomorrow. An air of abandon must prevail sometimes, and if not at the table, then probably not in bed either; while a man who appears to be turning into one of Circe’s swine after dinner may display the same propensities when satisfying his other physical urge.

The act of ordering itself, Sheraton counsels, is remarkably revealing of a person’s overall authenticity:

While ordering in restaurants, you should be able to tell a great deal about someone’s tastes, sensitivities and pretensions. A man or woman who is completely honest and without airs, and already knows good food, will recognize it whether it be a hot dog at Nedick’s or a páté en croute at Pavillon. Beware of anyone who seems to recognize good food only when served in a currently fashionable restaurant. Such a person may be given to passing fads and is not to be trusted.

Sheraton goes on to offer a kind of gastronomic phrenology of personality types based on dietary preferences:

If a woman consistently orders sickeningly sweet, overelaborate whipped-cream desserts, she may be given to equally sticky goodbyes, and a man who overeats on one course and then has to pass up the rest of the meal doesn’t know how to pace himself and could be a problem later in the evening. And should you find yourself with a girl who orders a pastrami sandwich on whole-wheat toast with lettuce and Russian dressing (a meal I actually heard someone order in a New York delicatessen), you’d best be off before the waiter returns with the check.

The rest of The Seducer’s Cookbook similarly oscillates between the delightfully outlandish and the surprisingly insightful, and remains an absolute treat from cover to cover. Sample more of it here and complement it with unbeknownst gastronome Alexandre Dumas on the three types of appetite.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

24 JULY, 2013

Alexandre Dumas on the 3 Types of Appetites, 3 Types of Gluttony, and Perfect Number of Dinner Guests

By:

“Assuredly it is a great accomplishment to be a novelist, but it is no mediocre glory to be a cook.”

Although literary history remembers Alexandre Dumas (July 24, 1802–December 5, 1870) as the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, he was also, unbeknownst to many today, a formidable gastronome and masterful cook. In many ways, this makes sense — from The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook to bibliophilic recipes to literary culinary parodies, food and fiction have always gravitated to each other. The Alexandre Dumas’ Dictionary of Cuisine (public library), however — one of literary history’s rarest culinary treasures, it is also one of the most glorious — is in a league of its very own. Its story is equally epic: The manuscript was delivered to Dumas’s publisher and friend, Alphonese Lemerre, in the spring of 1870, but just as it was being set in type, the Franco-Prussian War tore Europe apart. Publication was halted. A few months later, Dumas died. Despite the five hundred books he had authored, he considered the Dictionary of Cuisine his masterwork, so once peace was established, his friend D. J. Vuillemot corrected and revised the manuscript, and Le Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine was published posthumously in 1873. Nine years later, Lemerre published Le Petit Dictionnaire de cuisine, consisting of only the recipes and doing away with all the historical commentary on food and its rituals.

The bibliophile Jacob Paul Lacroix, a Dumas contemporary, captured the singular significance of the Dictionary most memorably:

Assuredly it is a great accomplishment to be a novelist, but it is no mediocre glory to be a cook. Novelist or cook, Dumas is a master, and the two vocations appear to go hand in hand, or, rather, to be joined in one.

Dumas’s epicurean tour of the alphabet, “from absinthe (and how to make it) to zest (and how to use it),” is itself a treasure trove of hundreds of recipes spanning 150 years and delivered with a storyteller’s poise, the most delightful part of the book is Dumas’s preface, titled “A Few Words to the Reader.” In it, amidst meditations on the art, science, and psychology of cuisine, Dumas delivers a taxonomy of appetite:

There are three sorts of appetites:

1. Appetite that comes from hunger. It makes no fuss over the food that satisfies it. If it is great enough, a piece of raw meat will appease it as easily as a roasted pheasant or woodcock.

2. Appetite aroused, hunger or no hunger, by a succulent dish appearing at the right moment, illustrating the proverb that hunger comes with eating.

The third type of appetite is that roused at the end of a meal when, after normal hunger has been satisfied by the main courses, and the guest is truly ready to rise without regret, a delicious dish holds him to the table with a final tempting of his sensuality.

Alexandre Dumas in 1855 (public domain)

He follows this with a parallel taxonomy of the three types of gluttony:

First there is that gluttony which has been raised by the theologians to rank among the seven deadly sins. This is what Montaigne calls “the science of the gullet,” and it is well exemplified by Trimalchio and Vitellius.

The greatest example of gluttony that has come to us from classical antiquity is that of Saturn, who devoured his children for fear they would dethrone him, and did not even notice it was a paving stone he swallowed instead when it came to Jupiter’s turn. He is forgiven, for in doing so he furnished Vergniaud with a fine simile: “The Revolution is like Saturn. It devours its own children.”

Besides this sort of gluttony, which requires a strong stomach, there is what we might call the gluttony of delicate souls. Horace praised it, and Lucullus practiced it. This is exemplified by the host who gathers together a few friends, never less numerous than the Graces, ever more than the Muses, and does his utmost to distract their minds and cater to their tastes.

For a curious epitome of how language and culture co-evolve, Dumas uses the word bulimia, which originates from the Greek boulimia for “ravenous hunger,” to describe the third kind of gluttony. The formal diagnosis of bulimia nervosa as an eating disorder, one of today’s most heartbreakingly prevalent mental-health maladies, was nearly a decade away, but Dumas articulates the tragedy of its grip with remarkable poignancy and even calls it a “disease” long before it was officially categorized as one:

The third form of gluttony, which I can only deplore, is that of those unfortunates who suffer from bulimia, a perpetual and insatiable hunger. They are neither gourmands nor gourmets; they are martyrs. It was doubtless during an attack of this disease that Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a mess of pottage.

Dumas then returns to the question of the perfect number of dinner guests, scouring ancient history for an answer:

Varro, the learned librarian, tells us that the number of guests at a Roman dinner was ordinarily three or nine — as many as the Graces, no more than the Muses. Among the Greeks, there were sometimes seven diners, in honor of Pallas. The sterile number seven was consecrated to the goddess of wisdom, as a symbol of her virginity. But the Greeks especially liked the number six, because it is round. Plato favored the number twenty-eight, in honor of Phoebe, who runs her course in twenty-eight days. The Emperor Verus wanted twelve guests at his table in honor of Jupiter, which takes twelve years to revolve around the sun. Augustus, under whose reign women began to take their place in Roman society, habitually had twelve men and twelve women, in honor of the twelve gods and goddesses.

In France, any number except thirteen is good.

Since literature is the original internet, with each reference or footnote essentially a hyperlink to another work, it’s no surprise that I discovered Alexandre Dumas’ Dictionary of Cuisine in the equally wonderful Seducer’s Cookbook, also very much worth a read. Complement it with this magnificent illustrated edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook and the favorite recipes of beloved poets.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

23 MAY, 2013

Delicious Vintage Food PSA Posters

By:

Save the sugar, eat your oatmeal, know your onions, and other tips from Uncle Sam.

Spending countless hours digging through archives isn’t without its rewards — namely, such semi-serendipitous finds as gorgeous black-and-white photos of NASA facilities, vintage ads for libraries and reading, yesteryear’s science ads, and mid-century posters from the Golden Age of Travel. My latest addition comes from the public domain images of the U.S. National Archives: a handful of delicious vintage food PSA posters, a number of which were later included in the book Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives (public library), based on the National Archive exhibition titled What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.

Pair with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 uses for turkey leftovers.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.