The Aesthetics of Food sets out the continuing philosophical debate about the aesthetic nature of food. The debate begin
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Table of contents :
Half Title......Page 3
Title Page......Page 5
Copyright Page......Page 6
Table of contents......Page 7
Chapter One The Aesthetics of Food: Cuisine and Taste......Page 11
Ferran Adrià and Contemporary Cuisine......Page 14
Theories of Taste......Page 19
Taste in Asia......Page 22
Chapter Two Taste in Antiquity: Plato’s Rejection of Food......Page 29
From Wild Man to Civilized Being: The Epic of Gilgamesh......Page 30
Food and the Evolution of Homo Sapiens......Page 32
Plato’s Rejection of the Pleasures of Food......Page 34
Heldke’s Critique of Plato’s Rejection of Cuisine in Gorgias......Page 36
Plato’s Account of Taste......Page 38
Plato’s Theory of Taste and the Greeks’ Love of Food......Page 41
Chapter Three Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste......Page 49
Aristotle on Gluttony......Page 50
Aristotle’s Theory of Taste......Page 52
Taste and Touch......Page 54
Freeland’s Critique of Aristotle’s Theory of Touch......Page 56
Aristotle’s Common Sense......Page 57
Can Food Be Beautiful?......Page 58
Summary of Aristotle’s Theory of Taste......Page 61
Gustatory Experience in the Roman Empire......Page 63
Christianity Struggles with Food and Wine......Page 70
Chapter Four Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food......Page 81
Food in the Monastic Refectory and the Feudal Hall......Page 82
Renaissance Gastronomy in Italy......Page 84
Seventeenth-Century French Cuisine......Page 88
Service à la française......Page 90
The Distillation of Alcohol......Page 92
Descartes, Alcohol, and Animal Spirits......Page 93
Chapter Five Critical Taste in the Enlightenment......Page 99
Addison on Fine Taste......Page 100
Shaftesbury and Hutcheson......Page 103
Du Bos and Voltaire......Page 108
Hume’s Theory of Taste and Gustatory Experience......Page 110
Delicacy of Taste and the “Finer Emotions”......Page 116
Reid on Taste......Page 118
Kant on Taste......Page 127
Taste of Sense and Taste of Reflection......Page 129
Disinterestedness and Having a Gustatory Appetite......Page 131
Kant on Common Sense......Page 135
Gastronomy and Brillat-Savarin......Page 136
Brillat-Savarin and Gourmandism......Page 140
Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste......Page 141
Taste and the Gastronomic Revolution......Page 143
Carême and the Celebrity Chef......Page 145
Expressionism and Food......Page 146
Lewis Carroll on Food......Page 147
Chapter Seven Creating and Tasting: Can Fine Food Be Fine Art?......Page 155
Clement Greenberg’s Modernism......Page 156
Clive Bell and “Significant Form”......Page 157
Prall and Beardsley on Whether Tastes and Smells Can Have Structures......Page 158
Dewey on Having an Experience with Food......Page 160
Modernism and Cuisine......Page 162
Telfer and Korsmeyer on the Pleasures of Taste......Page 164
The Art World and Cuisine......Page 167
Kuehn and Monroe: Can Cuisine Be Fine Art?......Page 168
Postmodernism and the Multisensitivity of Taste......Page 169
Chapter Eight Tasting Wine......Page 177
Scruton on Taste and Smell......Page 178
Hume’s Wine-Tasting Example Reconsidered......Page 181
Analytic Realism......Page 182
Analytic Interpretivism......Page 185
The Synthetic Character of Wine Tasting......Page 188
Chapter Nine The Philosophical Debate about the Aesthetics of Food......Page 193
The Aesthetics of Food
The Aesthetics of Food The Philosophical Debate about What We Eat and Drink
Kevin W. Sweeney
Permissions Received An earlier version of the section in c hapter 8 on wine appeared in the following essay: Kevin W. Sweeney, “Is There Coffee or Blackberry in My Wine?” in Wine & Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking, edited by Fritz Allhoff (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), 205–218, © 2008 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Permission to reprint material from that essay has been granted by Wiley and is gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of the section in c hapter 6 on appetite appeared in the following essay: Kevin W. Sweeney, “Hunger Is the Best Sauce: The Aesthetics of Food,” in The Philosophy of Food, edited by David Kaplan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 52–68, © 2012 by The Regents of the University of California. Permission to reprint material from that essay has been granted by The University of California Press and is gratefully acknowledged. Published by Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd. Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB www.rowmaninternational.com Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd. is an affiliate of Rowman & Littlefield 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706, USA With additional offices in Boulder, New York, Toronto (Canada), and Plymouth (UK) www.rowman.com Copyright © 2018 by Kevin W. Sweeney All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN: HB 978-1-7834-8742-4 ISBN: PB 978-1-7834-8743-1 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Sweeney, Kevin W., 1945–author. Title: The Aesthetics of Food: The Philosophical Debate about What We Eat and Drink / Kevin W. Sweeney. Description: Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017041976 (print) | LCCN 2017043108 (ebook) | ISBN 9781783487448 (Electronic) | ISBN 9781783487424 (cloth : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781783487431 (pbk. : alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Gastronomy. | Food habits—History. | Food—Philosophy. Classification: LCC TX631 (ebook) | LCC TX631 .S94 2017 (print) | DDC 641.01/3—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017041976 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America
1 The Aesthetics of Food: Cuisine and Taste Ferran Adrià and Contemporary Cuisine Theories of Taste Taste in Asia
1 4 9 12
2 Taste in Antiquity: Plato’s Rejection of Food From Wild Man to Civilized Being: The Epic of Gilgamesh Food and the Evolution of Homo sapiens Plato’s Rejection of the Pleasures of Food Plato’s Denial That Cuisine Has an Art or Craft Heldke’s Critique of Plato’s Rejection of Cuisine in Gorgias Plato’s Account of Taste Plato’s Theory of Taste and the Greeks’ Love of Food Summary
19 20 22 24 26 26 28 31 34
3 Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste Aristotle on Gluttony Aristotle’s Theory of Taste Taste and Touch Freeland’s Critique of Aristotle’s Theory of Touch Aristotle’s Common Sense Can Food Be Beautiful? Summary of Aristotle’s Theory of Taste Gustatory Experience in the Roman Empire Christianity Struggles with Food and Wine
39 40 42 44 46 47 48 51 53 60
4 Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food Food in the Monastic Refectory and the Feudal Hall
Renaissance Gastronomy in Italy Seventeenth-Century French Cuisine Service à la française The Distillation of Alcohol Descartes, Alcohol, and Animal Spirits
74 78 80 82 83
5 Critical Taste in the Enlightenment Addison on Fine Taste Shaftesbury and Hutcheson Du Bos and Voltaire Hume’s Theory of Taste and Gustatory Experience Delicacy of Taste and the “Finer Emotions” Reid on Taste Conclusion
89 90 93 98 100 106 108 110
6 Kant and Brillat-Savarin on Taste Kant on Taste Taste of Sense and Taste of Reflection Disinterestedness and Having a Gustatory Appetite Kant on Common Sense Gastronomy and Brillat-Savarin Brillat-Savarin and Gourmandism Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste Taste and the Gastronomic Revolution Carême and the Celebrity Chef Expressionism and Food Lewis Carroll on Food
117 117 119 121 125 126 130 131 133 135 136 137
7 Creating and Tasting: Can Fine Food Be Fine Art? Clement Greenberg’s Modernism Clive Bell and “Significant Form” Prall and Beardsley on Whether Tastes and Smells Can Have Structures Dewey on Having an Experience with Food Modernism and Cuisine Telfer and Korsmeyer on the Pleasures of Taste The Art World and Cuisine Kuehn and Monroe: Can Cuisine Be Fine Art? Postmodernism and the Multisensitivity of Taste
145 146 147
8 Tasting Wine Scruton on Taste and Smell Hume’s Wine-Tasting Example Reconsidered
167 168 171
148 150 152 154 157 158 159
Analytic Realism Analytic Interpretivism The Synthetic Character of Wine Tasting
172 175 178
9 The Philosophical Debate about the Aesthetics of Food
The Aesthetics of Food Cuisine and Taste
Food has been studied by anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and different cultural critics, all of whom have focused on increasing our understanding of the role that food plays in human affairs. Philosophers have also investigated and reflected on the nature and role of food in human life. If philosophy has traditionally been concerned with the true, the good, and the beautiful, food has been a subject of debate in each of these areas with philosophers asking: Is it true that food has played a significant role in the establishment of human nature? What moral issues arise in the selection of our diet? Are there things we should not eat, and what sort of diet is good for us? Can food be an object of genuine critical appreciation, and can it ever have a positive aesthetic value or be beautiful? This third area of philosophical inquiry is now commonly referred to as gustatory aesthetics or the aesthetics of food. At least since antiquity, philosophers as well as a broad range of other thinkers have taken opposing positions on whether fine food or cuisine could be an object of a genuine critical or aesthetic appreciation.1 Was our enjoyment of fine food similar to the kind of appreciation we have with the arts and nature? Or, did our interest in what we consumed merely reflect an idiosyncratic preference driven by hunger? The thesis of this book is that the ongoing philosophical debate from antiquity to the present about the nature of food and its aesthetic value offers insight into and clarification about many of the issues dealing with our enjoyment and fascination with fine food. These debates especially reveal how the change over time in artistic styles and aesthetic paradigms has developed and refocused how we have come to think about and value cuisine. Although it is now commonplace to refer to these debates as addressing the aesthetic issue of whether food could ever be an appropriate object 1
of appreciation, the notion of the aesthetic is a fairly recent term in these debates. In earlier times, before the aesthetic became the favored conceptual term, other terms were used. The following four paragraphs present a sketch of some of the changes in the terms and concepts used in these debates. All of these terms and concepts will be discussed more fully in the following chapters. Philosophers in ancient Greece and Rome used a single term, beauty or the beautiful, to refer to the highest value ascribable to an object of critical appreciation. In fifth century BCE, Plato asked whether food or drink could be beautiful. He concluded that only objects of sight and hearing could be beautiful and that food could not be beautiful because it was something that we smelled and tasted. In later years, Plato’s skeptical position about food being an object of serious critical appreciation has been supported in one form or another, but it has also been challenged, especially in recent years. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a new term of critical approbation was introduced that, it was claimed, clarified the nature of genuine critical appreciation. Critical appreciation was referred to as an exercise of refined or critical taste. During this time, philosophers questioned the nature of the relationship of literal taste to critical taste. The latter notion often had nothing to do with what we orally ingest since we talk about, for example, someone’s taste in music. Yet, there was an acknowledgment that certain features of literal taste were common to critical taste, such as having a natural hedonic character and an immediacy of appreciative critical response.2 Although beauty as a term denoting high value still maintained considerable currency, the rise to prominence of critical taste allowed for the introduction of new terms distinguished from the beautiful that indicated positive value such as sublime and picturesque. Nevertheless, one of the problems with the notion of critical taste was that, if the metaphorical connection with literal taste were accepted, it was liable to render critical appreciation an individual or subjective matter. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a new critical term was introduced, the aesthetic, which challenged the dominancy of taste as the major critical category, especially if one thought that critical taste was based on literal taste. One of the significant features of the aesthetic was that it did not require the immediacy of response that was claimed to be integral to literal and critical taste. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant distinguished what he took to be the immediate response that occurred in gustatory experience from the experience of genuine appreciation of the beautiful that took some time to develop. The early years of the nineteenth century saw a reappraisal of the nature of gustatory experience with the introduction of what was now called the study of gastronomy, the appreciation of fine food. With the rise of
The Aesthetics of Food
interest in cuisine, the views of Kant and others who dismissed food and wine as genuine objects of critical appreciation came to be challenged. In succeeding years, the vocabulary of critical appraisal has continued to evolve. Although in the twentieth century some philosophers have dismissed the aesthetic as being no more than a mythic notion, the aesthetic has continued to maintain a general currency in discussing a variety of forms of critical appreciation. It is even used to characterize forms of appreciation that existed before the invention of the term in the eighteenth century. In light of this familiar and popular use of the term, aesthetic, discussion in future chapters will often make use of the term, even in discussing earlier eras when use of the term would, strictly speaking, have been anachronistic. In addition to changes in the terms used for critical appreciation, there have been other changes that have influenced the debate about whether food and drink could be objects of genuine appreciative interest. Along with the rise to prominence of the notion of the aesthetic, the nineteenth century saw the beginning of a succession of new artistic styles and art historical paradigms. With the expanding interest in gastronomy, different artistic paradigms such as Expressionism, Modernism, and Postmodernism focused new attention on the creative process involved in the production of cuisine. In turn, the rise of an artistic avant-garde that introduced these new artistic styles opened the way for promoting and valuing the culinary achievements of creative chefs dedicated to introducing new breakthroughs in cuisine. In addition to the influence of this succession of art historical paradigms, there were changes in the way that food was commonly prepared in the Western world and presented to the public. There were technological innovations in the kitchen such as the invention of cast-iron stoves with individual eyes that allowed for greater control over cooking temperatures.3 Such innovations in turn gave impetus to the creation of new dishes. Not only were there changes in the kitchen but there were also changes in the dining areas where the food was presented to diners. The beginning of the nineteenth century in Europe saw the rise of restaurants, public establishments where individuals or groups of diners could sit at their own table. There they could choose from a menu of different dishes and be successively served their selections. Since this form of service had been used in Czarist Russia, it came to be called service à la russe. Finally, there were changes in the way that gustatory experience was conceived and understood. The understanding of the sensory experience of ingesting and consuming food underwent a transformation from viewing gustatory experience as a simple single sensory event to viewing it as being a complex multisensory experience.
FERRAN ADRIÀ AND CONTEMPORARY CUISINE Consider an example from contemporary cuisine that frames within a philosophical context the types of changes indicative of our fascination with food in the twenty-first century. Recent decades have seen an expanding interest in all aspects of gastronomy and the pleasures of gustatory experience. There has been an eagerness to explore many regional culinary traditions reflective of different social classes. Vendors of street food started by immigrants have developed a following and been recognized by well-known food critics and mentioned in restaurant guides. So have pricey restaurants featuring celebrity chefs. These well-reviewed restaurants have become temples of gastronomy, flocked to by those who can afford them and are anxious to savor the latest styles and creations of chefs in the culinary pantheon.4 Accompanying this pursuit of gustatory creativity has been a curiosity to learn about the innovative technologies responsible for producing the exciting flavors of the new haute cuisine, flavors that in an earlier time might have been considered unusual (e.g., savory ice creams) or even garish. Given the current interest in this use of technology to revolutionize gastronomy, one might refer to the opening years of this century as the age of “molecular gastronomy.”5 “Molecular gastronomy” was a shortened form of a label first used in 1998 by two scientists interested in cuisine, Nicholas Kurti and Hervé This. They were looking for a name appropriate for a series of conferences they were sponsoring. Regularly held in Sicily over the following twelve years, the conferences were dedicated to exploring the science behind the creation of new flavors and to inventing new techniques for preparing innovative food. Hervé This has proposed the following general definition of “molecular gastronomy,” saying that it “deals with culinary transformations and the sensory phenomena associated with eating.”6 The conferences sparked a culinary movement that adopted the name of “molecular gastronomy.” On gaining prominence, the movement was championed by those who appreciated the avant-garde direction of this new form of cuisine, although the name itself was objected to by some who thought it did not reflect the true nature of the new cuisine. The movement also incited some controversy and was sharply criticized for challenging what were held to be established and well-founded standards of good cooking. Many prominent chefs such as England’s Heston Blumenthal, Denmark’s René Redzepi, Spain’s Joan Roca, and Italy’s Massimo Bottura have been influenced by the movement.7 Perhaps the movement’s most celebrated chef and gustatory thinker, although he is said to loathe the label, “molecular gastronomy,” for not being descriptive of his cuisine, is Ferran Adrià. His restaurant, El Bulli, on the Catalan coast north of Barcelona, was given three
The Aesthetics of Food
stars by the Michelin Guide in 1997. From at least 2003 when a New York Times Magazine article turned Adrià into an international celebrity until the restaurant closed in 2011, El Bulli was frequently proposed as being the greatest innovative restaurant in the world.8 As a Catalan chef, Adrià has his roots both in the cooking of his native Catalonia and in traditional Spanish cooking; however, he has also been influenced by classic French haute cuisine and by nouvelle cuisine, the late twentieth-century lightening of that tradition. As his style has developed, Adrià has incorporated influences from Asia and elsewhere in the world. He has absorbed and reacted against all of these culinary styles, not to abandon them completely but to transform them in a revolutionary way so that food writers and critics have claimed that he has “reinvented food.” Adrià’s culinary methodology has been referred to as culinary ‘deconstruction,’ which involves the breaking down of familiar dishes into their constituent parts, changing the physical identity of at least some of those parts, and then reassembling the pieces in new ways, so that the dishes take on different forms while retaining sensory connections with their models.9
“Deconstruction” is a term widely associated with the French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s antifoundationalist theory of language and meaning. While Adrià does not claim to be a follower of Derrida’s philosophical system, with his avant-garde approach to cuisine, he does seem to be in step with what have been called deconstructionist aesthetic theories and styles of art criticism. These critical approaches have tended, for example, to look beneath the surface of a literary work, finding absences and semantic relations that might not have been apparent. In a similar way, Adrià’s innovative style of food preparation reflects a philosophical rethinking of the established nature of cuisine and a creative interest in exploring new approaches to food. In taking apart and reconstructing a traditional Spanish dish like gazpacho or paella, Adrià seeks to invent what one might metaphorically call new syntactic and semantic connections that give new meaning to the gustatory character of the dish. In doing so, he envisions changing the relationship between chef and diner by creating with his food what he calls “a conversation” between them in a new language. In 2008, Adrià addressed a New York audience, telling them, When you cook, you create a conversation with the diner. With avant-garde cooking, you create a new language for this conversation. To do that, your first job is to create a new alphabet. Then you can make words, then you can make sentences. As a diner, you have to be willing to try to understand this new language. [He adds:] Avant-garde cuisine will always belong to the minority. . . .
There’s nothing wrong with that. Jazz belongs to the minority too, and it’s wonderful.10
Adrià realizes that some people will resist participating in this new culinary language and will prefer to stick with familiar culinary traditions. Just as avant-garde artists overthrew past artistic styles, so Adrià sees his style of cooking as not only challenging traditional ways of cooking but also creating new dishes with technologically innovative means unknown in earlier kitchens. Using these new techniques, he has sought to create dishes that bring out an intensity of individual flavors but that also embody new combinations of flavors. In pursuing his passion for creating dishes with new combinations and focused intensities of flavor, Adrià has sometimes adapted techniques not usually seen in the kitchens of earlier chefs and used them to produce surprising results. For example, a well-stocked bar would often have a siphon with an attached CO2 gas cartridge that could add a burst of sparkling soda water to a drink. Putting in other liquids in place of the water in such a gas- infusing mechanism, Adrià created a variety of foams, which would have the flavor of their liquid source. His use of foams became one of his culinary signatures. Describing this and similar innovations, Colman Andrews claims that Adrià by employing “such techniques as caramelization, liquefaction, emulsification, ultra-low-temperature freezing, ‘spherification,’ and the production of food-based ‘foams’ and ‘airs,’ among other things, he has done nothing less than alter the basic characteristics of food’s forms and flavors.”11 His innovative technique that has been called spherification involved creating a liquid mixture, for example, of dissolved olives, combined with calcium carbonate. Drops of that solution are put into another liquid formed from a substance derived from a seaweed, sodium alginate, along with calcium chloride. The drops would form little orbs that when chewed would produce an intense flavor of olives.12 French philosopher Jean-Paul Jouary has described an occasion when he dined at El Bulli and was served a dish that consisted entirely of tomatoes, at least a half-dozen of them but each one had been prepared in a different form. He recalls that they had different textures, certainly, but were nonetheless just simple tomatoes in their natural purity. A tomato sorbet, a tomato granite, a tomato ice cream, a tomato jelly, an airy mousse. . . . One caresses the palate with freshness, another is crunchy and slips easily down the throat, another melts and yet another disappears as soon as you put it in your mouth, dematerialising in a second and leaving a kind of scented foam on the tongue.13
The Aesthetics of Food
Tasting that dish and reflecting on how it dematerialized the food into its flavors, Jouary claims that it made him experience tomato flavors in a new way. He also offers several other examples of dishes that were served at El Bulli and describes how he and other diners responded to them. Some of the dishes traded on presenting the diner with an illusion of what the food was. For example, he describes a dish of spaghetti in which what appears to be pasta turns out to be one very long strand made entirely out of Parmesan cheese. He says, The illusion is suddenly unmasked and surprise, astonishment are added to the pleasure of discovering the unexpected flavours and textures. One then reflects, inevitably, on what one is experiencing and one talks, sharing feelings and words, one laughs. I have never been in a restaurant where so many people laugh so often. . . . A sudden discord between the eye and the palate makes us examine things more closely, obliging us to taste differently, to go deep into ourselves, to look at food with a concentration that is not at all spontaneous. . . . This cooking addresses itself to our intelligence.14
Adrià’s innovative cuisine has been guided by his desire to create dishes that appeal not just to a gustatory aesthetic focused primarily on taste and smell but to include a broader range of sensory experiences as well as a spectrum of different emotional responses. In being served innovative dishes like the plate of tomatoes and the spaghetti, Jouary observes that it was not unusual for diners to undergo a gamut of emotional reactions from smiles to astonishment. Colman Andrews draws attention to Adrià’s culinary aesthetic that prompts diners to employ what Adrià “likes to call a ‘sixth sense,’ which to him involves the emotional reactions diners have to what they eat: childhood memories stimulated, echoes of favorite foods heard, cultural baggage of all kinds unpacked or rummaged through.”15 In examining the career of Ferran Adrià, one can see him exemplifying in a new way many of the changes toward food discussed earlier. We first drew attention to how philosophical attitudes toward cuisine were affected by the successive introductions of new concepts and terminology for critical appreciation. These attitudes further evolved in the nineteenth century due to changes in aesthetic paradigms and a succession of artistic styles often promoted by an artistic avant-garde. The new interest in cuisine was bolstered by technological inventions in the kitchen as well as by new ways of presenting food to a dining public. Accompanying these changes were new theories of the nature of gustatory experience that expanded the kind of appreciative encounters diners had with food. In keeping with these changes, one notices that Adrià was encouraged to broaden the sensory and emotional appeal of his food with a desire to
reinvent cuisine by an avant-garde reworking of past traditions and creating new culinary forms. This challenge to the past might not be accepted by everyone, but it would be in keeping with the way that avant-garde revolutions in the arts often provoked strong reactions. Adrià thought that his innovative cuisine would forge a new relationship with his diners, and in time he transformed the way that his restaurant presented his fare to his diners. He changed El Bulli by eliminating the à la carte menu from which diners chose their courses, replacing the menu with a succession of thirty or more tasting dishes that Adrià selected but that were regularly changed. The traditional order of dishes from soup to dessert was also not strictly followed, as was distinguishing seafood from meat dishes. The sum of these departures from tradition led those familiar with his innovations to claim, as Colman Andrews previously observed, that Adrià had “reinvented food.” As a philosopher, Jean-Paul Jouary argues that Adrià’s distinctive cuisine has become fine art. His conclusion that Adrià’s cuisine is a form of fine art is based on several different lines of argument. In one of those arguments, Jouary proposes that what makes Adrià’s cuisine not just an ordinary culinary offering but an artistic work is “the dematerialisation of [his] food.”16 Jouary claims that in the usual circumstance of alimentation there is an immediate hedonic response to what has been ingested. We do not need to ponder whether or not we find what we are eating to be pleasurable. Jouary refers to this usual circumstance as being one of “material immediacy,” and he believes that this condition of immediacy in the past has prevented cuisine from being recognized as having achieved an artistic status. He claims that works of art that are approached through sight and hearing are separated or at a distance from the perceiver and that distance counters the “material immediacy” experienced with food.17 Jouary claims that one of the distinctive features of Adrià’s deconstructionist culinary aesthetic is that in encouraging diners to take a reflective and emotionally complex attitude toward his food, Adrià has transformed the medium of his cuisine and as a result has dematerialized his food. What he means by that is that the food consumed is not just ingested and its character and hedonic valence immediately sensed as apparent. Instead, the diner’s assumptions about what has been ingested are put into question and emotionally challenged. This puts a certain emotional distance between the diner and the food, creating an intellectual space around what has been ingested so that it can be questioned and examined. The food has been provokingly reconceptualized, thereby providing the diner some space and time to engage with the food more fully. With traditional visual and aural art forms, we have already been prepared for this intellectual framing by the initial distal relation to the art work. Food by its traditional interior form of engagement has not had the
The Aesthetics of Food
benefit of this distal separation. Jouary claims that Adrià’s cuisine encourages such an artistic context. Jouary’s line of reasoning about Ferran Adrià’s cuisine is a recent instance of a position that has earlier precedents in the philosophical debate about the aesthetic nature of fine food. In setting out his position on the aesthetic character of Adrià’s cuisine, Jouary places it in the context of earlier philosophical positions on art and the aesthetic nature of food. For instance, he refers to Kant’s and Hegel’s views on art and aesthetics as well as to the views of other philosophers. He also places Adrià within the history of the changing presentation of food, and he distinguishes Adrià’s cuisine from other eminent chefs’ styles of cooking. In the following chapters, the philosophical debate over food will be more fully set out so as to clarify what the precedents are for positions of philosophers such as Jouary. But first, it will be helpful to make some preliminary remarks about the nature of taste in order to provide some basic knowledge to enable a better understanding of the gustatory theories of earlier philosophers and theorists. THEORIES OF TASTE People’s understanding of taste has changed over the centuries. The different ways that taste has been understood are especially apparent when comparing how taste has been perceived in the West and in the East. In the nineteenth century, Western science established that there were four primary or basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.18 These four tastes had already been recognized in antiquity; they were selected as tastes in the fifth century BCE by Democritus.19 Since then, there has been a continuing debate about whether other tastes should be included along with the four primary ones. Modern science has insisted that in order to be counted as a genuine taste, as opposed to some other kind of sensory experience that occurs during alimentation, there must be evidence of special chemical receptors in the mouth and throat that will respond to organoleptic or chemical stimulants found in ingested sapid or taste-producing substances. Science holds that these receptor sites are located in what are called taste cells and that the cells are bundled together in what are called taste buds. There are approximately ten thousand taste buds, and each one contains roughly from fifty to a hundred taste cells. Until recently, scientists believed that these taste cells each contained four receptors that identified a particular class of chemical stimulants. Each taste cell can react to all four kinds of chemical stimulants or tastants identified as the tastes of sweet, acidic, bitter, and salty.20 Taste buds have been found in three ridges, called papillae, on the tongue. There are fungiform papillae, named because they resemble small
mushroom-like protrusions, and are found on the tip and top sides of the tongue. Circumvallate papillae are in an arc across the top back of the tongue, and foliate papillae are found on the sides in the back of the tongue. All three of these papillae have taste buds with cells that are sensitive to all four of the primary taste stimulants. Actually there is a fourth kind of papillae (filiform) that is found in the top center of the tongue, but filiform papillae contain no taste buds. As a result, the center of the tongue where the filiform papillae are centered is not sensitive to taste.21 It should be noted that taste buds are found not only on the tongue but throughout the mouth and palate. Gordon M. Shepherd points out that they are even “at the back of the roof of the mouth, on the tonsils, and as far down as the epiglottis.”22 In light of this physiology of taste receptors and in order to enjoy a richer gustatory experience, it is wise to move the food around in one’s mouth so that it can make contact with the taste cells in all three taste- sensitive papillae as well as with taste buds in other areas in the mouth and throat. Letting the food sit on the top middle of the tongue and then quickly swallowing it will not allow one to have that richer experience. Up until recently, the four-receptor theory of taste was the accepted scientific view. However, in the early twentieth century, a Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda, of the Tokyo Imperial University claimed on the basis of his research that there was a fifth basic taste that he named umami that had a savory, mushroomy, or meaty taste stimulated by glutamate molecules, perhaps most familiarly sensed as monosodium glutamate. At first, his proposal was considered controversial; however, in 2001, a taste receptor for umami was discovered, and since then it has been scientifically accepted that there are five tastes: sweet, acidic, bitter, salty, and umami.23 Before umami was recognized as a taste, it was thought that the tongue was divided into separate zones and that taste buds in each zone were sensitive to only one of the four basic tastes. It was claimed that the zone at the tip of the tongue was sensitive to sweet and the zone at the top back of the tongue was sensitive to bitter. On the sides of the tongue, salty was sensed close to the front of the tongue, and sour was sensed behind that. This theory, which came to be called the taste map theory, was initially based on the 1901 research of a German scientist, David P. Hänig. Later, the theory was championed and promoted by Edwin G. Boring in his classic psychology text, Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology (1942).24 The theory has now been discredited, and the accepted scientific view is that all taste cells contain receptors for all five tastes. You can see for yourself the theory breaking down by taking an aspirin tablet and licking it with the tip of your tongue. The aspirin’s bitter taste is quite noticeable there; however, according to the taste map theory, you should only be able to experience that bitter taste on the back of your tongue.
The Aesthetics of Food
What might have seemed right about the taste map theory is that there are varying sensitivities to particular tastes on the tongue, particularly bitter. A very strong bitter taste will produce a gag reflex on the back of one’s tongue but might not seem quite so strong on the tip of the tongue. Marian Baldy explains, Although taste receptor cells may not strictly specialize in receiving just one stimulus, the neural processing of taste stimuli from different parts of the tongue can be quite different, so our brains receive stronger information about specific tastes from different parts of the tongue. We know the most about the bitter taste mechanism in this regard: although the perception threshold for bitterness is actually lower in receptor cells on the tip of the tongue—making those cells sensitive to bitterness at lower concentrations—other receptor cells at the back of the tongue get more excited than tip-of-the-tongue receptors do by high levels of bitter stimuli and send more nerve impulses about that bitterness to the brain.25
Out of the twelve cranial nerves, there are four (V, VII, IX, and X) that connect the taste buds, by means of transduced electrical signals, to the brain. They first connect with the nucleus of the solitary tract in the brain stem, then proceed up to the thalamus, and from there they stimulate two areas in the brain’s frontal lobe, the insula and frontal operculum.26 Taste buds in the fungiform papillae connect through the chorda tympani branch of VII (the facial nerve) and the trigeminal nerve of V. The foliate and circumvallate papillae taste buds connect through the glossopharyngeal nerve of IX, and the superficial petrosal nerve of VII connects taste buds from the top of the mouth. The vagus nerve of X connects taste buds from the throat. In the mouth, sensations of pain, temperature, and touch also make use of some of the same cranial nerves. On the front of the tongue, these sensations are carried by the trigeminal nerve, and on the back of the tongue they are carried by the glossopharyngeal nerve.27 In ordinary discourse, the words taste and flavor are commonly used interchangeably, and in future chapters the terms will sometimes be used synonymously, particularly when informally discussing food or when analyzing gustatory theories before the nineteenth century. However, contemporary science has insisted on an important distinction between taste and flavor. Strictly speaking, taste refers to those five basic tastes sensed by taste buds on the tongue and throughout the mouth and throat. Flavor refers to a gustatory experience that is commonly described and experienced as a taste but can be a multisensory experience with a major contribution from olfactory receptors at the top of the nasal cavity, a process referred to as retronasal olfaction.28 When we exhale, vaporized molecules from ingested food or drink are drawn up through the pharynx at the back of the mouth into the nasal cavity. There
they are sensed by the same olfactory sensors that are used to register odors and scents outside of us. Although these vaporized molecules are sensed by olfactory receptors, we experience the result as a taste (flavor) in the mouth because that was the original location of the vaporized molecules. Retronasal olfaction will be discussed in more detail in later chapters. Contemporary accounts of gustatory experience in the West have recognized the contributions not only of primary tastes, but also of retronasal- induced flavors and inputs from a variety of other sources. Nevertheless, there has also been interest in expanding the number of primary tastes to include fat, metallic, and some other candidates. In recent years, there have also been some nontraditional approaches to gustatory experience that have been based on the idea that the scientific Western model of taste and flavor does not do justice to the experiences we have with food and drink.29 TASTE IN ASIA While contemporary science added a fifth taste to the earlier established four primary tastes, in China there was an early acceptance that there were five primary tastes or flavors: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and spicy.30 These five flavors corresponded to the five elements of nature: sweet to earth, bitter to fire, salty to water, sour to wood, and spicy to metal. Since they are symbolic of the essential elements of nature, the five flavors are held to be the basic sensory components of Chinese cuisine. Another ancient and fundamental Chinese belief is that there are two opposing principles at work in the universe: yin and yang. The yang is associated with the Sun, masculinity, and what are classified as hot foods. The yin is associated with the Moon, femininity, and what are classified as cold foods.31 In order to be healthy, a human being should adhere to a diet that balances yin and yang elements in one’s body. According to Corrine Trang, the yin and yang “duality is all-pervasive and has acquired a specific application to food. The necessity to maintain a balance in the body and in the diet between yin and yang is a fundamental principle, often unspoken, which underlies the planning of meals for the Chinese.”32 Chinese chefs sought to create dishes and meals in which yin and yang foods would be in balance and the five flavors would be in gustatory harmony. Traditionally, a Chinese meal consists of two main types of dishes. Depending upon the particular region of China, the primary dish, referred to as fan, would consist of either cooked rice, noodles, or prepared grains such as millet or wheat. If a fan dish were lacking, the repast would not be considered a substantial meal but only a snack. Complementing the fan dish in a meal and providing a richer source of flavors would be a tsai dish, consisting
The Aesthetics of Food
of vegetables, meat, or fish. Depending upon the poverty or wealth of the diner, a cook might prepare only one tsai dish or lay out a spread of many tsai dishes. Regardless of whether only a few dishes were prepared for a simple meal or many dishes were created for an elaborate banquet, the cook always sought to achieve a harmonious balance of flavors in the meal. The great philosopher of the Chou Dynasty, K’ung Fu Tzu or Confucius (551–479 BCE), urged frugality in one’s eating habits, thinking that moderation in one’s diet would keep one balanced but also that it would serve as a good example of avoiding extravagance and achieving good governance in society.33 In addition to the traditional five flavors, Chinese cooks prized qualities of flavor that needed to be taken into account in preparing a dish or a meal. Different textures were valued in achieving balance and harmony such as soft yet firm (nun) or soft and melting (ruan) texture. Also prized was a crispy texture (tsuei) as in the skin of the classic dish, Peking duck. Flavors themselves had qualities that needed to be distinguished and kept in balance. There was a particular interest in what were considered to be fresh and delicate tastes (hsien), as in that of a fish or vegetable. The tantalizing aromas (hsiang) of ingredients such as cooked mushrooms or roasted meat were also esteemed as a complement to a dish’s flavor. Intense and rich flavors were valued too, as long as they were not oily (nung). The great eighteenth-century gourmet and writer on Chinese cuisine, Yuan Mei, made the following observations of these qualities of flavor: Flavours must be rich and robust, never oily, or they must be delicate and fresh without being too thin. A flavor which is nung means that the essences are concentrated and the scum has been removed. Those who like greasy food might just as well dine on lard. When some dish is hsien, its true flavor is present. Not the least particle of error can be tolerated or you will have missed the mark.34
In noting what seems to be a difference between Chinese and Western approaches to the perception of taste and flavor in food preparation, Spencer K. Wertz points out that “Western science tends to be atomistic and reductionistic, whereas the Chinese perspective is holistic and emphasizes temporal order (rather than spatial order). In Chinese gastronomy, food products are discussed in terms of initial (immediate) taste and aftertaste, along with the balance of flavors.”35 In the West, scientific research has focused on finding the chemical causes of individual tastes and flavors; however, traditionally Chinese focus has been on chefs’ achieving a balance and harmonious composition of flavors in the dishes and meals they create. The interest in balancing the five flavors in the creation of a dish is not the only way that the Chinese have approached taste and flavor. There is a Taoist tradition that takes a different approach to taste and flavor. Wertz draws
attention to verse twelve of the Tao Te Ching in which Lao Tzu proposes that ingesting the five flavors will cause people not to be able to taste. He interprets Lao Tzu’s verse on ingesting the five flavors as a caution to avoid the rich dishes and banquet fare of the Chinese aristocracy. Encouraging a frugal diet in which one was not sated and overwhelmed with rich dishes would make one more sensitive to the process of the Tao.36 In verse eleven of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu points out that the utility of a clay bowl is that it forms a space of nothing into which something can be put. Taoism promotes the attention to and appreciating the value of nothing or absence, referred to as wu, and to the value of noncoercive behavior (wuwei) instead of, for example, being driven to satisfy a desire for rich food.37 Determining what the particular primary tastes are that can be experienced and recognized has not been the only topic of interest about taste. Neither have thinkers limited themselves to discovering the many varieties of flavor and how they can be balanced or achieve a unified relationship. There has also been an interest in determining if there were a relationship between literal or gustatory taste and another notion of taste, sometimes used in a nongustatory sense to indicate a preference, as in saying, “My taste in painting runs to works of the Venetian Renaissance.” Or, a nonliteral notion of taste might be used to indicate astute critical judgment, as in saying, “The way he dresses shows that he has taste (i.e., good taste).”38 The relationship between literal taste and these other notions of taste, sometimes referred to as metaphorical or critical taste, was a particular concern of aestheticians in Europe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That concern will be discussed in a later chapter; however, the same concern interested aestheticians in Asia, particularly in Indian aesthetics where there was a long-standing debate about the notion of rasa as used in critical discourse. In Indian aesthetics, the term rasa has been used to designate the heightened pleasurable experience a listener could have with music or the delight that could be evoked by a work of literature or a dramatic work. It is a critical term that is not specific to a particular art form but has a more general meaning to indicate a positive aesthetic experience. The word rasa has a literal meaning that refers to the sap found in a plant, but it has several nonliteral meanings that are frequently used in aesthetic discourse. The basic nonliteral sense of the term is to designate an experience of gustatory relish with a flavor or more generally an aesthetic experience with the taste of food. Indian aesthetics recognized that rasa had a use in critical discourse to positively evaluate a work of art. The “tasting of flavor” or tasting rasa was a metaphorical way to commend a work of art for its eliciting in the perceiver a heightened aesthetic experience. In making that metaphorical evaluation, there is the recognition that one can also have such an experience with fine food. It would be especially appropriate with a dish of some complexity in
The Aesthetics of Food
which the diner senses a unity of spices and other flavors, or in which several dishes complement each other in a meal.39 Thus, sensing and perceiving the structural unity of gustatory elements in a complex dish or meal and as a result experiencing a heightened state of pleasure warrants the critical expression of “tasting rasa.” This experience of rasa can be achieved in several ways. In the case of music, the way the music proceeds through several themes and variations to create a musical climax can be experienced as a temporal form of “tasting rasa.” Or, in a literary work, the various themes and their development can all of a sudden be perceived “in a lightning flash of delight” as having achieved an overarching unity that could be described as a culminating organizational mode of rasa.40 These same temporal and organizational modes of rasa can register a similar heightened aesthetic experience produced by consuming fine food. NOTES 1. “Critical” is not used as a fault-finding term, but rather, as in expressions like “literary criticism” or “art criticism,” it denotes a genuine appreciative or evaluative interest. 2. Hedonic is being used here and in future discussion as a broad term referring to either a pleasurable or displeasurable sensory response. 3. Perhaps the most famous new stove of this era was the “Rumford roaster” invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Benjamin Thompson, who called himself “Count Rumford.” See Michael Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 82–83. 4. For an overview of contemporary gastronomy, see Peter Scholliers, “Novelty and Tradition,” in Food: The History of Taste, ed. Paul Freedman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 333–57. 5. Since there is some resistance to calling this culinary movement “molecular gastronomy,” some chefs and writers prefer to substitute the term modernist cuisine. Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman prefer the latter term but admit that the two terms are frequently used interchangeably (The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining [Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2014], 1–6). My preference is for the former term despite its unpopularity with some because I want to distinguish modernist cuisine from postmodernist cuisine and argue that molecular gastronomy is a form of postmodernist cuisine rather than modernist cuisine. 6. Hervé This, Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor, trans. M. B. Debevoise (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 3. See also François Chartier, Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food, Wine, and Flavor, trans. Levi Reiss (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 23–27. 7. These chefs whose restaurants were frequently named as being among the best in the world also published well-received cookbooks: Heston Blumenthal’s
The Fat Duck Cookbook, René Redzepi’s Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, Joan Roca’s El Celler De Can Roca, and Massimo Bottura’s Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef. 8. In his biography of Ferran Adrià, Colman Andrews reports, “In 2006, the British-based Restaurant magazine dubbed El Bulli the world’s best restaurant, an honor it held for the next four years (it was displaced in 2010 by El Bulli alumnus René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, with El Bulli moving down to second place)” (Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food [New York: Avery, 2011], 23). 9. Andrews, Ferran, 25–26. 10. Andrews, Ferran, 24. 11. Andrews, Ferran, 25, 191–93. 12. Andrews, Ferran, 184. 13. Jean-Paul Jouary with Ferran Adrià, Ferran Adrià and El Bulli: The Art, the Philosophy, the Gastronomy (New York: The Overlook Press, 2011), 37. 14. Jouary, Ferran Adrià and El Bulli, 83. 15. Andrews, Ferran, 26. 16. Jouary, Ferran Adrià and El Bulli, 83. 17. Jouary, Ferran Adrià and El Bulli, 83. 18. See Gordon M. Shepherd, Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 117–19; E. Bruce Goldstein and James R. Brockmole, Sensation and Perception, 10th edition (Boston, MA: Cengage, 2016), 362–64; and Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 72–74. 19. Democritus thought that there were six basic tastes. In addition to sweet, bitter, and salty, he includes pungent and separates acidic from sour. The tastes are distinguished by the different shapes of the atoms that stimulate the palate. See John I. Beare, Greek Theories of Elementary Cognition from Alcmaeon to Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), 163. 20. Goldstein and Brockmole, Sensation and Perception, 363–64. 21. Goldstein and Brockmole, Sensation and Perception, 364; and Linda M. Bartoshuk and Valerie B. Duffy, “Chemical Senses” in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 22. 22. Gordon M. Shepherd, Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), 110–11. 23. Shepherd, Neuroenology, 108– 9; and John McQuaid, Tasty; The Art and Science of What We Eat (New York: Scribner, 2015), 4. 24. McQuaid, Tasty, 2–5. McQuaid points out that the history of the taste map theory is further discussed and evaluated in Linda M. Bartoshuk, “The Biological Basis of Food Perception and Acceptance,” Food Quality and Preference 4 (1993): 21–32. 25. Marian W. Baldy, The University Wine Course (San Francisco: The Wine Appreciation Guild, 1997), 24. 26. Bartoshuk and Duffy, “Chemical Senses,” 22–23; Goldstein and Brockmole, Sensation and Perception, 364.
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27. Bartoshuk and Duffy, “Chemical Senses,” 22. The neural connection of activated taste buds to the brain is not quite as direct as the tastant-to-cranial nerve theory might suggest. According to Gordon M. Shepherd, “sensory cells have connections to other cells, and together they form a local microcircuit, which activates the endings of nerve fibers to carry the impulse outputs to the brain” (Neuroenology, 112). 28. Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman note that in 2008 the International Standards Organization (ISO) defined flavor as a “complex combination of the olfactory, gustatory and trigeminal sensations perceived during tasting. The flavor may be influenced by tactile, thermal, painful and/or kinaesthetic effects.” Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman believe that the ISO’s definition is too narrow and should be broadened to include contributions by vision and hearing (The Perfect Meal, 183–84). 29. An examination of a selection of these approaches can be found in the article by Spencer K. Wertz, “The Elements of Taste: How Many Are There?” in Food & Philosophy (Fort Worth, TX: TCU Press, 2016), 35–45. See also Alan Davidson, “Taste” in The Oxford Companion to Food (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 785–86. 30. The five tastes had been recognized at least since the sixteenth century BCE by Yi Yin, “cook and prime minister to King Tang, founder of the Shang dynasty” (Davidson, “Taste,” 785). 31. The Chinese hot/cold food system did not refer to the temperature of the food but to a medical classification about the effect certain foods would have on bodily health. See Corrine Trang, Essentials of Asian Cuisine (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 45. 32. Trang, Asian Cuisine, 45. 33. Joanna Waley- Cohen, “The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China” in Food: The History of Taste, ed. Paul Freedman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 107–9. See also E. N. Anderson, The Food of China (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988). 34. Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin, The Art of Chinese Cuisine (Boston, MA: Charles E. Tuttle, 1996), 11–12. 35. Wertz, “Elements of Taste,” 37. 36. Spencer K. Wertz, “The Five Flavors and Taoism: Lao Tzu’s Verse Twelve” in Food & Philosophy (Fort Worth, TX: TCU Press, 2016), 24–25. 37. Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall, trans. with commentary, Dao De Jing: Making This Life Significant (New York: Random House, 2004), 80–93. 38. Gordon M. Shepherd explains the differences between seven different uses of taste (Neuroenology, 106–7). 39. B. N. Goswamy, “Rasa: Delight of the Reason,” in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 212–14. 40. Goswamy, “Rasa,” 219.
Taste in Antiquity Plato’s Rejection of Food
When human beings (Homo sapiens) first started raising philosophical questions, one of their interests was to try to understand what it was about human beings that made them distinctive as a species. What made us different from other living beings and allowed us to become persons? One of the many tantalizing lines of inquiry in this broad concern was to ask whether human nature was essentially connected to the food and drink that we consumed. Did what we eat and drink help to define our having a distinctive human nature? Or, did our diet merely satisfy our hunger and have no defining influence on our development as human beings? The view that food and drink did have a defining influence on human nature should be distinguished from a lesser position that claimed that although the food we ate did not have a defining effect on our nature, it was not a completely extraneous influence. On this different account, the food people consumed had only an accidental influence on their lives. It influenced to some extent the kinds of culture and social organization that developed among people who inhabited different regions and ate the food that was available to them there; however, the foods that people in a particular region consumed did not make them a different species from people who inhabited a different region.1 The claim that diet had only an accidental connection to human nature emphasized that as a nearly omnivorous species, human beings were certainly different from other species that had a very restricted and special diet that influenced the kind of animal they were. While pandas in the wild mainly consumed bamboo shoots and leaves, and koala bears ate only eucalyptus leaves, humans were able to adjust their diet to the foods available in the particular region they inhabited. Whether they lived in coastal areas or further inland, in arctic areas or the tropics, human beings learned to eat the foods available in those areas. However, the claim goes, they did not thereby 19
become a different species from humans who lived in other areas and ate different foods. Nevertheless, if food did not have a defining influence on creating human nature and if it seemed that human nature transcended regional differences among people, was there some other cause for our developing a nature that allowed us to be persons? FROM WILD MAN TO CIVILIZED BEING: THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH An early expression of the belief that the food that humans consumed did affect their nature can be found in the ancient Sumerian narrative of Gilgamesh, composed almost four thousand years ago.2 In raising the issue of what made for the distinctive nature of humanity, this Sumerian story credited food and drink with playing a significant role in transforming human beings from wild animals into civilized persons. The epic of Gilgamesh tells the story of a fabled king of Uruk who had both a divine and a human parent. Although he had a human form, Gilgamesh occupied a position halfway between the supernatural and natural realms. Due to his having a divine parent, Gilgamesh showed great physical strength, far greater than any of the citizens of Uruk; however, he used that strength and his royal position recklessly by abusing and shaming his subjects. Responding to the complaints of the citizenry, the gods created a wild man, Enkidu, who, on being transformed into a civilized being, could become a companion to Gilgamesh. By the example of his change into a civilized person, Enkidu would be able to teach Gilgamesh how to be more civil and respectful toward the people of Uruk. Out in nature, in his wild “shaggy” state, Enkidu ate only what was naturally available. He ate the “grasses” that other wild beasts did and drank from the same “water hole” that they used.3 When Gilgamesh learnt of the human- shaped Enkidu roaming out in the wilds, he sent a prostitute, Shamhat, to seduce him and make him give up his wild ways and become a social being. In his sexual relationship with Shamhat, Enkidu begun his change into a person who was able to have relationships with other people. As a sign of his losing his wild nature, wild animals that used to accept him as one of their own now avoided him. Enkidu continued his transformation when he learnt to eat and drink what other Sumerian people do. He was given bread, “the staff of life,” and beer, a staple of Sumerian life. On eating the bread and drinking copious quantities of the beer, he felt “lighthearted” and started singing. After his repast, he bathed and dressed himself as a warrior and hunter.4 When he learnt of Gilgamesh and the plight of the citizens of Uruk, Enkidu journeyed to Uruk to challenge Gilgamesh in feats of strength; however, he also desired
Taste in Antiquity
to become Gilgamesh’s friend and by the example of his own emergence as a person encouraged Gilgamesh to honor and show respect for the people of Uruk. It is significant that the food and drink offered to Enkidu that led to his change from wild animal to civilized being are bread and beer. First, the bread and beer offered to Enkidu are not foods that could be found in nature. They are fermented products that depend upon the cultivation of grains, particularly barley with respect to beer. To make beer, the barley once it has been harvested and threshed has to be malted or soaked in water in order to germinate and turn the grain’s starch into sugar. When the germinated barley had been dried, ground, and soaked again, wild yeasts would naturally have started the fermenting process to turn the mixture into beer; however, human beings soon learned to develop special yeasts from fermenting fruit juices, which would have made for a more flavorful product.5 Beer was ubiquitous in Sumerian society. It was even used as an early form of currency, enabling people more easily to buy goods and pay people for their labor. The Gilgamesh epic emphasizes Enkidu’s enjoying the beer that he imbibes; it highlights the pleasure and satisfaction he has in consuming this drink. As a fermented beverage with alcoholic content, beer also had the power to promote social conviviality. In Sumerian society, beer was usually sipped through a straw to avoid the grain residue and fermentation by-products floating on the surface of the unfiltered beer. Usually several people would share in drinking beer from a common bowl by dipping their straws under the debris floating on the beer’s surface. It was a drink enjoyed by all classes of Sumerian society.6 Likewise, the bread that Enkidu consumed was made from cultivated grains that were ground and made into dough to which yeast might be added so as to allow the dough to rise. The dough would then be separated into loaves and baked. As products of fermenting agents, the foods that Enkidu enjoyed were fashioned to be more flavorful than the fruits and vegetation that he would have found in the wild. Enkidu’s transformation through eating bread and drinking beer underscores the Sumerian belief that the food and drink they made significantly contributed to their culture and their sense of humanity. Food and drink were social products that were meant to be enjoyed rather than produced merely to satisfy a hunger. Both the Genesis story of Adam’s expulsion from Eden and the tale of Enkidu’s becoming a member of a civilized community are transformation narratives in which self-awareness and a sense of one’s mortality come about by both Adam and Enkidu having eaten some food. Yet, Enkidu is no Adam who is forced out of paradise into the wilderness for having consumed a forbidden fruit of divine creation, a fruit that brings knowledge but does not seem to provide enjoyment. Instead, Enkidu achieves his
self-awareness and comes to value civilized society by eating products of human culinary invention. By eating the bread and drinking the beer that is offered to him, he enters into an established community that in its agriculture and culinary inventions fosters the values of social community and respect for other persons. Adam eats a piece of fruit that has not been cultivated by people, and once he ingests it he is expelled into a foreign realm. He never again eats the fruits of Eden; however, Enkidu will likely continue to enjoy the bread and beer he consumes, comestibles that will remain staples of life in Mesopotamian societies for centuries to come. In their respective achieving of a new awareness of themselves, both Adam and Enkidu become aware of their nakedness; however, no physical changes in their bodies come about because of what they have eaten or their resulting new outlook on themselves. The changes that occur in both of them are primarily mental ones that take place by their coming to see themselves and their world in new ways. FOOD AND THE EVOLUTION OF HOMO SAPIENS The positive thesis that the foods our early ancestors consumed influenced the development of human nature continues to be asserted to this day. In recent years, proponents of this view have argued that the food our forbearers ingested initiated a transformation of their bodies from an earlier simian form into an anatomical form very much like human beings’ present physical one. Changes in diet led to changes in the digestive system, which in turn led to the creation of a larger brain and the development of a mentality that would allow them to become persons. This metamorphosis did not occur suddenly but took place over an extended evolutionary period of millions of years. Harvard University Professor Richard Wrangham has proposed what he refers to as “The Cooking Hypothesis” in which he argues that the eating of cooked foods was the primary cause for the development of the anatomy of present-day human beings.7 Three million years ago, there lived an early ancestral species of modern human beings now commonly called Australopithecus. This early species of hominins had the same diet as other great apes, foraging for fruits and other uncooked vegetation. Australopithecines also had teeth and a digestive system similar to these other primates, and like them they needed many hours to chew and digest this raw diet. A later ancestor of ours, Homo erectus, arose almost two million years ago and showed a profound change in the dentition and digestive system from that of the earlier Australopithecines. In fact, their dentition and digestive system closely resembled that of
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present-day human beings.8 Wrangham argues that the physical changes from Australopithecus to Homo erectus were brought about over the million-year evolutionary time period by a change in diet, a change from eating raw vegetation to ingesting cooked foods, including both meat and various plant forms. Cooked foods were more easily digested and provided more energy than raw foods.9 Since less time was needed to digest this more nutritious cooked food, changes in the digestive system of these hominins evolved so as to resemble those of present-day humans. With less time spent digesting one’s food, these early ancestors could devote much greater time to doing other things. Due to these dietary changes, brain mass in individuals of this evolving species also increased, leading to greater capacities for problem-solving, engaging in creative practices, and forming more complex social organizations.10 Wrangham argues that being able to cook one’s food depended upon being able to control and use fire. In addition to having the benefit of the increased nutritive value of cooked food, these hominins were also encouraged to prepare their food in this new way most likely because of the appetizing smells and tasty results obtained from using a campfire to roast meat or to cook their food by burying it in the embers of the hearth.11 Thus, both the ancient Sumerian version of the positive thesis and Wrangham’s cooking hypothesis acknowledged the role and value of what we would refer to as the sensuous aesthetic features of the food as it was being prepared and then ingested. In addition to its greater nutritive value and ease in digestion, cooked foods were probably valued because of the inviting aromas of the food as it was being cooked as well as the wonderful tastes as it was being eaten. These later hominins likely would have valued the variety of these sensuous aesthetic features in both their subtle and their intense forms. Quite possibly, one of the results of the increase in brain mass in these hominins was to stimulate them to discover new ways to cook their food and new food preparations that would provide them with other appetizing tastes and aromas. Recently, Wrangham’s cooking hypothesis has been challenged by scholars who point out that Homo erectus arose with its anatomical changes two million years ago but the current available evidence for the use of fire to cook food has it arising only 500,000 years ago. Zink and Lieberman argue that prior to using fire to cook food, techniques for food preparation that would have led to the changes in the anatomy of Homo erectus could have included the use of stone tools to cut butchered meat into tiny pieces that were easy to chew and digest as well as the use of other stone tools to mash vegetation into a more easily digestible form.12 Of course, both Wrangham and Zink and Lieberman support the view that a change in diet was the primary cause for
the anatomical changes found in Homo erectus, which in turn led to modern human beings’ present anatomy and brain size. PLATO’S REJECTION OF THE PLEASURES OF FOOD While the positive thesis had its proponents in antiquity, champions of the opposite view, skeptical about the role of food in human development, also had their supporters in antiquity. The most famous proponent was Plato (427–347 BCE), who founded a school of philosophy, The Academy, in Athens. In his dialogue Phaedo, he has his stand-in, Socrates, argue that as individual human beings we are essentially a nonmaterial psyche or soul, although in our mortal condition we are materially embodied.13 In the Phaedo and other dialogues, Plato suggests that having a nonmaterial soul that is able to develop a rational intellect is a divinely created and essential part of human nature. Socrates urges that human beings should develop their rational intellect so that by exercising their reason they can learn how to live well and acquire knowledge of the world. Socrates calls this search for wisdom and truth engaging in philosophy, and it is this capacity for rational thought and philosophical inquiry that is distinctive of human nature. Plato urges that through the use of our reason, the seat of which is to be found in the soul, human beings should search beyond the sensory appearances of the world in order to discover the true and eternal nature of reality.14 In the Phaedo, Socrates argues that trying to engage in the philosophical pursuit of the truth by primarily relying on one’s senses without the guidance of reason will only lead to one acquiring false beliefs and an illusory view of the world. He points out that although our senses of sight and hearing are useful in acquiring knowledge, they are prone to illusion. Our other three senses—taste, smell, and touch—are even more unreliable in providing us with an accurate information about the world.15 In placing sight and hearing into one category and taste, smell, and touch in another, Socrates is making a sharp distinction between the distance or “distal senses” and the bodily centered “proximate senses.” Whereas sight and hearing allow one to sense what is occurring at a distance from one’s body, the objects of the senses of taste, smell, and touch are centered close at hand in or within one’s body. In her groundbreaking work on taste, Carolyn Korsmeyer analyzes how this distinction between the two groups of senses was also seen as a distinction between the “higher” privileged senses of sight and hearing and the “lower” inferior senses of taste, smell, and touch.16 Socrates insists that the body’s main interest is to maintain and nourish itself. We need to eat and drink in order to stay alive. In the body’s effort
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to nourish itself, it is guided by the pleasures of the proximate senses, such as the enticing tastes and smells of food and drink along with the pleasant feelings of having satisfied one’s hunger. However, Socrates cautions, the body’s ever-present promotion of its own interests by relying on pleasure and gratification undermines the soul’s pursuit of knowledge. Socrates points out that the body’s attention to its own interests “confuses the soul and does not allow it to acquire truth and wisdom . . . [instead the body] keeps us busy in a thousand ways because of its need for nurture.”17 Socrates adds that those engaging in the philosophical search for knowledge should not be “concerned with such so-called pleasures as those of food and drink.”18 They only seduce us away from the pursuit of truth and wisdom that is the proper enterprise of our rational human nature. While he refers to the “so-called pleasures” of food and drink, Socrates does allow that there are other more genuine or real pleasures, one of which is the pleasure we take in beautiful objects. In one part of Plato’s dialogue, Hippias Major, Socrates aims to discover the nature of beauty and to identify what sorts of things can be truly called “beautiful.” He allows that human beings can be beautiful as well as certain objects of the pictorial and plastic arts because we take pleasure in seeing them. Musical compositions and “tales of the imagination” can also be beautiful because we find them pleasant to listen to. In picking out objects of sight and hearing as beautiful, Socrates initially considers that “beauty is the pleasant which comes through the senses of hearing and sight.”19 However, he has some qualms about accepting that definition because he raises the concern that certain laws in a society as well as some human practices could also be considered beautiful. Even though they are not strictly speaking objects of sight or hearing, we do use our eyes and ears to learn about them, and they can provide pleasure when we contemplate them.20 This concern raises the issue for Socrates about whether one should also allow pleasant objects from other senses to be called beautiful. Certainly, we sometimes take great pleasure in what we eat and drink, and some fragrances are also very pleasant. However, Socrates rejects food and drink as being beautiful. He finds calling food and drink beautiful to be ludicrous, although he does not explain in that dialogue exactly why he would withhold that label from gustatory objects.21 Presumably, food and drink and other objects of the proximate senses would only provide lower or bodily pleasures. There would be no need to use our intellect to interpret them, and they would be of little use in our pursuit of knowledge. They would not have any value other than just being positive hedonic experiences. Later, other thinkers do provide more detailed reasons for restricting the beautiful to objects of sight and hearing and for refusing to credit food and drink with ever being beautiful.
PLATO’S DENIAL THAT CUISINE HAS AN ART OR CRAFT In his dialogue Gorgias, Plato puts forward another argument to justify disparaging the pleasures of food and drink and instead to support devoting oneself to the pursuit of knowledge. In the dialogue, Socrates insists that only if the soul exercises rational control over the body can an individual hope to ensure the body’s health. He distinguishes how the rational soul would look after the health and nourishment of the body from how the body by relying on its own devices would try to promote its own well-being. If the body were to make decisions on its own, it would invariably make those decisions on the basis of impulses seeking sensory gratification and pleasure. In contrast, the soul would look after the body by appealing to two “arts” or “crafts,” that is, practices that employ rationally arrived at means or principles that are aimed at producing health.22 First of all, the soul would come to see that the body’s health and well-being would be best achieved by the individual following a rationally devised plan of exercise or gymnastics. Second, if the body were to become ill, the soul would seek to employ well-tested medical treatments to return the body to health and to observe a diet that would maintain that health. For Socrates, exercise/gymnastics and medicine are the two rationally based arts that do actually promote the health of the body. If the body followed its own inclinations in seeking to maintain and nourish itself, Socrates thinks that it would appeal to two practices, each one of which he labels as being a “knack” or “routine” rather than an art or craft because they do not promote the good of the individual but only “flatter” or make the individual feel good.23 The first of these knacks is cosmetics whereby one disguises the appearance of the body in order to present a pleasing appearance. Unlike the healthy effect of exercise, applying cosmetics does not make the body healthy but can actually hide the look of an unhealthy body. The second false routine or knack that the body uses to gratify itself is the practice of fine cooking or cuisine, which Socrates considers to be preparing delicious tasting food whose only aim is to produce gustatory pleasure in the consumer.24 For Plato, delicious cooking or cuisine is not based on an art that has the health or best interests of the consumer as its goal. Instead, it is a false practice or “knack” because it panders to the body’s desire for its own gratification without any concern for any healthful benefit. HELDKE’S CRITIQUE OF PLATO’S REJECTION OF CUISINE IN GORGIAS Modern science is certainly in agreement with Plato about the benefits of regular exercise. There is also widespread agreement that if one only eats
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foods containing large amounts of saturated fat, salt, and refined sugars solely because one gets the greatest pleasure from eating those foods, one is not wisely looking after one’s health. However, one can certainly challenge Plato’s distinction opposing the health-promoting art or craft of medicine from the knack of fine cooking whose only aim is to achieve gustatory pleasure. Why should health and gustatory pleasure be exclusionary goals? Why cannot fine cuisine be based on an art or craft that is just as concerned to create a healthy diet as it is to provide great pleasure? The contemporary American philosopher Lisa Heldke has argued against Plato’s position in Gorgias restricting cuisine to a knack that promotes an unhealthy end. She rightly questions that we would call someone an accomplished cook “whose cooking produced ill health over the long term, by failing to nourish, or by slowly poisoning the eater.”25 Following up on her insight, one might also agree that fine cooking is only worthy of being considered a craft if it insists that the cook knows how to prepare nourishing foods that are also delicious. Preparing wholesome food that tastes uninviting is not the mark of a chef worthy of the name. To be sure, seeing the chef’s craft as uniting a concern for both health and pleasure takes a very broad view of fine cooking. It sees the scope of cuisine as extending over the whole meal, in fact over the whole diet and over the long term, rather than the creation of a single scrumptious dish, a steady diet of which would be very risky to one’s health. Heldke acknowledges that there are specialty cooks such as pastry chefs who create “delicacies that, over time, will harden every artery in one’s heart . . . getting us to ignore our cholesterol levels as we please our sweet tooth.”26 However, providing someone with the opportunity for an occasional indulgence should not damn the whole practice of fine cooking, and one can insist that treating oneself to a fine pastry now and then does not lead to one’s ruin. In fact, the pleasure one takes in eating delicious foods can be used by a good cook to entice one to eat healthy foods when they are prepared with mouth-watering tastes and aromas. Plato thinks of cuisine as the preparation of food that aims only at achieving sensory gratification, and that indulging in such sensory pleasure inhibits the soul’s search for truth. However, might the gustatory experiences that one can have with cuisine be said to call for an intellectual engagement beyond responding to a simple sensory stimulus, an engagement in which one becomes aware of aspects of the world not previously known to us? Or, perhaps it might make one come to appreciate, or appreciate anew, certain qualitative features of the world beyond those of one’s routine everyday experience. Heldke proposes that an encounter with cuisine can make one have such discerning experiences. She asks, couldn’t the pleasure one derives from understanding and appreciating a complex flavor also be a form of appreciation which draws the soul upward toward
higher, purer forms of the Beautiful itself? If it were, then eating would be listed among activities which would improve the soul . . . [and] that the attainment of knowledge might actually call upon one to attend to and develop taste.27
While one need not think of appreciating gustatory complexity as trying to gain knowledge of a transcendent Platonic form, one does need to recognize that such appreciative efforts demand a concentrated attention over and above reacting to a limited sensory impression such as a strong sour or salty taste. With cuisine, one needs to focus on the whole range of flavors presented, and to take the time to become aware of the various components of what one is ingesting and their different relationships. As Heldke points out, this can take the form of appreciating the complexity of a dish’s flavor, but it can also call for recognizing how what one has ingested evolves on the palate and how the flavor profile of a dish complements or contrasts with other dishes in the meal. One might even register how successive bites, chews, sips, or swallows might make one reconsider or provoke a new appreciation of a dish. Such a gustatory engagement would be a cognitively rich experience rather than a simple sensory response since it would require a practiced and developed palate, one open to experiencing new tastes or complex assemblages of tastes created by an accomplished chef.
PLATO’S ACCOUNT OF TASTE Could Plato’s account of taste allow for such a complex encounter? Plato certainly wanted to maintain a separation of the activities of the rational soul from the sensory reactions and impulses of the body. Following Heldke’s suggestion about the appropriateness of appreciating complex flavors, one needs to ask whether such an act of appreciation would be in keeping with Plato’s account of the physiology of alimentation and the sensory experiences it affords. One also needs to consider whether his account of taste is in agreement with how Socrates in the Republic describes a rustic but enjoyable meal. In addition, one might question the extent to which Plato’s account of taste accords with contemporary Greek accounts of the pleasures of the table. In his dialogue, Timaeus, Plato sets out his account of the various sorts of tastes that one can experience. As Plato made clear in the Phaedo, the body’s interest in food and nourishment is motivated by its desire for sensory pleasure. In the Timaeus, Plato presents an account of the causes of sensory pleasure and pain as well as how gratification can be produced or blocked. He claims that “an unnatural disturbance that comes upon us with great force and intensity is painful, while its equally intense departure, leading back to the natural state, is pleasant.”28 We experience pain when we are forcefully
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disturbed from our natural condition and pleasure when following such a disturbance our natural condition is restored. For Plato, a taste sensation arises when there is an impacting disturbance on the “tiny vessels” of the tongue’s surface leading to pleasurable or disagreeable tastes. He points out that in addition to “contractions and dilations” on the tongue, “these tongue-related properties seem rather more than any other to involve roughness and smoothness.”29 While one experiences a sensation as pleasant when the tongue is restored to its earlier natural state, taste sensations are further differentiated when the tongue after the stimulation feels either a rough or smooth sensation. When there is a rough effect on part of the tongue, Plato claims that the sensory effect is a sour taste; when the result is not rough but smooth, the effect is a tangy taste. If the entire tongue is stimulated and left with a rough residue, the sensation is one of bitterness. A smoother result is experienced as salty. If the stimulation affects and smooths “the heat of the mouth,” one has a pungent taste. If there is an agitation of the tongue, an acidic taste results. Finally, if the effect of a stimulation is “congruent with the natural condition of the tongue,” the congruency with the tongue’s natural condition is experienced as very pleasant and the effect is a sweet taste.30 Plato recognizes seven distinct tastes. Some of them (sweet, bitter, salty, and sour/acid) are recognized by twenty-first-century students of the senses as basic tastes produced by chemical stimulations on the taste buds of the tongue and elsewhere in the mouth. Plato’s pungent and tangy tastes would probably strike today’s theorists as complex gustatory experiences involving not only the sense of taste but other sensory modalities as well. By including qualities like pungent, tangy, rough, and smooth in his theory of taste, it seems as if Plato is attempting to extend a theory of taste into a broader account of gustatory experience. However, it is not clear whether Plato acknowledges the extent to which other senses beyond taste contribute to gustatory experience. He recognizes the role that rough and smooth play in our experience of what we take into our mouths, and he does discuss those two tactile qualities in his discussion of touch in the Timaeus, but he apparently does not recognize that there are other sensory modalities such as sensing the temperature of what we have ingested.31 In addition, he does not appreciate that other tactile qualities can arise in gustatory experience such as, for example, lightness (how a soufflé might feel in one’s mouth) or heaviness (how roasted butternut squash might be experienced).32 However, the major omission from Plato’s account of taste is his not recognizing the role played by the sense of smell in gustatory experience. He does not seem to be aware of the synesthetic contribution of olfactory engagement to what we would describe in a broad and informal way as an experience of taste. He misses how retronasal smell—allowing the saliva in our mouths to dissolve and evaporate what we have ingested so that those gaseous elements can rise
up at the rear of our palate and be sensed by our olfactory organ—can lead to or contribute to what is now referred to as an experience of flavor. In fact, there are experiences that are informally described as “tastes” that are not produced by our sense of taste at all but are sensed entirely through retronasal olfaction. The classic example of such an olfactory-produced “taste” is the gustatory experience of vanilla, a “taste” that is only sensed in the mouth by smell.33 In his limiting our experience of taste to his seven aforementioned tastes, Plato also does not acknowledge a common way in which we describe our experiences with food and drink. Of course, there are some occasions—usually disagreeable ones—when we encounter a very strong taste that is described, to give some examples, as excessively salty, sweet, sour, bitter, or hot as in spicy or picante.34 Depending upon the specific nature of the dish, these strong tastes can dominate the experience and overwhelm or mute the presence of other flavors. However, when we ingest food or drink and pay attention to what we have taken into our mouths, we can also describe the components of the experience in terms of qualities familiarly associated with particular objects. We might describe the experience we have in eating or drinking something as having a taste or smell that is buttery, lemony, strawberry-like, or peppery because that is the taste or smell we have become familiar with when tasting or smelling objects that exemplify those qualities. The taste of vanilla is how one would describe how a vanilla bean might taste, and even a salty taste is registered as the taste of what that well-known soluble rock would taste like.35 Nevertheless, in restricting what we can taste to the seven aforementioned tastes, Plato seems, in one of his examples, to recognize that we do employ an object-related labeling of tastes. In the Republic, Socrates describes a rustic meal that in its lack of expensive and ostentatious ingredients is referred to by Glaucon, to whom Socrates recounts the meal, as a repast that one might find in a “city of pigs.” However, Socrates praises this culinary effort and imagines that it would be a meal in which people would grind meal from barley and flour from wheat; then they will knead and bake cakes and loaves of fine quality and serve them on mats of reeds or on clean leaves . . .[followed by] they and their children feasting together and drinking their wine. . . . Relish there must be: salt, of course, and olives and cheese, and there must be boiled roots and herbs of the sort that country people prepare. For a dessert they shall have figs, chick-peas and beans. They will roast myrtle berries and acorns in the fire, all the while drinking in moderation. Living this way in peace and health, they all can probably expect to reach old age and pass on the same life to their children.36
One of the first things to notice about Socrates’s example is that it does not appear to be solely focused on bodily gratification. There are other reasons for the feast. It is a social occasion, and some of the pleasure probably comes
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from enjoying the meal in the company of friends and family. Socrates also thinks that such a feast leads people to enjoy healthy lives and reach old age. Unlike more ostentatious meals, which Socrates claims breed avarice and aggressive desires to make war on one’s neighbors, he claims such a rustic meal encourages the partakers to be content with their lives and to live in peace with other communities. In promoting these positive ends, the meal as Socrates describes it provides benefits over and above an individual’s sensory pleasure. Socrates’s description of the meal lists an assortment of foods and dishes that would likely provide many different flavors. What is unusual about the example is that with the exception of salt, although salt is listed as a substance that serves as a relish, Socrates does not describe the meal using any of the six other tastes or the tactile sensations of rough and smooth. He only describes the meal by listing the wine and different foods that make up the meal, noting also the way some of the dishes are prepared and the order in which they are served. He does not describe the tastes of the foods using Plato’s taxonomy of tastes, but lets the particular dishes speak for themselves as far as how they would likely taste. The olives would taste the way that olives do when prepared in the way that the country people usually prepare them. The herb- infused boiled roots would have the same familiar taste that they usually do. The barley cakes would taste like barley cakes and would be expected to have a different taste from the roasted myrtle berries. This is not to deny that the ripe figs could also be described as sweet and the cheese, assuming that it had been soaked in brine as was usually done, could also be described as salty.37 However, unless one possessed an acute and practiced palate, it might sometimes be rather difficult to describe foods like the chickpeas or the barley cakes using Plato’s basic tastes. When asked to describe the chickpeas that one was chewing, one might simply reply, “They taste like chickpeas.” Again, this is not to deny that sometimes we do describe what we are tasting using one or more of the labels in Plato’s taxonomy, particularly when we are comparing two foods or different preparations of a dish. However, applying Plato’s seven tastes is not the only way, nor even the most common way, that people describe the foods that they are eating. PLATO’S THEORY OF TASTE AND THE GREEKS’ LOVE OF FOOD What is also peculiar about Plato’s theory of taste is how at odds it is with the ancient Greeks’ interest in food and their attention to the preparation of the different dishes. Of course, Plato thought that an interest in food was at odds with the rational soul’s pursuit of truth, and that those who exploited the
public’s desire for fine cooking would end up only fattening “people’s bodies, if they get the chance, and besides that destroy their original flesh as well, all the while receiving their praise!”38 Nevertheless, given the Greeks’ passion for food and for enjoying many finely cooked dishes, it is surprising that Plato offered such a restricted account of the palate and the gustatory experiences that one could have with food. What would encourage people to indulge their passion for cuisine if there were such a limited store of experiences that one could have with fine cooking? The Greeks were a seafaring people and in addition to the agricultural produce and animals that their farms would have made available, they were also much taken with the bounty to be found in the seas around them. This culinary interest is attested to in the pages of the most famous Greek text on food from the fourth century BCE, a commentary on dining that was particularly concerned with the many different kinds of seafood available in the Hellenic world. This book, written in verse and containing cursory recipes, was Archestratos of Gela’s Hedupatheia (The Life of Luxury).39 Although the whole of the text has not survived, enough of it has to provide us with a good account of the Greeks’ love of seafood as well as the author’s recommendations for other kinds of dishes to try. Archestratos carefully describes the many available species of fish, where the best ones of a kind are to be found, and how to prepare them. He pays particular attention to how to cook sea anemones (fry them with green herbs and olive oil), as well as, for example, how to prepare eels, shrimp, and lobster. Bonito tuna should be wrapped in fig leaves and baked in the ashes of a hearth; a young hare should be cooked on a spit and served without elaborate sauces; and a gosling is best when simply roasted. He specifies which spices should be used for which dishes (e.g., use salt, cumin, and grayish olive oil for roasting one kind of fish, and use marjoram when cooking a particular kind of fish stew). There are also recommendations for what wines to serve with which dishes, and he even lets fall that Athens had the best bread.40 He also makes clear that it is important to restrict the number of people invited to share and enjoy a meal. He specifies, “Let the total company be three or four or at any rate no more than five.”41 Plato would likely have objected to the large number of dishes that Archestratos describes and recommends to his readers. He would have thought that indulging one’s palate on such a grand scale would lead to the vice of gluttony. It would bring on an increasing overindulgence in sensory gratification, destroy one’s health, and undercut one’s rational control over one’s appetites. In the Timaeus, Plato presents the view through the character of Timaeus that there is a natural propensity for gluttony in the body’s desire to store more food than it needed at the moment. Excessive eating allowed one to have the resources to deal with and overcome a calamity like a serious
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illness. Yet, Timaeus holds that gluttony is fundamentally at odds with our rational nature. He concludes: “Such gluttony would make our whole race incapable of philosophy and the arts, and incapable of heeding the most divine part within us.”42 A Greek philosopher who disagreed with Plato about the harmful effects of food on the pursuit of philosophy was Epicurus of Samos (341–270 BCE). He championed the importance of food and dining in the social life of a community. In his later life, he established a school and community in Athens referred to as the “Garden” and was said to have been influenced by Archestratos.43 One can certainly see this influence in his advocacy of having small gatherings of people at special dinners where food and wine could be savored. He believed that such dinner parties would encourage friendship and would lead to the cultivation of intellectual interests. Epicurus rejected Plato’s belief in an immaterial soul, and he denied that the body’s impulses were at odds with the search for truth. Instead, Epicurus was a materialist who believed that as a single living body one’s reason and one’s appetites could exist in harmony. One’s appetites employed in moderation, especially for food and drink, could feed the life of the mind. Epicurus and his followers in Athens developed the habit of holding a banquet on the twentieth day of every month to feast and drink wine, to celebrate their friendship with one another, to engage in intellectual conversation, and to enjoy the pleasures of life.44 In contrast to the Athenian symposium in which wine was consumed only after eating, the Epicurean banquet allowed food and wine to be served and consumed together.45 While Epicurus championed banquets as ways of bringing people together to pursue philosophy, Plato was skeptical that gathering educated Athenian citizens together to drink wine, talk, and even sometimes to discuss philosophy would allow the rational soul to predominate. Although in Plato’s Symposium the participants in Agathon’s celebration of his theatrical success resolve to spend the evening drinking moderately and philosophically investigating the nature of romantic love (eros), they eventually—with the exception of Socrates—succumb to the befuddlement of too much wine and pass out on the floor. Their earlier intentions to be moderate have given way to gluttony, leading, Plato thought, to the debilitation of the body and the eclipse of reason as the guiding motivation in one’s life.46 Nevertheless, in Xenophon’s Symposium, he describes a similar symposium in which Socrates argues for the moderate consumption of wine. He tells his drinking companions that wine by watering souls, puts pains to rest for some . . . and it awakens affection in other souls. . . . And yet it is in my opinion too that men’s bodies undergo the same things as do plants growing in the earth. For when the god waters them
too much all at once, they also are unable to stand up straight or to breathe the morning air. But when they drink only so much as is pleasing, they will grow very straight, flourish, and arrive at the fruit-bearing stage. Thus, if we too pour the drink all at once, our bodies and our minds will soon stagger, and we’ll be unable to catch our breath, let alone say anything of substance.47
On Xenophon’s presentation of Socrates’s views, one can drink moderately, enjoy others’ company, and still be able to exercise control over their thoughts and actions. SUMMARY This chapter began by raising the philosophical question about whether there was a defining role played by food and drink in the development of human nature that allowed us to become persons. The first position considered is articulated in the ancient Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh, which saw the wild man, Enkidu, become civilized when he changed his diet and ate food that had been cultivated and created by the people of Uruk. Advocacy of this positive thesis can also be found in the present-day evolutionary thesis of Richard Wrangham that cooking made us human. However, in antiquity, the positive view that food played a defining role in our development as persons was challenged most famously by Plato. He held that our essential nature as persons consisted in being a divinely created nonmaterial soul capable of rational thought. As a living being, one’s soul was tied to a material body whose chief concern was the nourishment of that physical form promoted by the desire for sensory gratification. Yet, Plato thought that this desire for pleasure was at odds with the rational soul’s philosophical pursuit of knowledge. Our consuming desire for gratification led to false pleasures and the gluttonous pursuit of unhealthy ends. For Plato, there were genuine pleasures such as our enjoyment in perceiving beautiful objects, but food and drink were not among those beautiful things. In Gorgias, Plato identifies two arts or crafts that if followed by the rational soul would promote bodily well-being: gymnastics and medicine. These are opposed by a false craft, fine cooking, that only exists as a knack rather than an art because it flatters people with sensory pleasures that lead to harmful and unhealthy bodily states. In her critique of Plato’s position, Heldke questions Plato’s opposing health to gustatory pleasure. She assures us that a good chef should also be interested in creating meals that were healthy. She also questions why our gustatory engagement with fine cooking cannot also be an occasion for appreciating the beautiful, savoring marvelous flavors and culinary combinations that open our minds to amazing qualities of the world we inhabit.
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Given the variety of forms that this appreciation of culinary creativity can take, there arises the concern about whether Plato’s theory of the physiology and sensory nature of taste can accommodate such aesthetic experiences. Plato sets out seven basic tastes that occur as sensations on the tongue. Yet, although he acknowledges the role that rough and smooth qualities play in distinguishing different tastes, it is not clear that he recognizes the synesthetic role that other sensory modalities play in gustatory experience. A major problem for his theory of taste is his not recognizing the role that smell—particularly retronasal olfaction—plays in our experience of flavor. Another problem is his not recognizing a common way that we describe what we are tasting. We can describe what we are tasting using Plato’s seven labels, but we can also describe tastes using terms that pick out qualities associated with familiar objects. His omitting any mention of this form of gustatory experience is surprising since Socrates in the Republic describes a meal with the suggestion that those in attendance would experience the meal noting the object-like quality of the food being consumed. Finally, Plato’s restrictive theory of taste seems at odds with contemporary Greek appreciation of a diverse variety of foods and preparations. Archestratos’s famous text speaks to the prevalence of this wide-ranging love of food in Greek culture. In addition, Epicurus’s ideas opposed Plato’s denigration of the interest in food and drink and its inhibiting role in the search for truth. Epicurus thought that the creation of a community that dined together would encourage moderation in eating and drinking as well as encourage philosophical thinking. Yet, Plato thought that promoting an interest in culinary variety would lead to gluttony, and his philosophical legacy on the dangers of eating and gluttony would be a concern for many philosophers in the centuries that followed. NOTES 1. Contrary to this accidental thesis, Jean- Jacques Rousseau proposed that differences, along with some other causal influences, did make for differences among human beings (Confessions, Book 9, section 7, trans. Angela Scholar [New York: Oxford University Press, 2008], 399–400). 2. The earliest inscriptions of the story of Gilgamesh date from around 2700 BCE (Benjamin R. Foster, ed. and trans., The Epic of Gilgamesh [New York: Norton Critical edition, 2001], xi–xii). 3. Foster, Gilgamesh, 6. 4. Foster, Gilgamesh, 14; and Jean Bottéro, The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 36–38.
5. For further discussion of the early making of beer, see Patrick E. McGovern, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 68–69; Bottéro, The Oldest Cuisine in the World, 89–91; and Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2012), 269–70. 6. See McGovern, Uncorking the Past, 69–70. In the tomb of Queen Puabi in Ur, dated from around 2500 BCE, archeologists discovered her gold beer jug and bowl, along with both gold and silver straws she would have used to drink her beer (Iain Gately, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol [New York: Gotham Books, 2008], 4). 7. Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 1–14. 8. Wrangham, Catching Fire, 0–11, 40–44. 9. Wrangham, Catching Fire, 14, 55–81. 10. Wrangham, Catching Fire, 119–21. 11. Wrangham, Catching Fire, 13. 12. Katherine D. Zink and Daniel E. Lieberman, “Impact of Meat and Lower Paleolithic Food Processing Techniques on Chewing in Humans,” Nature 531 (2016): 500–3. Wrangham holds out the hope that future research will provide evidence for an earlier date for the use of fire to cook food (Wrangham, Catching Fire, 83–103). 13. Plato, Phaedo 64e–65a in Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo, trans. G. M. A. Grube (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1985), 100–1. Plato’s word psyche is translated as “soul” because of its reputed nonmaterial character and ability to survive death. 14. In Republic 514a–17b, Plato in his Allegory of the Cave presents a strong image representing the task people face in overcoming their reliance on sensory impressions in the search for truth. Socrates describes shackled men in a cave forced to look at shadows on a wall, which they accept as real things. He then poses what a revelation it would be if the men were able to break free of their bonds, walk out of the cave, and face the sun. Coming out of the cave, they would be blinded by the light, but this is Socrates’ way of saying that knowledge of the truth is not something that we come to know with our senses (Plato, Republic, trans. Richard W. Sterling and William C. Scott [New York: Norton, 1985], 209–11). 15. In the dialogue, Socrates asks “do men find any truth in sight or hearing, or are not even the poets forever telling us that we do not see or hear anything accurately, and surely if those two physical senses are not clear and precise, our other senses can hardly be accurate, as they are all inferior to these” (Plato, Phaedo 65b, 101). 16. Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 11–26. 17. Plato, Phaedo 66a–b, 102–3. 18. Plato, Phaedo 64d, 100. 19. Plato, Greater Hippias 298a, trans. Benjamin Jowett, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963), 1551–52. Jowett translates Plato’s word kalon
Taste in Antiquity
as “beautiful,” and given the context of Socrates’s examples before considering food and drink, “beautiful” seems the appropriate English translation. I have followed Jowett’s translation of “beautiful” for kalon. Paul Woodruff translates kalon as “fine” because he holds that “kalon is a general term of commendation” and while “beautiful” might be an appropriate translation in some contexts, Socrates is trying to understand all of the different contexts and objects to which kalon could meaningfully be applied. Woodruff believes that “fine” has the breadth of reference to apply to all of them (Plato, Two Comic Dialogues: “Ion” and “Hippias Major,” trans. Paul Woodruff [Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1983], 42–43). David Konstan observes that Plato occasionally used another word kallon to mean beauty in the dialogue. For further discussion about beauty in Hippias Major, see David Konstan, Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 115–19. 20. Plato, Hippias Major 298b, trans. Paul Woodruff, 72. 21. Plato, Hippias Major 299a, trans. Paul Woodruff, 72–73. 22. Plato, Gorgias, trans. Donald J. Zeyl (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987), 2. In the dialogue, Plato’s word for “art” or “craft” is technē, a much broader category than what we would call “fine art.” Zeyl offers the broad definition of technē as a rationally based enterprise aimed at producing a beneficial end (Gorgias, Zeyl, note, 2). 23. Plato, Gorgias 462d, 22–23. 24. Plato, Gorgias 460d–e, 22–23. Plato’s word for cooking is opsopoiia, which has the sense of fine cooking or cuisine rather than ordinary or routine food preparation (Gorgias, Zeyl, note, 22). 25. Lisa Heldke, “Do You Really Know How to Cook?” Philosophy Now 31 (March/April 2001): 14. 26. Heldke, “How to Cook,” 14. 27. Heldke, “How to Cook,” 14. In Gorgias, Plato holds to his early ontological theory of forms that there are a set of ideal, eternally existing ideas or “forms” that can only be known with one’s intellect. See W. D. Ross, Plato’s Theory of Ideas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951). 28. Plato, Timaeus 64d, trans. Donald J. Zeyl (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2000), 58. 29. Plato, Timaeus 65c, 59. 30. Plato, Timaeus 65c–66c, 59–60. For further discussion of Plato’s physiology of taste, see Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 12–15. 31. Plato, Timaeus 63e, 57. 32. This presentation of Plato’s theory of taste is only a sketch of his theory accompanied by a few salient criticisms. Further discussion of taste and gustatory experience will appear in later chapters. 33. Marian W. Baldy, The University Wine Course (San Francisco: The Wine Appreciation Guild, 1997), 100. 34. To someone unfamiliar with, or who does not like, the experience, the spicy or picante taste of a dish can be overwhelming. However, to those who do like that spicy taste and have learned to enjoy prodigious amounts of capsicum (the source of the spicy heat) in a dish, even though the gustatory experience is very intense, the spicy heat can be experienced as complementing the dish’s other flavors. Of course, one can
go overboard and be jaded enough to just want to experience a great fiery sensation in one’s mouth and not be interested in the other flavors in the dish. 35. To describe what one has ingested by appealing to the qualities of familiar tasting objects is not to insist that the substance that produces the taste in the familiar object must also be in the ingested sample. It just has to taste like the familiar object. On the identification of tastes, see Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 78–79. 36. Plato, Republic 372b–e, 68. 37. See Andrew Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A to Z (London: Routledge, 2003), 80–81. 38. Plato, Gorgias 518c, 101. 39. For an annotated translation of the extant text, see S. Douglas Olson and Alexander Sens, trans. Archestratos of Gela: Greek Culture and Cuisine in the Fourth Century BCE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). Although Archestratos’s Hedupatheia was the most well-known ancient Greek gastronomic work, there were several other prose cookbooks in circulation: one by Herakleides of Syracuse and another by Mithaikos also of Syracuse (Olson and Sens, Archestratos, xx). Mithaikos was disparagingly described by Plato as having written a “book on Sicilian pastry baking” that served only to make people fat (Plato, Gorgias, 518b, 101). 40. Olson and Sens, Archestratos, 23–225. For Archestratos’s recipe for shark from Torone in northern Greece, which are cut into steaks, cooked in a pan over embers, seasoned with green olive oil, cumin, and aromatic herbs, as well as a modern-day recreation of this dish, see Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger, The Classical Cookbook, revised edition (Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2012), 44–45. 41. Olson and Sens, Archestratos, 19. 42. Plato, Timaeus, 72e–73a, 67. 43. Michael Symons, “Epicurus, the Foodies’ Philosopher,” in Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think, and be Merry, ed. Fritz Allhoff and Dave Monroe (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 15–18. 44. Several present- day philosophers support Epicurus’s position. See Cain Todd, The Philosophy of Wine: A Case of Truth, Beauty and Intoxication (Durham, UK: Acumen, 2010), 179–80. 45. Symons, “Epicurus,” 19–20. 46. Plato, Symposium, trans., intro., and notes by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989). 47. Xenophon, “Symposium,” in The Shorter Socratic Writings, trans., ed., and notes by Robert C. Bartlett (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), 141.
Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste
For Plato, the rational soul’s search for knowledge was at odds with the body’s need for nourishment urged on by its desire for sensory gratification. He thought this desire for gustatory pleasure was likely to encourage gluttony, which would eventually harm one’s health. However, Aristotle (384–322 BCE), originally a student in Plato’s Academy, did not accept the Platonic separation of the rational soul dedicated to the contemplative pursuit of knowledge from the body hungering for nourishment goaded by the desire for sensory gratification. Rather than the pursuit of knowledge being restricted to the intellect, Aristotle thought that our bodily senses were specially equipped also to provide us with knowledge of the world.1 Accordingly, he believed that the soul was not an entity separate from the body. Instead, as he explained, the soul is “the form of a natural body that has life as its potency” and makes a natural living individual be what it is.2 As an animating force within a body, the soul infused all living beings, plants as well as animals. A common characteristic of all souls was an interest in self-nourishment. Since nourishment was essential for life, human beings’ appetite for food and drink was a natural feature of their lives. Contra Plato, Aristotle claimed that a human being “is not self-sufficient for contemplation, but his body needs to be healthy and provided with food.”3 One’s gustatory appetite was not something to be suppressed in order to focus on acquiring knowledge but instead was something to be recognized as a natural part of one’s life. For Aristotle, pursuing this natural interest in food assumed a moral attitude for human beings. In his Nicomachean Ethics, he proposed that virtues were to be found in the medial position between opposing morally objectionable attitudes or ways of behaving. For example, in his analysis of courage, he proclaimed that the brave individual is not someone who is recklessly oblivious to danger. Neither is the brave individual so overcome with fear that the 39
person shrinks from facing and responding to danger. Instead, courage is the medial position between recklessness and cowardice. The brave person is not oblivious to danger but recognizes that it is something to fear; however, that individual is not paralyzed by fear but through force of will acts to confront that danger. Aristotle takes a similar medial position with respect to the right moral attitude toward what we eat and drink. On his view, we should adopt a mean position between intemperance and insensitivity or disregard toward self- nourishment. He claims, routines of drinking and eating too much will ruin our health, whereas those involving proportionate amounts produce, increase, and preserve it. . . . [S]omeone who indulges in every pleasure and abstains from none becomes intemperate, whereas someone who avoids all of them, as boorish people do, becomes insensible in a way. Temperance, then, and courage are ruined by excess and deficiency and are preserved by the medial condition.4
With his advocacy of taking a medial position toward eating and drinking, Aristotle resists thinking of gustatory pleasure as incurring an unhealthy end. In contrast to an attitude that ignores one’s nutritional needs, gustatory pleasure encourages one to be attentive to nourishing oneself. As a stimulus that promotes alimentation, gustatory pleasure does not inevitably lead to the destruction of one’s health. In fact, Aristotle claims that “if there is someone to whom nothing [that is eaten] is pleasant and who does not distinguish between one thing and another, he would be far from being human.”5 It is not contrary to reason but natural to enjoy what one eats or drinks; however, one should maintain a reasonable control over one’s appetite. ARISTOTLE ON GLUTTONY In his attitude toward food, Aristotle takes a different position from Plato on gluttony. He holds that those who eat and drink to excess are gluttons because they fill “their belly beyond what they should . . . [and] exceed the quantity that is in accord with nature, since a natural appetite is for the replenishment of a need.”6 For Aristotle, the intemperate appetite that leads to gluttony comes not from an interest in the gustatory pleasures of tasting what one has ingested. An interest in gustatory pleasure, per se, does not lead to gluttony. Instead, he claims that gluttons “make little or no use even of taste. For the use of taste is to discern flavors, as people do when testing wines or chefs when preparing gourmet meals. But discerning such things is scarcely what people enjoy—at any rate, intemperate ones don’t. [Their enjoyment] comes about wholly through touch.”7
Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste
The glutton’s desire, according to Aristotle, is not to discern the flavors of what one is tasting but to sense and enjoy the ingesting of what one is drinking or eating. This ingesting is sensed by means of tactile feelings, by the modality of touch rather than taste. As the glutton devours more and more food, she or he feels a tactile satisfaction in ingesting all of that food. Thus, Aristotle thinks that the glutton’s appetite is not motivated by the desire to replenish an expended store of energy. Instead, the glutton feels a brutish tactile pleasure in sensing the consumption of an excessive amount of food. As a result, Aristotle thinks that gluttony is shameful because the glutton, spurred on by the desire for tactile pleasure, chooses to indulge this interest in food and drink beyond the natural need for nourishment. If, as Aristotle claims, gluttony is little concerned with taste but is focused on reveling in the tactile pleasures of excessive consumption, his claim provokes the question of whether gluttony is purely an indiscriminate interest. Would any comestible serve as well as any other if one were only interested in having the tactile pleasurable feelings caused by consuming an excessive amount of food? Such an indiscriminating interest seems implausible. While the glutton might very well have an appetite for a wide variety of foods and drinks, surely the glutton has some preferences or cravings for what foods to gorge on. Taste preferences and the pleasures received by indulging in them would seem to be involved to some extent in gluttonous behavior, rather than the glutton solely finding pleasure in feeling food going down her or his throat. In his views on gluttony, Aristotle appears inclined to contrast taste as the discernment of flavor with the tactile pleasures of filling one’s stomach. What makes this contrast rather problematic is that Aristotle holds that using one’s tongue to taste what one has ingested is actually a form of touch, but one that seeks to promote nutrition. Yet, in emphasizing the glutton’s interest in the pleasures of touch while downplaying the glutton’s interest in enjoying the discernment of flavor, Aristotle seems to separate the tongue’s capacity to serve as an organ of taste from also being one of touch. It seems odd that Aristotle in his discussion of gluttony would not more clearly connect the pleasures of taste and touch. The glutton, then, would exhibit insatiability in enjoying both the tastes and tactual feelings produced by excessive eating or drinking.8 His minimizing the hedonic character of taste by asserting that taste is restricted to discerning flavors is surprising since on other occasions he recognizes that gustatory experience can be a source of pleasure. He observes that smells are always either pleasant or unpleasant, and since he thinks that taste can discern some of the same qualities that smell does, he seems to allow that tastes on those occasions have a similar hedonic character.9 In claiming that taste is focused on the discernment of flavor, Aristotle would
seem to have overlooked that we discern and identify some flavors as having a particular hedonic valence. For example, one might notice a pleasant crisp acidity in a sherbet or grimace that a carrot soup’s flavor is unpleasantly salty. Nevertheless, Aristotle proposes a way to reconcile his claim that taste is restricted to discerning flavors with his opposing position that alimentation can provide us with pleasant gustatory experiences. First, Aristotle focuses on what he claims is a mean between something having no taste and something having such an overwhelming gustatory stimulus that it destroys our ability to taste it.10 For example, something we put in our mouths might be so acidic, bitter, or salty that we gag on it. In rejecting those foods, we are rendered incapable of tasting them. Thus, concentrating on flavors within the mean allows us to avoid both such painful experiences and the vacuous attempt to taste something in such minute quantities as to be untasteable.11 However, such a mean does not explain how one can experience pleasure in flavors that are in the mean. Aristotle’s solution to the problem is to claim that when there is a mixture of flavors, one might find them pleasing when the flavors mix in such a way as to form a harmonious assemblage. He claims that “whenever things like the sharp and sweet and salty, from being pure and unmixed, are drawn toward a logos [proportionate relation] then they are pleasant; and in general it is the mixed, rather than the sharp or flat, that is a harmony.”12 Cuisine shares with music the capacity to form harmonious relations among its sensible elements. If, according to Aristotle’s account, gustatory experience like music can be harmonious and pleasurable, a question lurks about whether the foods or drinks that are harmonious and pleasant to taste can be beautiful. This is a topic to be considered after setting out Aristotle’s theory of taste. ARISTOTLE’S THEORY OF TASTE When we eat or drink something, Aristotle claims that one’s tongue makes contact with a tangible substance in the mouth. It is only because of this immediate tactile contact that the flavors of what are being consumed can be tasted. While he thought that taste was a form of touch, Aristotle realized that the modalities of taste and touch are not identical. Taste and the discernment of flavors only occur in the mouth, whereas tactile feelings are not confined to the mouth but can take place all over the body. Since the tongue can perform both the activities of tasting and the registering of tactile sensations, Aristotle does not adhere to a simple lingual theory of taste (i.e., that the tongue embodies a single sensory modality that allows us to taste and discerns flavors), but he believes that taste is a complex sense. A mark of its complexity is that Aristotle believes that there are analogies
Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste
between taste and the other sensory modalities. He holds that taste has an analogical relation to vision. Like colors, tastes are structurally organized with contrary relations among the simple tastes: sweet is the contrary of bitter. Nevertheless, he claims that there is a major difference between vision and taste. Vision requires a medium of light in order to see colors; however, since taste is a form of the contact sense of touch with its direct connection to what is sensed, Aristotle thought that taste did not require a medium, although it does need moisture in order to discern flavors.13 Aristotle holds that taste is similar to smell in that they both can perceive some of the same qualities. He offers the example of honey having a sweet taste and having a sweet smell. However, he recognizes that taste and smell do not always perceive the same quality. Just because something might have a sweet taste does not guarantee that it should also smell sweet. A good example supporting his claim—but one with which Aristotle would presumably not have been familiar—is that although the Asian fruit, the Durian, has a very pleasant taste, it has a strong objectionable odor. Aristotle claims that smell is a hedonic sensory modality; we register what we smell as being pleasant or unpleasant. However, Aristotle takes a rather ambivalent attitude toward whether taste has a hedonic character. In the earlier quoted passage about the glutton not being interested in the pleasures of tasting because taste is only focused on discerning flavors, Aristotle seems to discount the hedonic nature of gustatory experience. Nevertheless, he seems to allow that we ought to enjoy what we eat or drink, at least to the extent that one should occupy a medial position between intemperance and indifference toward what one eats. As mentioned earlier, he also thought that the harmonious mixtures of flavors were pleasing. While Aristotle sees smell and taste as both being able to respond hedonically to what they sense, he holds that there is a major difference between taste and smell. Human beings have a very poor sense of smell, at least as compared with some other animals, but they have a much better sense of taste. According to Aristotle, “we have a more precise sense of taste because it is a kind of touch, which is a sense that is extremely precise in humans. In the other senses humans fall behind many of the animals, but with respect to touch they discriminate far better than the others.”14 For Aristotle, the difference between our poor sense of smell and our “much better sense of taste” seems to exclude smell from playing a major role in gustatory experience, even though he claims that one can smell some of the same qualities that one tastes. A major reason that Aristotle does not recognize the role of olfactory sensing in gustatory experience is that he has a faulty account of the sense of smell.15 He takes into account only one of the two ways in which a human being becomes conscious of an olfactory quality. He recognizes only the
orthonasal way of engaging with odors and scents, a sensory process that begins when one smells something by breathing in through one’s nose. He does not seem to be aware of the retronasal way in which human beings can sense olfactory qualities. He claims that “a human being, for one, smells when inhaling, but not when exhaling or holding the breath.”16 However, when engaging in retronasal olfactory sensing, in fact, one does breathe out through the nose. On exhaling, one draws up vaporized particles of the food or drink in the mouth through the opening at the back of the palate, the nasal pharynx, up into the nasal cavity where they stimulate the olfactory sensing sites at the top of that cavity, first with the olfactory epithelium and then the olfactory bulb.17 Thus, one does not only smell in an orthonasal way when inhaling, but also smells in a retronasal way when exhaling. It is understandable that Aristotle would make the mistake he does about the nature of olfaction. When one senses a gustatory quality in the retronasal way, one senses that quality with the same olfactory organs that one uses to smell in an orthonasal way. However, one identifies and places that retronasally sensed quality, even though it is sensed by the sites in one’s nasal cavity, as a taste that is located in one’s mouth. Retronasal sensing produces the illusion that one is not smelling but is tasting the sensed quality in one’s mouth. This form of gustatory illusion is referred to as “oral capture,” and the view is that one accepts that the retronasally sensed quality is in one’s mouth because by touch one locates its cause as being the food or drink in one’s mouth.18 The current established way to refer to these gustatory qualities sensed by retronasal olfaction is to identify them as “flavors” rather than as tastes sensed in the mouth.19 Although they are encountered and felt to be tastes in one’s mouth, many flavors are qualities produced by a combination of inputs from both taste receptors in one’s mouth and retronasal olfaction. That these various inputs can create a single gustatory quality is due to the “synthetic” nature of retronasal sensing: different retronasally sensed qualities can be combined to form an emergent distinctive quality.20 In addition to retronasal sensing, other sensory modalities can be involved in producing flavor. Not only are there a variety of textures and other qualities sensed by touch, but there are flavors that are in part sensed by sight and hearing as well.21 TASTE AND TOUCH In holding taste to be a form of touch, Aristotle recognizes a range of tactually sensed flavors. By so doing, he extends the range of flavors beyond those tastes allowed by a simple lingual theory of taste. He claims that “forms of flavor, like those of color, are, in the simple instances, contraries: the sweet and the bitter. Then bordering on the former is the oily, and on the latter the
Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste
salty; and between these are the pungent, the harsh, the sour and the sharp. These seem to be pretty much the differences of flavors.”22 In keeping with the analogy to colors, Aristotle suggests that flavors form a spectral series, one pole of which is the sweet and the other pole is the contrary, the bitter. Next in line to the sweet is the oily and preceding the bitter is the salty. Between these polar pairs are to be found the pungent, the harsh, the sour, and the sharp. Thus, Aristotle recognizes a spectral series of eight basic flavors arranged in something like the following order: sweet, oily, pungent, harsh, sour, sharp, salty, and bitter.23 Along with the four classical tastes of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, he includes four other basic qualities: oily, pungent, harsh, and sharp. In his expanded list of tastes, Aristotle has kept Plato’s taste of the pungent, which perhaps now includes Plato’s tangy. He perhaps also has collapsed Plato’s sour and acidic into his own flavor of the sour. While Plato notes that flavors are distinguished by how they vary from rough to smooth, Aristotle makes no explicit reference to flavors varying in intensity. However, he does assert that one can smell the qualities of the harsh, pungent, sharp, and oily.24 It might seem curious why Aristotle includes the three additional flavors, and why he picks those particular qualities as being basic flavors. What might temper the surprise at the inclusion of the new flavors is to recognize the tactile character of the new additions. For example, instead of being a simple taste such as a sweet taste, an oily taste appears to be a gustatory quality that one would experience as having a texture or “mouthfeel.” In reflecting on the various qualities of the foods we eat, we realize that we can experience a wide variety of mouthfeels in addition to oily or harsh textures, for example, crisp or peppery qualities. In general, a mouthfeel would be all those qualities perceived by the broader sensory apparatus that in the current nomenclature is referred to as the “somatosensory” system. This system includes not only touch but also the sensing of pressure, temperature, and pain.25 Aristotle also accepts a similar broad sense of touch, which he claims includes qualities such as “hot/cold, dry/moist, hard/soft, and others of this sort.”26 In order to draw attention to how Aristotle’s sensory modality of touch contributes to the discernment of flavor, consider not only the oily flavor but also the qualities of pungency, harshness, and sharpness. These qualities are sensed as having a gustatory character that has a tactile base. One way to recognize the tactile character of these four qualities is to notice how in the case of sharpness that quality can occur as a sensory qualification of a taste like sour. It expands the gustatory character of the taste by giving it a tactile aspect and making it more complex. A sour taste does not have to be sharp. Ripe cherries can have a mild sour or fruity acidity, and one would hesitate to identify them as having a sharp mouthfeel. Yet lemons can have a sour
taste that can be perceived as having a sharp mouthfeel. To consider another example, one might sense a particular Cheddar cheese as having a sharp mouthfeel without sensing it to be sour. The same acknowledgement of a distinct mouthfeel occurs in instances of pungency (what one might experience with a Mexican bitter-chocolate mole served as a sauce with roast turkey) or of harshness (a quality that distinguishes a strong horseradish sauce). FREELAND’S CRITIQUE OF ARISTOTLE’S THEORY OF TOUCH For Aristotle, the tongue as both an instrument of taste and touch can register the four classical flavors, but it is also able to recognize additional qualities that have a tactile character and to include them as gustatory flavors. Nevertheless, Aristotle has a rather limited and as a result faulty account of touch. In her examination of Aristotle’s theories of touch and taste in De Anima, the contemporary American philosopher Cynthia Freeland has criticized Aristotle for holding that touch is a passive sense. Aristotle claims that touch is a contact sense, one in which tactile qualities are experienced as an immediate sensory response when contact is made with a tangible object. In discussing an instance of someone touching something, Aristotle insists that “the sensation would still communicate itself immediately upon being touched.”27 It is the immediate character of touch, and taste as well, that is the focus of Freeland’s criticism. Freeland takes issue with Aristotle’s account of touch, saying that he is mistaken in “analyzing sensory experience into single and simple, momentary experience” and in his not recognizing the mobile dimension of touch.28 She follows up on James J. Gibson’s point that one should not limit touch to having only an immediate contact character but should recognize the active or haptic nature of touch. Active or haptic touch occurs, for example, when one moves one’s fingertips over an object scanning it in order to explore its tactile character. In so doing, one takes the time to acquire a fuller sensory acquaintance with the object, to develop a more complex sensory appreciation of it over and above just registering an immediate contact response. Freeland points out that the more temporally extended haptic experience of touching provides “a better source of information about such ‘purely’ tactile qualities of texture.”29 Of course, texture is a quality of interest in our becoming acquainted with what we are eating or drinking. Freeland pursues the criticism by noting that the gustatory experience of what we have ingested is not simply “a matter of passive registering—or at least in each case, passive stimulation is quickly followed by active scanning. Tactual scanning with the lips and tongue, for instance, seem essential to human pleasures of eating; it
Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste
seems simply false that the gourmand’s chief pleasures are those of passive touch.”30 Freeland is certainly correct to draw attention to the haptic nature of tactual exploration and scanning that is common in gustatory experience. In smelling and tasting fine cuisine, one uses one’s lips and tongue to explore and become better acquainted with the qualities of the food and drink in one’s mouth. In addition to pursuing haptic exploration with one’s lips and tongue, one continues the process by moving what one has ingested around in one’s mouth so as to better explore its gustatory characteristics. For example, slowly swishing around in one’s mouth the wine one has just sipped, one seeks to get a sense of the wine’s viscosity, or perhaps its minerality, or its level of extract. However, we also use our teeth to chew our food, which again is an act of haptic exploration. Chewing our food gives us more time to appreciate the textures and other mouthfeels of what we have taken in. Chewing helps us to vaporize the sapid objects in our mouths, allowing the evaporated particles to ascend up into our nasal cavity and acquaint us with the food’s flavors. The process of sensing the flavors of the food continues by the tactual experience of moving what we have ingested to the back of our palate and then swallowing it. This allows us perhaps to experience a new set of flavors or to notice after swallowing whether the initial flavors have developed in the finish or aftertaste. All of these activities take time, and it is through the temporal extension of these processes that we come to develop a fuller acquaintance with what we have sipped or eaten. Actually, one might not be able to get a full sense of the flavors of a dish or a drink with just one taste and swallow, especially with complex cuisine or fine wine. One might need to take some time to explore what one has ingested, lingering, taking in another mouthful, and tasting again in order to get a better sense of what one is consuming. ARISTOTLE’S COMMON SENSE Aristotle sets out the distinctive qualities for each of the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. However, many objects in the world are not sensed as having just one kind of sensory quality but possess different kinds. For example, I pick up my wine glass, and as I swirl the Cabernet around I notice its garnet color with a little orange or brick around the edges. Breathing in its aroma, I pick up a briary quality in the nose. Sipping the wine, I savor its dark plum fruit character as well as noting a mouthfeel of some astringent tannin. Swishing the wine around in my mouth, which allows me to hear it, I get some sense of the wine’s viscosity. As I breathe out to sense retronasally what I have sipped, I detect a faint eucalyptus note on my middle palate. Finally, on swallowing the wine, I search for further nuances of flavor and begin to assess
whether the wine has much of an aftertaste or finish. In my sensorial engagement with the wine, I have used all of my five senses to discover and explore the wine’s different qualities. Yet, I experience what I am drinking as a single object rather than as separate disconnected sets of sensory elements. Aristotle thought that only a specific sensory modality (e.g., sight) could perceive a specific sensory quality (color). Since the wine has different kinds of qualities not all perceived by a single sense but yet is experienced as a single sensory object, he reasoned that there must be another sense in addition to the five senses that could sense the various different kinds of sensory qualities and experience them as united in an object. For example, taste could not distinguish sweet from red, since it could not sense color. Thus, there must be a sense that can experience both sweet and red qualities. This sixth sense, which eventually came to be called a common sense, was able to perceive these diverse qualities as being unified in a single object.31 Beyond the general ability to distinguish qualities from different sensory kinds and to recognize diverse qualities as belonging together in a single object, Aristotle says surprisingly little about the common sense. Although he views the five senses as for the most part passive, the common sense is able to take a more active role in making judgments about what is being sensed through the use of the imagination.32 For example, this occurs when one notices the harmonious relation between or among sensory qualities in music. As previously noted, Aristotle accepts that there can be harmonious relationships among flavors and that such a harmonious mixture of flavors is pleasing. Since he holds that harmonious music can be beautiful, would he allow, contra Plato, that a harmonious blending of flavors in a dish could also be beautiful? CAN FOOD BE BEAUTIFUL? In his Nicomachean Ethics, although Aristotle is reluctant to accept that there could be an art or craft for producing pleasure, he does recognize that “the crafts of the perfumer and the gourmet chef do seem to be crafts of pleasure.”33 However, because of the position he takes in the Eudemian Ethics on when a person would be acting temperately, Aristotle would likely not recognize the art or craft of cuisine as being able to produce beautiful dishes. He claims that “if one sees a beautiful statue, or horse, or human being, or hears singing, without any accompanying wish for eating, drinking, or sexual indulgence, but only with the wish to see the beautiful and to hear the singers, he would not be thought profligate any more than those who were charmed by the Sirens.”34 Aristotle is basing his view on the belief that when one is in the grips of one’s hunger for food, one’s appetite is an overwhelming obstacle that prevents one from perceiving an object’s beauty. One might feel gustatory pleasure when
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consuming food and wine that possessed a harmonious arrangement of flavors, but one would be inhibited from perceiving any beauty in such dishes. Since the desire for nutrition is the basis for the making and consuming of food, approaching a prepared meal without the desire to consume it would be at odds with the purpose of the craft (technē) of cuisine. It would seem that the creations of an accomplished chef could not be perceived as being beautiful because people most likely would approach the dishes with the desire to consume or at least taste them. The desire to taste and eat such dishes would overwhelm one’s ability to perceive beauty in them. One might counter this view by proposing that culinary creations could possibly be experienced as being beautiful if a consumer approached them without an appetite. Aristotle seems to allow for something like this position in his discussion of gluttony where he claims that chefs limit their interests in what they are cooking to discerning the dish’s flavors. However, Aristotle’s point is about a chef’s interest in tasting what is being prepared. The consumer’s interest is somewhat different; it is ultimately concerned with eating and enjoying what the chef has prepared. So, while a chef can certainly check to see if a dish that is being prepared needs a pinch of salt, it is hard to imagine that the chef would not also be concerned to see whether the dish was pleasing and good. It is also true that if for some physiological reason or due to illness one were to have no appetite, such a condition would certainly be a severe handicap in judging the merits of a dish.35 There is another reason why Aristotle would reject a chef’s being able to present consumers with beautiful dishes. In the Poetics, Aristotle does not include cuisine among the mimetic arts (i.e., drama, music, dance, painting, and poetry), which are perceived with our eyes and ears.36 Following Plato, Aristotle accepts the hierarchical structure of the five senses, which privileges sight and hearing over taste, smell, and touch. Sight and hearing are given prominence because of their role in supporting the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Although taste allows us to discern flavors, it does not have the same scientific utility as sight and hearing. 37 Because Aristotle accepts this hierarchy of the senses, he likely would agree with Plato’s position in Hippias Major that rejects food and drink as being capable of being beautiful.38 Taste is also further deficient in that it lacks the capability of sight and hearing to perceive mimetic visual and aural symbols that can represent or express something beyond the sensory qualities themselves. Aristotle does not allow that gustatory qualities can imitate or represent anything beyond themselves. There is no possibility of having gustatory symbols that are independent of an individual’s experience in the way that sight can perceive corresponding visual symbols in painting and hearing can perceive symbols in music. Aristotle held there to be a natural human interest in imitation, which also heightened the importance he placed on vision and hearing. He claimed,
“Imitation is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns at first by imitation. And it is also natural for all to delight in works of imitation.”39 In introducing the idea that it is natural for people to take delight in imitative works, Aristotle is setting the grounds for registering a difference between the hedonic experience that people have with the mimetic arts and the hedonic experience people have with cuisine. The delight taken in mimetic works is a pleasure that extends our experience of the work to an interest in how the world is represented. Consistent with this point, it would seem that the pleasure we get from fine food lacks the additional pleasure of experiencing qualities that allow us to perceive the world in new or different ways. For Aristotle, when tasting something and discerning even a harmonious mixture of its flavors, a person is not able to perceive—even when tasting a chef’s masterpiece or sipping a magnificent wine—any reference or expression beyond the sensible qualities of the flavors themselves. He does not acknowledge the possibility that fine cooking could represent or express anything beyond itself, such as exemplifying a particular style of cuisine or the bounty of a harvest. Neither does he acknowledge that fine cooking could express emotional states or other qualities such as nostalgia, comfort, or the feeling of accomplishment expressed by a chef’s innovative extension of a regional style of cooking.40 Nevertheless, in his comparison of smell and taste, Aristotle introduces a rather abbreviated yet suggestive idea about how taste and smell could be seen as alluding to objects in the world. In De Anima, he makes the following observation that “since odors, just like tastes, are not especially clear, they have taken their names from the latter because of the similarity of the things (for example, sweetness is the odor of saffron and honey, and pungency the odor of thyme and such things; and it is the same in other cases).”41 Admittedly, Aristotle’s point about both scents and flavors taking on the names of familiar objects is not fully developed; however, his examples of tasting honey and thyme suggest that tastes are not just limited in the two examples to being sweet or pungent. One is actually tasting a sensory quality that is recognized as being either the familiar taste of honey or of thyme. In the previous chapter, Plato’s account of taste was criticized because he limited gustatory experience solely to his seven basic flavors. He did not seem to recognize that sometimes we are able to identify a particular gustatory sensation as the taste of a familiar object in the world. The example in the previous chapter was concerned with ingesting something and recognizing it as the taste of chickpeas. In the above passage, Aristotle suggests that human beings have the ability to make gustatory connections between the flavors they are sensing on their
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palate and familiar objects in the world. Of course, this by no means excludes being able to recognize a familiar object taste as also being sweet, sour, or any other basic flavor. For example, one might recognize a gustatory impression as being the taste of Parmesan cheese but also describe the taste as having a faint acidic quality. This particular way of identifying what one is sensing as being the taste of a familiar object is sometimes referred to as “labeling.”42 While labeling of gustatory experience is a rather common, there are several ways in which this process of identification can be inhibited. Let me note a few of these ways and reserve until later chapters a fuller discussion of labeling. First of all, labeling seems to occur, when it does occur, by identifying a flavor with a known and familiar object. However, with new, exotic, or unfamiliar flavors, a person might be at a loss as how to identify what is being tasted. Indeed, even with familiar objects, the ingredients in a dish might be used in new or unexpected combinations so that it is difficult to identify what is being tasted. Or, sometimes even tasting familiar objects—and this can happen with tasters who have had considerable experience in discerning labeled flavors—a person might be momentarily unable to put a label on what is being tasted. For example, The New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne describes a conundrum in which he and master chef Pierre Franey, who were dining in a Boston restaurant, could not figure out what the roast chicken they were eating was stuffed with. They drew a blank, and Claiborne recalls, It was a roast chicken with a custardlike stuffing that proved to be extremely palatable, not only because of its delicate flavor but also because of its tender, gossamerlike texture. . . . After numerous tries in our kitchen, we discovered that the filling was nothing more than well-seasoned scrambled eggs, which, when cooked in the bird, achieved that sought-after and notably compelling stuffing.43
Thus, it is not uncommon for someone to taste something that is recognized as being familiar but still be unable to label the flavor. One might muse: “That is a familiar taste, but what is it?” Finally, because of being rushed or distracted, a person might not have been paying enough attention to what has just been gulped down to identify and label the food’s flavors. SUMMARY OF ARISTOTLE’S THEORY OF TASTE Reflecting on Aristotle’s theory of taste, one sees that he has a more expansive theory of taste than does Plato. By connecting taste to touch, Aristotle introduces the idea that gustatory qualities include flavors that exhibit a texture or mouthfeel. Of course, there are some similarities to Plato’s theory: they both reject food—even cuisine—as being worthy of being considered beautiful.44 They also do not recognize the role that retronasal olfactory
engagement plays in the discernment of flavor, which limits their accounts of the variety of flavors in gustatory experience. Both share the view that tasting is a rather passive experience. For example, Aristotle holds to the idea that touch, and by extension taste, immediately senses their qualities. He does not take into account the possibility that one could haptically explore what one has ingested. As a result, in not recognizing the roles of retronasal sensing and haptic exploration, Aristotle fails to see the extent to which gustatory experience has the potential to be a complex and temporally extended encounter with what one has drunk or eaten. However, in proposing a common sense that is able to perceive harmonious arrangements of qualities, Aristotle endows the common sense with an active power of judgment. By employing the imagination, the common sense is able to perceive the unity of various sensory qualities in an object.45 Yet, despite the active role of a common sense, Aristotle still expresses some ambivalence about the nature of gustatory experience. This ambivalence is revealed in what would be his likely objections to including cuisine among his accepted fine art forms. Cuisine would lack the imitative capacity exhibited by other art forms to represent features of the world or to express emotional states or attitudes. Nevertheless, while taste does not lend itself to the creation of independent gustatory symbols that have a mimetic character, Aristotle does suggest that flavors can be identified with familiar objects in the world, a reference to something over and above the gustatory qualities themselves. In narrowly focusing on the pleasures of imitation, Aristotle in his mimetic theory of art does not acknowledge the variety and complexity of what we would now call aesthetic experience. In advocating such a theory of art, Aristotle restricts art forms to employing only representational symbols or signs that can be seen or heard, a requirement that future artistic developments would challenge. No doubt the mimetic theory was certainly an influential theory of art whose influence extended into the nineteenth century; however, a telling criticism of it was suggested by Plato in Book X of the Republic. In the dialogue, Socrates dismisses imitation, claiming that “imitation is a kind of game and not to be taken seriously.”46 He disparagingly points out that it is easy to produce imitating images of anything: all that one has to do is carry around a mirror and whatever it reflects, whatever you point the mirror at, will be an imitating image.47 The contemporary American philosopher, Arthur Danto, has taken Socrates’s position on imitation as grounds for a refutation of the mimetic theory of art. Danto argues: “If a mirror-image of o is indeed an imitation of o, then, if art is imitation, mirror-images are art. But in fact mirroring objects no more is art than returning weapons to a madman is justice.”48 Danto concludes that an imitation of something is neither a sufficient condition for being a work of art nor, as later developments showed, a necessary condition.
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Aristotle’s ambivalence about taste, along with Plato’s view that the pleasures of taste were cognitively inconsequential, influenced the philosophical thinking of writers during the Roman Empire in their attitudes toward food and gustatory experience. That debate continued in the writings of medieval thinkers, spurring them to hone their arguments concerning what sorts of things could be beautiful and to offer a more developed definition of beauty. The topic of gluttony, which so concerned Plato and Aristotle, also continued to be a topic of much concern. GUSTATORY EXPERIENCE IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE The previous chapter explored the claim that Plato’s limited account of taste and his restrictive views on the sensory enjoyment of food and drink were at odds with the Greek love of eating and drinking. Archestratus’s text on fine dining and Epicurus’s advocacy of sharing and enjoying a meal with good company seemed so contrary to the Platonic rejection of cuisine. One can see this same conundrum in Roman society as it transformed from the republic into the empire. In its early days, Roman society valued and promoted a simplicity of diet in keeping with its rural agricultural heritage. With the military expansion of the Roman state into the eastern Mediterranean, Greek culture with its love of food and wine became increasingly influential in Roman upper-class life. This was especially so due to the influence of sybaritic Persian dining practices on Greek attitudes toward food and dining following Alexander the Great’s conquests in Asia and the Middle East.49 One can gauge the changing nature of Roman ideas about food and dining by looking at two notable gastronomic texts on food and dining during the empire. The author of the longest text was Athenaeus (c. 170–230 CE), a Greek from Naucratis in Egypt who lived in Rome and wrote a fifteen-volume book, The Deipnosophistae (Sophists at Dinner), that described a banquet attended by thirty scholars who each expounded on his own specialization.50 In his book, Athenaeus describes lavish banquets given by Hellenistic monarchs of the fourth century BCE, and how such sumptuous dining prompted the Roman elite to emulate such extravagance. With an empire that at its height stretched from northern England east to Persia, Roman aristocrats and wealthy families sought out rare and exotic foods, wines, and animals from all over their empire. This interest in culinary exotica included a love for imported spices. Archestratus was rather abstemious in the use of spices in his recipes, but there is an expanded interest in using herbs and spices in Roman cuisine. Not only did the Roman elite gather exotic herbs and spices from throughout the empire, but with their gold they encouraged Roman seafarers and enticed Arab traders to transport spices back
to Rome from far off India, the East Indian Spice Islands, and even China.51 It was a flourishing trade that was not to be duplicated until the sixteenth century with the establishment of the Portuguese sea routes. The chief Roman demand was for pepper, but there was also a flourishing trade in cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and many other spices. The Roman taste for dozens of spices and flavorings is revealed in the recipes found in the foremost Roman cookbook, Apicius’s On Cookery (De re Coquinaria).52 Unlike Archestratus’s simple flavorings for his seafood dishes, Apicius tended toward elaborate sauces, accented with numerous herbs, spices, and other flavorings. These sauces were created to complement and distinguish the many courses served during a banquet, which the Romans referred to as a “convivium.”53 If the symposium exemplified social attitudes toward food and wine in ancient Greek society, the convivium exemplified changing Roman attitudes toward gustatory experience from the days of the republic, into the age of Augustus, and on into the empire. Whereas a symposium was a wine-quaffing get-together exclusively for upper-class men, the convivium was a social dining occasion in which men and women both feasted and drank wine together. Freed slaves were even invited to these convivia; however, these dinner parties reflected the stratified nature of Roman society. The wine that was served did not come from a common mixing bowl or “krater” such as was used at a symposium. Instead, each guest at the convivium mixed her or his own wine, and they did not all drink the same wine. The highest status individuals at the convivium were served the best wine; those of lower social importance were served inferior wines. Guests who were former slaves were usually served the worst wine in the cellar.54 Unlike the Epicurean banquet, the convivium was not primarily dedicated to philosophical conversation or to encouraging intellectual development. Since lower-class people and those with little education could be guests, the convivium could often be an occasion for doing business or political maneuvering. A plentiful supply of wine encouraged the forging of alliances and the arranging of deals. A host who could supply a sumptuous dinner increased his social stature, giving him an edge in brokering any deals. As the convivia became more elaborate and decadent, there was an increasing concern that such lavishness was undermining traditional Roman values and harming the state. As a result, a series of sumptuary laws were decreed in an attempt to moderate displays of opulence particularly focusing on convivia. Vehling claims, During the reign of Caesar and Augustus severe laws were passed, fixing the sums to be spent for public and private dinners and specifying the edibles to be consumed. These laws classified gastronomic functions with an ingenious eye
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for system, professing all the time to protect the public’s morals and health; but they were primarily designed to replenish the ever-vanishing contents of the Imperial exchequer and to provide soft jobs for hordes of enforcers.55
In his biography of Augustus, the statesman Suetonius (c. 70–121 CE) noted that Augustus was known for his moderate consumption of both food and wine. His preference was for simple country fare, which usually included some fish, cheese, fruit, and coarse bread. Although he regularly attended convivia and staged his own dinners, his banquets were not as lavish as some of the nobles of the Roman equestrian class.56 Despite Augustus’s example of frugality, by the time of the reign of Nero the convivia had become so ostentatious, especially as practiced by the emperor, that it was ripe for satire. The most well-known extant satire of an opulently crass convivium is to be found in “Dinner at Trimalchio’s,” which forms part of Petronius’s The Satyricon.57 A freed slave who is fancifully portrayed as having enormous wealth, Trimalchio, assembles guests for a lavish convivium. Trimalchio claims to have estates that extend from the bay of Naples throughout most of southern Italy. He even hopes to buy up Sicily so that he can sail to Africa stopping along the way at his estates. During the banquet, he overwhelms his guests with his boorish manners. His pretentious attempts to convince the assembled company of his great learning fool no one. Neither is anyone fooled by him telling his dinner guests that they are being served 100-year-old prestigious Falernian wine. Becoming more and more inebriated, he squabbles with his wife, Fortunata, even throwing a metal cup at her that wounds her in the head.58 What is so extraordinary about the many courses and wines served at the meal is that they reflect a current faddish style of cuisine that had three prominent features. First, there is an opulent display of many courses focusing on different meats, fishes, and birds that contain concealed ingredients. Second, there is an emphasis on the theatrical presentation of the dishes with an intent to surprise or startle the guests. Finally, the chef creates dishes that disguise the ingredients used to make the dishes in order to fool the diners and showcase his amazing culinary creativity. Of course, since Trimalchio’s feast is narrated as a satire, the style of cuisine is exaggerated but recognizable nonetheless. Examples of these three culinary principles are exhibited in selected courses served at Trimalchio’s dinner. An early course presents a wooden hen nesting on ovoid pastries resembling eggs. Inside each one is a small baked bird (a fig pecker) coated with ground pepper. A later course has a cooked hare with what appear to be two spread wings so as to resemble the flying horse, Pegasus. Then, hunting dogs race into the dining area startling the guests and announcing the chef’s presentation of a roast boar surrounded by
piglets fashioned out of pastry. Later on in the meal, Trimalchio complains to the chef that he has forgotten to eviscerate and clean out the innards of a roast pig that he is presenting to the diners. Immediately, the chef slashes open the sides of the animal surprising the guests when out spill sausages resembling entrails and black pudding resembling blood or bile. A dessert follows, the centerpiece of which is a pastry statue of Priapus (the drunken deity often portrayed by Roman artists as a urinating fountain statue). Priapus clutches a medley of fruits around his paunch, but when the guests reach out to touch the fruit, out spurt streams of fruit juice colored with yellow saffron to resemble urine. The narrator at the feast grimaces that “the juice shot disconcertingly even into our faces.”59 More pastry birds follow accompanied by quinces that have thorns sticking out of them so as to resemble sea urchins. However, the pièce de résistance is a fat roast goose surrounded by a variety of fishes and birds. Assuming that his guests are unaware, Trimalchio informs them that his chef has fashioned the whole dish (goose, fishes, and birds) entirely from pork. Trimalchio has named his ingenious chef “Daedalus” after the legendary Greek inventor, and he claims that his Daedalus has the consummate ability to create “fish out of tripe, a pigeon out of bacon, a turtle out of ham, a chicken out of pork-knuckle.”60 The description of the crass opulence of this meal is intended to satirize the decadence of the wealthy’s dining habits during Nero’s reign; however, it should not make us overlook that the depicted style of cuisine is in part a response—a challenge—to the Aristotelian rejection of cuisine’s being a fine art for not having a mimetic nature. Trimalchio’s chef has used food as a medium for imitating very different foodstuffs, just as Greek and Roman sculptors used marble or bronze to imitate hair, skin, drapery, and armor. Of course, it is the visual presentation of the food that is the primary mimetic element rather than the food’s flavor. Yet, it is the surprised, startled, or amazed experience of the diners when they realize that what they thought was one foodstuff was actually another, that adds a mimetic element to the whole experience of dining. In some way, this effect is comparable to a viewer’s surprise at being caught unaware by a trompe l’oeil painting. The possibility of being fooled by what one is eating or startled by being splashed in the face contributes a mimetic quality to the dining experience. This is especially so when that experience is broadened so as to include the visual and theatrical presentation of the dishes as well as the accompanying sounds of dogs, musical instruments, and raucous conversation. Although Petronius satirized the decadence of the convivium during Nero’s day, at an earlier time the convivium was valued as a socially unifying institution of upper-class Roman society. A testament to this positive effect is found in the Roman politician and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43
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BCE), who writes a letter to a friend encouraging him to dine out more often. He playfully writes, I am distressed that you have ceased going out to dinner. Indeed, you have deprived yourself of a great deal of amusement and pleasure. . . . I advise you to do what I think has a direct bearing on living happily—that you live with men who are good and pleasant and are fond of you. Nothing is better suited to life, nothing is better adapted to living well. I am not referring to the pleasures of the palate, but to the fellowship of life and of food, and that relaxation of mind that is most effectively brought about by familiar conversation, and assumes its most charming form in convivia, as our fellow countrymen, who are wiser than the Greeks, call them; . . . we call them convivia, “livings together,” for then, more than ever, do our lives coincide. Do you see how I am trying to win you back to our dinners by philosophizing?61
Of course, Cicero realized that food was necessary for survival, but he also acknowledged that in the right circumstance it had a crucial role to play in human well-being. As a social catalyst, the convivium contributed to diners having a fulfilling life. Nevertheless, he advocated being moderate in one’s consumption of food and wine. Although he generally accepted a Stoic suspicion that the senses are liable to provide us with illusory information, he did think that human beings had a natural ability to sense harmony and rhythm, not only in music but in other sensory objects, even in the creations of a fine chef. Because of human beings’ natural sensitivity to harmony and rhythm, he thought that people possessed a natural ability to sense beauty.62 In his Tusculan Disputations, he applies his theory to what makes the human body beautiful, specifying that it should have “a certain symmetrical shape of the limbs” and coloration that he describes as “a certain charm of coloring.”63 Cicero’s position that harmonious proportion and rhythm, in a broad sense, were necessary features of beauty, as well as his claim that human beings could naturally sense beauty, were topics that were further investigated by Plotinus (204–270 CE) who lived in Rome where he taught philosophy. In the first of his Enneads, the nine-treatise collection that was circulated after his death, Plotinus begins his account of beauty by taking up Plato’s concern in Hippias Major about whether moral practices and actions, in addition to objects perceived by sight and hearing, could also be beautiful.64 Plotinus declares that we only use our senses of sight and hearing to perceive beautiful material objects, but he insists that nonsensible things like moral actions and virtues can also be discerned to be beautiful. Plotinus’s focus in the rest of his treatise is to show how nonsensible things can be beautiful. In holding that material beauty is only perceived by sight and hearing, Plotinus certainly would dismiss any consideration that on the basis of taste fine food could be identified as being beautiful. However, he develops a
theory of beauty that expands earlier discussions about what makes something beautiful. He criticizes the prevalent account that sets out the necessary features of beautiful things, and he proposes that we recognize beautiful things because we respond to them by having certain emotional experiences. These two topics have a future bearing on the aesthetic nature of cuisine. Plotinus puts forward a Platonic perspective that real beauty is a supersensible or transcendent idea and that material things are beautiful not in themselves but only to the extent that they “participate” in or take their “form” from the supersensible idea of beauty. In one’s search for beauty, one ascends from material objects that are only “images and traces and shadows” of real beauty upward first to “beautiful practices, then beautiful works . . . then to look at the soul of those who produce these beautiful works,” and finally to encounter the supersensible idea of beauty, which he claims is identical: “goodness and beauty are the same.”65 Plotinus defends his transcendental account of beauty by first criticizing the Pythagorean view held by Aristotle and Cicero that something is beautiful because it exhibits a harmonious arrangement of its parts. Plotinus disputes this proportionate thesis by pointing out that on such an account a simple thing, like a color, or sunlight, or the pure tone of a single note, could not be beautiful because it would lack parts that would form harmonious relationships.66 If one accepts Plotinus’s criticism that a single color or tone could be beautiful, then, if one were inclined to accept the possibility that a chef’s masterpiece could be beautiful, it would seem that simple flavors and scents could contribute to a dish’s beauty. Having rejected the view that only complex things with harmonious parts could be beautiful, Plotinus next takes up the question of how one comes to know that something is beautiful, especially as one ascends from material objects to intellectual ones and then on to the supersensible idea. His answer is twofold. First, he claims that beauty to the extent that it is pure is “not contaminated by flesh or bodies.”67 In order to perceive and appreciate this noncorporeal beauty, an individual must first get rid of or set aside any bodily desires and appetites. This antecedent condition suggests that Plotinus, unlike Cicero, would not hold that people have a natural ability to sense beauty. Instead, the perception of beauty is only possible after having set aside the appetites, something that a person does not naturally want to do. Second, Plotinus says that once having set aside the desires of the flesh, an individual will be open to having a set of intense emotional experiences on encountering either a sensible or nonsensible beautiful thing. Plotinus insists that in the presence of beauty one will be astonished and overwhelmed with pleasure and delight. One will also be amazed and jolted by what Plotinus identifies as a painless “sweet shock” accompanied by a “piercing longing” that affirms a loving attachment to the beautiful object. He claims that such
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emotional encounters change the individual’s previous way of perceiving beautiful things and introduce a new way of seeing beauty. He proposes that beginning with the appreciative perception of material beauty, the enlightened individual ascends in stages to perceiving higher forms of nonmaterial beauty until finally encountering the idea of beauty. For Plotinus, this ascent leading up to the transcendent idea of beauty, encouraged by the transformative experience of beauty, is a form of a mystical search for the divine.68 With this list of intense emotional experiences, Plotinus envisions a much broader and deeper engagement with beautiful things than earlier accounts recognized. These earlier theories, which centered on the harmonious relation of parts, limited the experience of beauty to a pleasurable response. Plotinus’s account differs from earlier accounts in several other ways. First of all, he describes the emotional experiences as not simply being a response to a stimulus that is valued solely for its hedonic valence. Instead, there is a strong and focused attachment to the object that is described as a loving concern for it. He also suggests that one’s engagement with the object is cognitive. Although the experience is not recognized as scientific, the emotional investment in the object is a revelation, a realization that one has discovered something new in the world. One is startled and overjoyed to have perceived something about which one was previously unaware or had overlooked. How might Plotinus’s account of the mystical experience of the beautiful illuminate one’s having an intense gustatory experience with a chef’s superlative and innovative creation? First, consider Plotinus’s requirement that one must purify oneself of bodily desires and appetites. Taken literally, this insistence that one give up one’s appetite is too strong a requirement. One needs an appetite to discern and appreciate the qualities of fine food. However, one might reinterpret the requirement as recommending that one not remain ensconced within one’s past gustatory habits and familiar preferences when encountering superlative and innovative cooking. Instead, setting those habits aside, one should approach the occasion and the chef’s creation with an open mind and a willingness to try something new. An attitude that encourages the reaction that the new dish tastes unfamiliar and strange will not allow one to be astonished or amazed at what one is tasting. Neither will it transform one’s view of, or enable one to have new insights into, the nature of great cooking. A second consequence of Plotinus’s account is that it should encourage one to see that innovative and superb cooking is revelatory. Superb cuisine should reveal qualitative aspects that are new or had been previously overlooked. A third consequence is that such cooking should elicit in one’s astonishment a delight affirming that such cooking deserves our highest estimation and a respect that approaches love. Nevertheless, Plotinus’s proposal about how one should experience beauty might strike some as extreme, given that we occasionally describe some people and some sunsets as being beautiful without
undergoing the kind of transformation described by Plotinus. However, Plotinus is offering an account that in justifying ascribing beauty to an object goes beyond recognizing that something is nice and pleasant to encounter. He is trying to mark out a difference between those things that are merely pleasing and those things that are profoundly beautiful. CHRISTIANITY STRUGGLES WITH FOOD AND WINE The question of whether food and wine could have a transcendent referent posed a problem for Christianity. In 313 CE, the Emperor Constantine established Christianity as the religion of the empire, and Roman society was faced with the Church’s ambivalent attitude toward food and wine. On one side of the ambiguity, Christianity held that food and wine occupied an important position in the faith. Christian dogma held that Jesus had performed miracles with wine and food (e.g., with the loaves and fishes during the Sermon on the Mount). During the Seder known as the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that the bread they were consuming was his body and the wine was his blood. This transcendental connection of the bread and wine with Jesus is reaffirmed for the faithful during the ceremony of the Eucharist. Nevertheless, on the other side of the ambiguity, Christianity was a faith that urged its followers to be diligently focused on their spiritual afterlife and to shun bodily pleasures arising from eating and drinking. The enjoyment of food and wine beyond the needs of nutrition was held to lead to gluttony, which was held to be a deadly sin.69 One of the early Church fathers to describe the tension between the pleasures experienced in eating and drinking and the religious need to overcome such bodily pleasures was Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE). In his Confessions, Augustine relates that he enjoyed the pleasures of the table, but he confesses that in his early days “there have been times when overeating has stolen upon your servant.” The danger he fears is that the desire for gustatory gratification would encourage one to let one’s senses overpower one’s reason and lead one into a life of gluttonous sin. He endeavored to fight against this desire for gustatory pleasure “for fear of becoming its captive.” Regularly fasting to overcome his appetite, he struggled “daily against greed for food and drink,” praying: “Let the itch of gluttony pass me by.”70 Like Plato, Augustine sees an opposition between his reason and the desire for gustatory gratification, a pleasure that he believes will lead to gluttony. This opposition between reason and the desire for the pleasures of taste comes out in his theory of beauty. In his youth, Augustine relates that he had a strong interest in the nature of material beauty and distinguished those beautiful things that please the eye because they are beautiful in themselves from those beautiful things that please the eye because they are “properly proportioned.”71 In
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later years, he recognized that music could also be beautiful. He still held that a necessary condition for something to be beautiful was that it have an order or a harmonious proportion of parts, but he now required that one use one’s reason to perceive beauty in something. Monroe Beardsley interprets Augustine’s requirement for the rational discernment of beauty in the following way: The judgment of beauty, then involves a grasp of order . . . reason is involved in the cognition of order and in the pleasure it affords. This kind of pleasure is limited to those senses (“the ocular and auricular”) that perceive order; pleasure in sheer quality, as in tastes and smells, is radically different, and of a lower sort. It makes sense, Augustine argues at some length, to say that “something formed with well-fitting parts . . . appears reasonably [fashioned]” or that a melody “sounds reasonably [harmonized].”72
Although Augustine recognizes that gustatory qualities are pleasing, these qualities are pleasing without the need for reason to perceive them as being pleasing. Unlike the sounds of music or the visual features of the plastic arts, the gustatory qualities of fine food, according to Augustine, would not exhibit a harmony of parts that reason could discover. Augustine follows Plato in claiming that “anyone would be laughed at should he say that something smells reasonably or tastes reasonably [and describe a rose saying how] reasonably sweet it smells.”73 Augustine does not seem to recognize that gustatory qualities can form synchronic structures (i.e., structures existing at one particular temporal point of the alimentary experience) as well as diachronic structures (i.e., structures that are formed over time during the trajectory of the experience). If for the moment one sets aside Augustine’s conviction about the corrupting influence of eating and drinking, there are likely three major reasons for his not recognizing that fine food can exhibit structures with a harmony of parts. First, like Plato and Aristotle, Augustine does not acknowledge the role that retronasal olfaction plays in gustatory experience, and so he does not appreciate the large number of possible flavors available for composing such structures. Second, since he claims that reason is required to judge that something is beautiful, it is likely that he would accept the Aristotelian view that tastes or flavors are sensed immediately rather than haptically encountered over the course of the gustatory trajectory. Third, Augustine describes gustatory experience as being limited to the sensory involvement only of taste, and he does not acknowledge the role of the other senses in our perceiving and enjoying what we eat and drink. Thus, like Plato and Aristotle, Augustine dismisses food and drink as having only a minimal hedonic character and as not being able to achieve what we would call a rich aesthetic objectivity. Yet, this dismissal comes in part from a faulty account of our sensory encounter with what we eat and drink.
Nevertheless, the main emphasis of Augustine’s account of beauty is that our experience with beautiful things should direct our attention toward the divine order in the universe. He thinks that the order and proportion found in beautiful things should make us aware that it is a reflection of God’s work. He urges that even the harmony in music should be approached with caution out of concern that the intense enjoyment of listening to music might distract one from appreciating the spiritual significance of that harmony. He prefers listening to religious hymns that focus his attention on glorifying the deity.74 Augustine is convinced that cuisine cannot spiritually direct our attention toward the divine. Instead, it captures our attention with the temptations of sensory pleasure and binds us to the gluttonous enjoyment of material things rather than encouraging us to lift our sights and focus on things spiritual. In his account of beauty, the late medieval philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) follows in the “right proportion” tradition of Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine. Like Plotinus, he posits that there is an identity between the beautiful and the good; however, each one of that relation emphasizes a different aspect. Aquinas claims that goodness is pursued as an object of desire, whereas beauty appeals to a rational or cognitive interest. He maintains that the senses of sight and hearing focus on cognitive pleasures, but the pleasures of smell and taste do not reflect a cognitive interest. Thus, Aquinas holds that food and drink cannot be beautiful. Agreeing with Augustine, he claims that the term beautiful refers to sensory objects that are “the most cognitive, viz., sight and hearing, as ministering to reason; for we speak of beautiful sights and beautiful sounds. But in reference to the other objects of the other senses, we do not use the expression beautiful, for we do not speak of beautiful tastes and beautiful odors.”75 For Aquinas, this restriction is not just a matter of common usage but is due to taste and smell lacking a rational character. In keeping with his cognitive theory of beauty, Aquinas identifies three formal features of the beautiful: (1) proportion or harmony, which directly appeals to and pleases one’s reason; (2) integrity or the object’s approaching the perfection of that particular species; and (3) brightness or clarity, a condition harkening back to Cicero and Augustine’s view that beautiful visual objects are bright and colorful.76 The second and third conditions raise the issue of whether Aquinas believes that one’s experience of the beautiful is focused on something transcendental.77 However, scholars are divided on this issue. Beardsley takes the position that for Aquinas the experience of the beautiful is not transcendental. He claims that “the experience of beauty is definitely given a cognitive status, but not, in the Platonic or Plotinian sense, a transcendental one; what we know in seeing the statue or painting is precisely its shapes and colors.”78 While he denies that food and drink can be beautiful, Aquinas distinguishes two different forms of appreciative pleasure. This distinction has some
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bearing on the debate about what we would now call the aesthetic character of gustatory experience. He claims that there is a certain intellectual or spiritual pleasure that he identifies as “joy” (gaudium), and he distinguishes it from a sensory or bodily pleasure that he identifies as “delight” (delectatio). The difference between these two kinds of pleasure is that intellectual or spiritual joy is experienced all at one time. In its immediacy, joy is described by Aquinas as being “firm” and “incorruptible.” This consistency is in keeping with the experience one would expect with a well-founded cognitive insight or a spiritual revelation. He claims that bodily or sensory delight, however, takes some time to “unfold” as do “those of the table.”79 Whereas Aristotle had claimed that taste as a form of touch had an immediate contact with a flavor, Aquinas, although generally Aristotelian in his view of the senses, takes the opposite view that one’s gustatory pleasure is not an immediate response. This pleasure could take some time to form as one sips one’s wine or ingests one’s food. It might also change over the course of a meal. Unfortunately, Aquinas does not elaborate or justify the distinction. Questions would seem to be invited about why one could not examine an unfolding or evolving gustatory experience to identify the relationships among the flavors. Assuming that an individual was interested, a person might note the relationships among the flavors encountered and take a cognitive interest in whether those flavors were harmonious or even appropriate. Aquinas’s theory of the unfolding nature of gustatory pleasure is important to keep in mind when examining eighteenth-century theories of taste. This is especially so when considering Kant’s distinction between the imaginative experience of the beautiful, which requires some time, and the sensory pleasures that one has with food and drink, which are merely agreeable and arise immediately on contact with what one has consumed. There is another topic connected with alimentation that Aquinas investigates and that is gluttony. He acknowledges that we eat and drink to nourish ourselves and that there is nothing amiss in our doing so. However, when we act out of an inordinate desire (a “concupiscence”) to pursue bodily pleasure by overeating and drinking in a way that goes against reason, Aquinas insists such behavior is gluttonous and sinful. He holds that such behavior must be voluntary and that one must know that one is acting irrationally. If one eats or drinks a great deal due to what he calls “inexperience,” he claims that such actions do not constitute gluttony. Instead, gluttony is a dedication to the pleasures of overeating as being fitting ends in themselves, even to the point of being “ready to disobey God’s commandments to obtain those pleasures.”80 However, when Aquinas specifies the various ways of incurring gluttony, his specific ways are much stricter than would be consistent with the requirement of acting out an irrational desire for gustatory pleasure. He lists five ways that one can give in to gluttony: the first three ways address the food
being consumed, and the last two refer to the way the food is eaten. One acts out of gluttony if one eats too much food, but also if one eats costly or “sumptuous” kinds of foods or foods that have been elaborately prepared. In addition, one is a glutton if one disregards eating at regular times but keeps eating throughout the day, or if one eats greedily, wolfing down one’s food.81 All five of these ways do not seem to be necessary conditions that are jointly sufficient for gluttonous behavior; however, it is not clear if each of the five ways is a sufficient condition or only a symptom of gluttony. Of course, Aquinas would insist that these five forms of gluttony would have to be framed in a context where they would be seen to be motivated by an inordinate and irrational desire for gustatory pleasure. Yet, the five ways seem to commit Aquinas to holding that eating a meal over and above one consisting of an economical choice of food that was simply prepared and moderately consumed would amount to one being a glutton. In his five ways, Aquinas seems to express his opposition to the values of bodily pleasure and to promote a devotion to spiritual interests. Even his requirement that gluttony consists of an “inordinate” desire that goes against “reason” would seem to be framed with this opposition in mind. With Aquinas’s distinction between bodily pleasure (delight) and spiritual satisfaction (joy), if one were narrowly focused on the enjoyment of innovative cuisine, such a passion might likely count as inordinate or irrational, for it would distract one from dedicating oneself to pursuing spiritual interests. At any rate, it would seem to preclude acknowledging that such an interest might lead to a revelation about the qualitative nature of the world, which would bring together the pursuit of bodily pleasure with a search for intellectual enlightenment. Aquinas’s body/spirit distinction, which continues the tradition established by Plato, Plotinus, and Augustine, would find new followers in the years ahead. It would also produce a changing set of circumstances for food and drink. There would be new foods introduced by global exploration, as well as innovations in the preparation of food. A growing middle class would also lead to new ways of thinking about food and its preparation. Finally, developments in the arts and their presentation to an increasingly secular society would have an impact on the appreciation of food. NOTES 1. David Summers, The Judgement of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 2. Aristotle claimed that the senses receive the form of what is sensed without giving us knowledge of the material sensed. In one of the most famous images in his work, he claims
Aristotelian and Roman Views on Taste
sensing to be like a signet ring pressing into wax, where the wax reveals the form of the ring without revealing the material out of which the ring is made (De Anima [On the Soul], 424a18–22, trans., intro., and notes by Mark Shiffman (Newburyport, MA: R. Pullins, 2011), 72. 2. Aristotle, De Anima, 412a20, 48. 3. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 178b33–36, trans., intro., and notes by C. D. C. Reeve (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2014), 189. 4. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 104a15–25, 23. 5. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 119a9–10, 55. Carolyn Korsmeyer points out that in his Eudemian Ethics, Aristotle claimed that human beings are inclined to overindulge in sensory pleasure and that “the mean for eating is likely to be closer to the extreme of deficiency than excess” (Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999], 23). 6. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 118b16–18, 54. 7. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 118a25–32, 53. 8. Aristotle had more to say about excessive consumption, particularly about drunkenness. He wrote a work on drunkenness, but unfortunately that work is no longer extant. See John F. Donahue, Food and Drink in Antiquity: Readings from the Graeco-Roman World (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 248. 9. Aristotle, De Anima, 421a10–20, 66–67. 10. Aristotle claims that “excesses in flavor destroy taste” (De Anima, 426b1, 77). 11. John I. Beare points out that for Aristotle water, as one of the four basic elements along with earth, air, and fire, was something that had no taste (Greek Theories of Elementary Cognition from Alcmaeon to Aristotle [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906], 176). 12. Aristotle, De Anima, 426b5–8, 78. 13. Aristotle, De Anima, 422a10–20, 68. 14. Aristotle, De Anima, 421a19– 21, 68. See Gordon M. Shepherd, Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 19–27. 15. For an illuminating discussion of olfactory sensing, see Emily Brady, “Sniffing and Savoring: The Aesthetics of Smells and Tastes,” in The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, ed. Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 177–93. 16. Aristotle, De Anima, 421b15–16, 67. 17. For an account of retronasal olfaction, see Shepherd, Neurogastronomy, 3–18, 66–68. 18. See J. Todrank and L. Bartoshuk, “A Taste Illusion: Taste Sensation Localized by Touch,” Physiology and Behavior, 50 (1991): 1027–31. 19. For further discussion of the terms oral capture and flavor, see Bruce E. Goldstein and James R. Brockmole, Sensation and Perception, 10th edition (Boston, MA: Cengage, 2016), 378– 79. See also Shepherd, Neurogastronomy, 3–18, 29–30. Recent research on retronasal sensations experienced in the mouth now refer to this shift in sensory perception as “oral referral.” See Barry C. Smith, “Tasting and Liking: Multisensory Flavor Perception and Hedonic Evaluation,” in
The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 254. 20. Shepherd claims that smell “has the property of being, in general, ‘synthetic’; that is, a mixture of several smells makes a new unified smell” (Neurogastronomy, 32). 21. See Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2014). 22. Aristotle, De Anima, 422b10–15, 69. 23. Beare points out that Aristotle has been held to claim that there are seven basic flavors to match his finding seven basic colors (Greek Theories of Elementary Cognition, 177). 24. Aristotle, De Anima, 421b30, 67. 25. Shephard discusses “mouthfeel” as a quality perceived by one or more of the submodalities of the “somatosensory” or body-sensory system (Neurogastronomy, 128–31). For further discussion of “mouthfeel,” see Barry C. Smith, “Tasting and Liking,” 252–54. 26. Aristotle, De Anima, 422b25, 69. 27. Aristotle, De Anima, 423a5, 70. 28. Cynthia Freeland, “Aristotle on the Sense of Touch,” in Essays on Aristotle’s “De Anima,” ed. Martha C. Nussbaum and Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 236. 29. Freeland, “Aristotle on the Sense of Touch,” 230. See also James J. Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), 122–29. 30. Freeland, “Aristotle on the Sense of Touch,” 240–41. 31. Aristotle, De Anima, 425a13–28, 75; and 426b10–25, 78. See also Summers, Judgement of Sense, 55, 79–80. 32. Summers, Judgement of Sense, 79, 84. 33. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1153a25–26, 132. In the quotation, Aristotle uses the Greek word technē for “craft” (Ethica Nicomachea, intro. and annotated by I. Bywater [London: Oxford University Press, 1962], 151). 34. Aristotle, Eudemian Ethics, 1230b30–35, trans. J. Solomon, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, vol. 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 1949. Aristotle does not have a term for the idea that one must approach beautiful things without being in the grips of one’s appetites but only with the desire to see their beauty; however, he is at least presenting the beginnings of the view that in later centuries would be referred to as taking a disinterested attitude toward an aesthetic object. See Jerome Stolnitz, “On the Origins of ‘Aesthetic Disinterestedness.’ ” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20 (1961): 131–43. 35. Further discussion of whether appetite inhibits or helps in appreciating and judging the merits of a chef’s creation will take place later in the discussion of Immanuel Kant’s aesthetic theory and his views on gustatory experience. 36. Aristotle, Poetics, 1. 1447a10–30, trans. I. Bywater, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, vol. 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 2316.
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37. For a full and critical account of the traditional hierarchy of the senses, see Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 11–37. 38. Summers, Judgement of Sense, 54–55. 39. Aristotle, Poetics 4, 1448b5–10, 2318. 40. On the issue of whether food or drink could refer to anything beyond itself, see Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 115–45. 41. Aristotle, De Anima, 421a30–421b3, 67. 42. See Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 78–79; and Kent Bach, “Review of Douglas Burnham and Ole Martin Skilleås, The Aesthetics of Wine,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71 (2013): 389. 43. Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, The New York Times Cookbook (New York: Times Books, 1980), 251–52. 44. Recall the comments in chapter 2, endnote #18, about the paucity of terms available to Plato—and now Aristotle—beyond kalon, usually translated as “beautiful” in this context, for what we would now refer to as “aesthetic” commendations. 45. For a discussion of Aristotle’s views on imagination, see Malcolm Schofield, “Aristotle on the Imagination” in Essays on Aristotle’s “De Anima,” ed. Martha C. Nussbaum and Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 249–77. 46. Plato, Republic, 602b, trans. Richard W. Sterling and William C. Scott (New York: Norton, 1985), 292. 47. Plato, Republic, 596e, 286. 48. Arthur Danto, “The Artworld,” Journal of Philosophy 61, 19 (1964), 571. 49. See Michael Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 271–73. 50. Charles Burton Gulick, ed. and trans., Athenaeus: The Deipnossophistae, vols. 1– 7, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927–1950). For a discussion of the influence of Athenaeus’s The Deipnossophistae on Roman life, see John M. Wilkins and Shaun Hill, Food in the Ancient World (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 273–76. 51. See Jack Turner, Spice: The History of a Temptation (New York: Vintage, 2005), 57–66; and Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988), 86–88. 52. Apicius, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, ed. and trans. Joseph Dommers Vehling (New York: Dover 1977). Shepherd cites J. Innes Miller in The Spice Trade of the Roman Empire, who calculates that Roman cookbooks listed eighty-seven different spices, compared with eighteen spices to be found listed in Rombauer and Becker’s Joy of Cooking (Shepherd, Neurogastronomy, 209). 53. Recent scholarship holds that there was not a single author of On Cookery named Apicius, but that there were probably three individuals with that name associated with that work during a time span from the days of the Emperor Augustus around 44 BCE until the reign of Trajan (98–117 CE). See Apicius, Cookery and Dining, 9–11. 54. Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses (New York: Walker, 2008), 78. 55. Apicius, Cookery and Dining, 24–25.
56. Wilkins and Hill, Food in the Ancient World, 270–71. 57. Petronius. The Satyricon, trans. and intro. P. G. Walsh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Walsh dates the writing of the satire to c. 63–65 CE. He notes that Petronius in his final years had become Nero’s “arbiter of elegance,” but having incurred the emperor’s displeasure, he was forced to commit suicide in 66 CE (xiv). 58. Petronius, Satyricon, 25, 38, 63. For further discussion of Trimalchio’s feast, see Roy Strong, Feast: A History of Grand Eating (London: Pimlico, 2003), 3–7. 59. Petronius, Satyricon, 49. 60. Petronius, Satyricon, 58. 61. Donahue, Food and Drink in Antiquity, 34. 62. Summers, Judgement of Sense, 50–51, 63, 127–29. 63. Marcus Tullius Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, IV, 13, trans. J. E. King (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945), 359–61. 64. Elmer O’Brien, S. J., trans., intro., and commentary, The Essential Plotinus (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1964), 13. 65. Plotinus, Enneads I.6, in Neoplatonic Philosophy, ed. John M. Dillon and Lloyd P. Gerson (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), 26–28. 66. Plotinus, Neoplatonic Philosophy, 19. Plotinus also holds that a harmonious arrangement of parts does not make a nonmaterial thing such as a theory be beautiful, since there could be immoral theories that were harmoniously structured (19). 67. Plotinus, Neoplatonic Philosophy, 27. 68. Plotinus, Neoplatonic Philosophy, 22, 27. Plotinus’s account of the ascending search for beauty is reminiscent of Socrates’s relating Diotima’s story in the Symposium of the ascending search for beauty, starting from beautiful bodies up to the Platonic form of beauty (Plato, Symposium, 210a–12a, trans., intro., and notes by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff [Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989], 57–60). 69. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great set out a list of seven chief, or what came to be referred to as deadly, sins that included gluttony. See Francine Prose, Gluttony: The Seven Deadly Sins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), ix, 7–8. See also William Ian Miller, “Gluttony,” in Wicked Pleasures: Meditations on the Seven “Deadly” Sins, ed. Robert C. Solomon (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 21. In the third century CE, St. Clement of Alexandria declared in his Pedagogia that women and young men should not drink wine apart from the sacramental sipping of wine. However, older men could drink wine as long as they did not attempt to acquire a taste for fine wine but merely consumed what was on hand or what was served to them (Iain Gately, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol [New York: Gotham Books, 2008], 44–47). 70. Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), 235–38. 71. Augustine, Confessions, 85. 72. Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: From Classical Greece to the Present (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 95–96. 73. Augustine, De Ordine, trans. Robert P. Russell, quoted by Beardsley, Aesthetics, 98. 74. Augustine, Confessions, 238.
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75. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I–II. 27.1 ad 3 as quoted in Christopher Scott Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015), 13, 62–63; and Beardsley, Aesthetics, 101–2. 76. For an illuminating analysis of Aquinas’s three conditions, see Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 103–19. 77. Sevier quotes Edgar De Bruyne’s claim in The Esthetics of the Middle Ages that Aquinas’s formal feature of brightness and clarity makes reference to Plato’s envisioning the transcendental forms as having similar features (Aquinas on Beauty, 103). 78. Beardsley, Aesthetics, 103. Sevier takes the position that it is an open question (Aquinas on Beauty, 26–27). 79. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I– II. 31 as quoted by Sevier, Aquinas on Beauty, 45–54. 80. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Secunda Secundae, Question 148, trans., Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Middletown, DE: NovAntiqua, 2014), 71. 81. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Secunda Secundae, Question 148, 74–75.
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
Europe from the 1400s to the 1600s has been described as a time in which there was little philosophical interest in writing about critical appreciation or aesthetics. Monroe Beardsley claimed that During the two hundred years that may, somewhat arbitrarily, be marked off as the Renaissance—say, from the birth of Nicholas of Cusa (1401) to the death of Giordano Bruno (1600)—there was no great philosopher to turn his mind to the problems of aesthetics, and no single thinker made systematic contributions to its progress.1
While it is true that during this era there was no towering philosopher like Aristotle who was writing a major work of aesthetics like the Poetics, there certainly was a resurgence of interest in what would later be called gustatory aesthetics or the aesthetics of food. This renaissance of interest in gastronomy came about due to several changes in the ways that people were served food, how they consumed their food, and the kinds of foods they ate. This newfound attitude toward food also prompted a greater curiosity in how food was prepared in different regions, cultures, and historical periods. However, most important, during the fifteenth century, chefs, gourmets, and others devoted to thinking about food and drink began to write and publish works on food and taste. Their cookbooks and texts on food and dining were translated into other European languages, and these authors became famous and were recognized as authorities on cuisine. It is hard to imagine the great interest in critical taste in the eighteenth century without taking into consideration the gastronomic developments that took place during the Renaissance.
FOOD IN THE MONASTIC REFECTORY AND THE FEUDAL HALL With the collapse of the Roman Empire and the ensuing unsettling times following the barbarian invasions, the cultivation of gastronomy that had been fueled by the convivium gradually faded away. The convivium’s encouragement of interest in cuisine had depended upon the security and wealth- producing power of the Roman state, which had promoted trade and access to distant markets. Although Rome in the east, the Byzantine Empire, held on until the fifteenth century, during the Middle Ages in Western Europe the earlier dependable trading network would take some time before it could be reestablished. In the meantime, the creation of the feudal system in Europe and the spread of monasticism introduced new forms of dining. The Rule of Saint Benedict, created in the sixth century, established the governing rules for Benedictine monasteries, which reached their height in the eighth century and continued to exist for the next four hundred years. The Benedictine order prescribed a frugal diet of two main meals for the monks, consisting of two or three cooked dishes depending upon the religious calendar, and allowed each monk a daily pound of bread and a pint of wine.2 (Due to the need for wine as medicine and in religious services, monasteries encouraged the planting of vineyards and the making of wine.) The two communal meals a day were to be served in a special hall, the refectory, reserved just for those meals. The monks were not served individual portions; instead, they would share food from dishes that each contained enough food for two people. They also shared serving utensils and cups for wine. The monks would sit on benches, sitting side by side, on one side of a table. That left the other side of the table available for serving the food. Sitting up at a table was a departure from the Greek and Roman custom of reclining when eating. Instead of reclining and resting on an elbow that restricted the use of one hand, the monks by sitting up at a table could use both hands to cut up and eat their food.3 The custom of sitting up to eat a meal was also in evidence during the regular feasts that took place in a feudal lord’s great hall. Since the hall would not have been designated solely as a dining hall, there would have been no permanent tables as there were in the monastic refectory. Instead, in preparation for a feast, wide boards would be placed on trestles so as to make a table, and the diners would have sat at the tables on benches. After the feast, the trestled tables could then be taken down and the boards and benches stacked against the side walls of the hall. Another new feature of feudal dining and a change from the classical way of eating was the use of trenchers. These were flat pieces of bread placed before each diner and on which that diner’s portion of food would be served.
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
A portion of meat might be placed on the trencher to be cut up by the diner. The bread would have absorbed the meat’s juices or the sauce served from a dish and would have prevented the tablecloth from being soiled. The trencher introduced a different way of presenting food to a diner at a communal meal. Instead of the convivium’s serving small plates or dishes with the food already cut up for the diner to eat, the trencher allowed a diner’s portion of meat or other food to be placed right on the bread in front of the diner.4 The trencher system was an early form of establishing a place setting for each diner. Having an individual place setting marked a precedent so that centuries later it would be easier for diners at a restaurant to make their own choices from a menu. In time, in order to better serve the large numbers of people at the lord’s regular feasts, special offices were created that assigned individual household members specific duties at a feast. There was a steward or seneschal in charge of the overall supervision of the feast, a butler who handled the wine, a cutler who saw to the cutlery and salt, and a pantler who supervised providing the bread for the diners’ trenchers.5 The feudal feast served as a social occasion that was intended to promote good relations between the lord and the staff and vassals of the estate or realm. It also encouraged a respect for the lord among the diners at the feast. To show respect for their overlord as well as to promote conviviality with other diners, those attending the feast were encouraged to exhibit good table manners. Beginning in the thirteenth century, there started to appear manuscripts setting out what the appropriate table manners should be at a feast. In the following century, texts on good table manners became plentiful. Roy Strong observes that in the fourteenth century these works had become numerous, “demonstrating the spread of literacy among the laity as much as a keen desire to climb the social ladder. One of the most influential fourteenth- century etiquette books was Bonvesin de la Riva’s Cinque volgari. It was, significantly, addressed not to an aristocratic audience but to the aspiring Italian bourgeoisie.”6 In the late Middle Ages, there began to be changes in the diet of people in both northern and southern Europe. The Roman classical diet had emphasized the staples of bread, olive oil, and wine. Agriculture in northern Europe added cow’s milk and butter. To these staples were added new foods brought back to Europe from the Crusades; however, Christian Europe also benefited from its association with Islamic culture, particularly absorbing foods (e.g., spinach) and colorful aspects of Arabic cuisine as practiced in Moorish Spain and Sicily.7 The revival of trade in northern Europe also increased the kinds of comestibles available, especially wine. The Romans had planted grapes in many places in France and southern Germany, and there had been a flourishing
trade in wine during the empire. Evidence of that trade can be seen in the 220 CE Roman sculpture of a wine ship loaded with large wine barrels that was unearthed in Neumagen, a town on the Mosel in Germany.8 The shipping of wine became a booming business in France, “and by the first quarter of the thirteenth century, Bordeaux was exporting about twenty thousand tons of wine per year to England.”9 Burgundy and other areas in Europe were also shipping wine. RENAISSANCE GASTRONOMY IN ITALY New forms of dining, a concern for proper conduct at the dinner table, and the availability of more kinds of things to eat and drink helped to create a renewed interest in food. Probably the most significant impetus to this renewed interest, especially among the aristocracy and rising middle class, was the eagerness of fifteenth-century chefs and humanist thinkers to write about cuisine. One of the major interests of the Renaissance was to be reacquainted with the writings of Roman and ancient Greek authors and philosophers. Renaissance thinkers discovered that in antiquity there had been a great interest in cuisine, and they came to realize that food and fine dining were acceptable topics for a humanist to write about.10 With the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, classical texts became more easily obtainable than they had been in manuscript. In 1498, Apicius’s celebrated Roman cookbook, De re coquinaria (On Cookery), was published, and in 1514 Athenaeus’s work, The Deipnosophistae (Sophists at Dinner), containing extensive information on dining in antiquity, was printed. The revival of interest in Roman and Greek thoughts on food and dining stimulated Renaissance dietary tastes to change, at least for the aristocracy, the learned, and the developing commercial class. New tastes were introduced, and some older styles of cooking were now appreciated and emulated once their roots to antiquity were discovered. According to Roy Strong, To the humanist revival of the foods of Antiquity we owe the use of truffles and fungi; the elevation of sea fish over freshwater varieties, along with oysters and caviar; dishes making use of entrails and cartilaginous and bony bits like brains, sweetbreads, ears and feet; chopped meats and sausages; a predilection for pork and suckling pig; and such vegetables as artichokes, cardoons, asparagus, and members of the cabbage and onion family.11
Along with this newfound interest in the foods and culinary preparations from antiquity, as well as the availability of classical texts, there was a renewal of the age-old debate about the proper relation of diet to the life of the mind. Plato’s arguments in his dialogue, Gorgias, resurfaced, presenting the view
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
that there was no beneficial art of cuisine, that cooking was only a knack, and that the pleasure obtained from fine dining would likely lead to gluttony and ill health.12 To counter the Platonic opposition to fine dining and gustatory pleasure, three works on cuisine were published that would have a great influence on Renaissance attitudes toward gastronomy. The first of these three authors was Martino of Como, who first became a cook in Milan but later became chef to the Venetian Cardinal Trevisan who was living in Rome. After an extensive career as a chef, Maestro Martino, as he was called, in 1460 came out with his cumulative work on cuisine, The Book on the Art of Cooking (Libro de arte coquinaria).13 This work presented recipes that were professionally detailed about the choice of a dish’s ingredients, how they should be cooked, and what place a particular dish should have in a meal. Maestro Martino challenged the medieval culinary tradition by introducing a new order to the service of the dishes. Instead of starting with a sweet dish, he proposed an order of courses from savory to sweet. Although the medieval reliance on imported spices still held sway, he urged using locally obtainable herbs and garlic. He also championed the use of sugar to sweeten his desserts. However, his ideas would not have been so influential without another author’s copying—plagiarizing—almost half of Maestro Martino’s recipes and inserting them into his own culinary work.14 The man responsible for the rise of interest in Maestro Martino was Bartolomeo Sacchi (1421–1481). He was born in a small town in the Po Valley whose Latin name was Platina, and he came to be called Platina, a name he adopted and used as his pen name. He received a classical education and, as the epitome of the Renaissance humanist, was familiar with Plato, Aristotle, and other writers of antiquity. Despite his humble background, he eventually secured the prestigious position of Vatican librarian, bestowed on him by Pope Sixtus IV.15 He was a prolific writer, an accomplished Latin stylist, and is best known for his very influential book on food, gustatory pleasure, and health. Platina’s work, On Right Pleasure and Good Health (De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine), was written in Latin in 1465; however, it was not published until ten years later.16 It went through a second edition and eventually was translated and published in Italian, French, and German. According to Roy Strong, Platina “ennobled the cookery book and brought food writing into the world of letters, making food an acceptable subject for debate among the educated classes.”17 In arguing for the “right pleasure” of enjoying fine dining, Platina was asserting his opposition not only to the Platonic restriction on gustatory pleasure but also to the Church’s view that the voluptuous pleasure of enjoying a meal was sinful. In opposing the Church’s condemnation of the joys of the table, Platina does not argue for his position by appealing to Scripture or Church dogma. Instead, his approach is secular in keeping with the values
of Renaissance humanism. He presents his views by claiming that he is writing in the spirit of classical authors such as Cicero, Pliny, and Apicius. He particularly wants his defense of gustatory enjoyment to be seen as based on promoting health and well-being. To support his position, he makes use of a theory of health derived from antiquity. He urges that foods be evaluated as suitable for a healthy diet by assessing them in accordance with the classical theory of bodily humors initially proposed by Hippocrates and later promulgated by Galen of Pergamum in the third century CE. The classical theory of humors had only recently been reintroduced to Renaissance Europe by Islamic scholars.18 Platina defends his views by proclaiming that “pleasure that arises from right action leads to happiness as a doctor’s skill leads a sick man to health.” He continues that “I would not encourage my readers to extravagance [but instead] to help any citizen seeking health, moderation and elegance of food rather than debauchery.”19 In promoting the pleasures of fine dining, Platina makes use of Maestro Martino’s recipes to support his vision of a cuisine that brings together features of Italian, Arabic, Catalan, and French cooking, which he frames by setting it in the context of the approach to food found in classical Roman and Greek sources. Platina’s popularizing of writing about food and fine dining would inspire other sixteenth-century writers to write and publish their gastronomic views. For example, from his perspective as a Papal wine steward, Sante Lancerio writes his recommendations (c. 1559) as to the best wines to be found in Rome, not only Italian wines but wines from other nationalities as well.20 He is particularly interested in the terms used to describe the color and the taste of the wines. In his evaluation of the wines, he shows an interest in developing a vocabulary that will assist in the critical appreciation and evaluation of fine wine. “Wines now begin to be carefully matched to courses, light white wines for the antipasti, red for the roasts, and on through fortified and intoxicating wines for dessert.”21 The third author and a major sixteenth-century Italian contributor to gastronomic letters is Bartolomeo Scappi, famous for his cookbook and culinary text, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): The Art and Craft of a Master Cook. At the height of his career, Scappi (c. 1500–1577) gained prominence as a master cook in Rome for the Papal Curia. Although the exact details of his employment in Rome are a bit obscure, he certainly was a chef for several cardinals (Grimano of Venice and Campeggio of Bologna) before becoming the chef in the 1560s to Pope Pius IV and then Pope Pius V.22 Roy Strong characterizes Scappi as being the most important chef of the Renaissance. With the publication of Scappi’s Opera, “we encounter for the first time a true theoretician of the kitchen. It is the first cookery book that works from a notion of the centrality of taste.”23
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
In the Opera, Scappi presents a vision of what he thinks a master chef should be. He proposes that a skilled and competent Master Cook, wishing to have a good beginning, a better middle and a best ending, and always to derive honor from his work, should do as a wise Architect, who, following his careful design, lays out a firm foundation and on it presents to the world useful and marvelous buildings. The design of the Master Cook must be the fine and dependable method produced by experience . . . And he must strive to satisfy usual, diverse tastes with delicate dishes. Not least, the dishes should be tasty and agreeable to the palate as well as pleasant and delightful to the eye with their pretty colours and appetizing appearance.24
Scappi presents a vision of the chef as an artist with a rational approach to cooking. His metaphor of the chef being an architect as opposed, one might suppose, to being an artisan builder suggests that even in the heat of the kitchen the chef should maintain a reasonable overview of the tasks at hand and to have a prior plan for the meal. The chef must call on extensive experience, be familiar with the ingredients for the planned dishes, and understand what has to be done in order to create the desired dishes. Most importantly, the chef must be cognizant of how to create pleasing aesthetic features in the dishes presented to the diners. Scappi’s Opera can be taken as a reply to Plato’s position in the Gorgias that there is no art or craft to cooking. Scappi is insistent that he has built up his store of recipes from his extensive career and many years of cooking. He has taken great pains to describe what the well-laid-out kitchen and store rooms should look like, even including illustrations in his book in order to show a plan of the best kitchen. He also describes the utensils needed to create the dishes he sets down in his recipes. All of these details are provided with the intention to convince the reader that cuisine should not be thought of as produced just by a knack acquired by chance or luck. Instead, the accomplished chef develops the skill in creating fine food through experience and the reasoned assessment of the way previous dishes have turned out. With the right ingredients, accumulated knowledge of cooking, dependable kitchen facilities, and most importantly an attention to the aesthetic presentation of the food, the dedicated chef can reasonably expect to create wonderful dishes and meals. These three gastronomic theorists and cookbook authors were not the only writers about food in Renaissance Italy. Many others followed their lead. However, they serve as examples of the transition that was taking place about the preparation and service of food, as well as the reemergence of the philosophical debate about taste or what we would now call the aesthetic character of food. This philosophical interest in food was complemented by changes in dining. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the feudal feast had
been replaced by banquets offered by the Italian nobility and the Papal Curia. Although the assembled trestle tables and benches were still in use, those of superior rank were now seated in chairs. Plates replaced trenchers—ceramic ones for diners of lower station and gold or silver ones for those of a higher station. The sharing of dishes on the table began to disappear, and diners now had their own wine goblets. Napkins and forks made their appearance at this time.25 With the growing of sugar cane in the Canary Islands and Madeira, sugar became widely available throughout Europe. It became commonplace to use sugar in many recipes, and it was also used to make dramatic sugar sculptures, called trionfi, for table displays at these banquets. The display of trionfi became a tradition that continued on into the seventeenth century with famous artists such as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini creating them for banquets.26 Another change that occurred at this time was how the food was served at the banquets. An elaborate side table that sometimes had stacked shelves and was called a credenza was used to display plates and present dishes with the food to be served. Making use of the credenza, a form of serving the successive courses of a meal developed that was called servizio al’italiana (Italian service). It would allow alternating “cold from hot courses, cold from the credenza, hot from the cucina [kitchen]. It is a sequence which is already clear in Platina in the mid-fifteenth century.”27 SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY FRENCH CUISINE French cooking underwent a major transformation in the seventeenth century. An important date in this culinary transition was the publication of Chef La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier François [The French Cook] in 1651. Earlier French cooking had been similar to the general style of European cooking during the Middle Ages, as witnessed in the recipes collected in the major French cookbook of the fourteenth century, Taillevent’s Viandier.28 Although there were earlier signs that French cuisine was starting to change, in La Varenne’s cookbook one can definitely see the shift from the medieval culinary tradition toward a new style of French cooking. For example, earlier in the century there had been a few references to new dishes such as ragoûts; however, La Varenne’s work contained recipes for seventy ragoûts. Nevertheless, La Varenne did not make a complete break with the earlier tradition. He did have some medieval recipes in his book, but he also introduced recipes with new ingredients and with new ways of preparing food. La Varenne—his name was François Pierre but he was called “La Varenne”—was the chef for a French nobleman, Marquis d’Uxelles, and for ten years he honed his culinary skills in his employer’s kitchen before publishing his cookbook in 1651
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
and dedicating it to his employer. Over the next ten years his book became a “bestseller,” and it was republished eighteen times during that decade, as well as translated into English in 1653.29 One of the innovative things about La Varenne’s style of cooking was that he brought to French cooking new ways of flavoring dishes. The medieval way of cooking with sugar and exotic spices often masked the flavor of the dish’s main ingredient. La Varenne relegated sugar mainly to his desserts. As a result, salty flavors replaced sweet ones in the main courses. Instead of relying on the traditional spices to add flavor to his dishes, he began using mushrooms and herbs, tying together several herbs to make a bouquet garni. He did continue to use some spices: pepper, nutmeg, and cloves were the main ones. However, if he used cloves, he would usually stick the cloves into an onion and add that onion to what he was cooking.30 La Varenne also employed some new culinary techniques. He would cook fat with flour to form a roux to which he would then add broth to make what would be his standard sauce. That sauce could then be used as the basis for making other different sauces. In her authoritative work on the history of French cooking, Barbara Ketcham Wheaton claims that La Varenne’s “recipe for a roux is the earliest I know of.”31 He introduced clarifying a consommé with egg whites, and butter became increasingly prominent in his recipes. In addition, he invented new dishes like Oeufs à la neige (eggs in snow, also called île flottante [floating island] in which egg white meringue floated on a bed of crème anglaise [vanilla-flavored custard]). He transformed other dishes including what would become the distinctively French omelet. After cooking the omelet, he rolled it out of the pan rather than what had been previously done, which was leaving it flat on a plate like a pancake.32 If La Varenne’s cookbook can be taken to mark the beginning of the new French cuisine, other chefs soon followed with their cookbooks.33 The highpoint of La Varenne’s popularity continued for forty years, but in 1691 François Massialot published his cookbook, Le Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois, which would eclipse La Varenne’s book. Providing recipes not only for royal households but also for prosperous bourgeois tables, Massialot continued to develop the new cuisine that had been introduced by La Varenne. Massialot used butter rather than pork fat to make his sauces, and his butter-based sauces replaced the acidic grape verjuice or vinegar sauces familiar from medieval cooking. Examining Massialot’s style of cooking, one starts to see the development of a culinary aesthetic in which the earlier medieval approach to food, despite its being served to nobility, was now seen to be crass and heavy-handed. With his new sophisticated style of modern cuisine, Massialot presented his cooking as an achievement in which he had overcome the faulty earlier ways of cooking. His was a style that emphasized the taste of his food, particularly
the subtlety and delicacy of flavors.34 This interest in delicacy was picked up in the eighteenth century by theorists trying to define what constitutes true critical sensitivity and judgment. As will be discussed in the next chapter, what several of these thinkers emphasized was that such critical taste and sensitivity must be capable of discerning delicate qualities or features in the object of their appreciative interest. As a French chef cooking at the end of the seventeenth century, Massialot is an important figure because he was what Wheaton has called a “freelance cook.” Unlike La Varenne’s cookbook, Massialot’s work does not contain a dedication, which shows that he was not in the employment of a wealthy or noble house. Thus, at the end of the seventeenth century, Massialot was breaking with a tradition in which cooks dedicated their recipes to particular noble patrons in the seventeenth century; [however,] by the eighteenth century they are beginning to be attributed by name to specific cooks; in the nineteenth century, the cookery book as a work of art and record of the personal achievements of the distinguished chef becomes common. . . . Even if the trend towards individuality in taste and culinary creation only became obvious in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, traces of it can be found much earlier.35
As an independent master cook, he would have worked for limited periods in many different households. He would have had the experience of working on large banquets with many other chefs, sharing ideas and recipes. Such contacts might have stirred up the idea that he and other chefs were cooking in a style that represented a new culinary movement with an aesthetic that emphasized taste.36 Massialot’s independence as a “freelance cook” would also have given him a new professional status over and above that of being a servant in a noble household. This would also have added to his stature and contributed to his influence as an author of a cookbook that set out a culinary vision of a new cuisine. SERVICE À LA FRANÇAISE In the second half of the seventeenth century, the new French cuisine would not have received the recognition it did without the association with the monarchy. During this same time, Europe was held in thrall by the extravagances of Louis XIV’s court at Versailles. The lavish banquets and fêtes that the Sun King would have put on to show off his wealth and power became the envy of other European royal households. Louis wanted the finest food served at his banquets and employed large numbers of cooks and servants to prepare these opulent meals.37
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
An important part of Louis’s gastronomic displays was the way that the food was served to the diners. The food at the banquets was served in successive courses in a style that came to be called service à la française, a style that was emulated all over Europe. No longer was the food brought into the dining hall and displayed to the diners in a long medieval procession. Neither was it put on a sideboard or buffet to be admired by those in attendance. Instead, for each of the courses, individual dishes were placed directly on the dinner table in a way that formed an elaborate pattern. The serving dishes could be quite ornate. Depending on the wealth of the banquet’s host, they could be silver, although later in the eighteenth century ceramic dishes became the norm. When the first-course dishes were placed on the dinner table, guests would have helped themselves to the food presented at the table. Within one of the courses, there was no particular order as to which dish to try first. They were free to select the order of what they wanted to eat, and they could choose to eat from as many or as few dishes as were on the table, although gluttony was frowned upon. If a dish were not close at hand, a guest might ask another guest or a servant for assistance. Diners used their own spoons to serve themselves; they even used their own spoons to serve soup from a tureen.38 According to Roy Strong, there was an established formula for how many different dishes to provide for a decided-upon number of courses, given that a certain number of guests had been invited. If a host were planning to offer four courses to twenty-five guests, the chef should plan to prepare a hundred dishes. It was also expected that there would be no duplication; each dish should be different.39 The dishes for each course would not stay on the table for very long. With the next course, a new set of dishes would replace the earlier ones in exactly the same placement pattern as the earlier dishes. Nevertheless, while the serving dishes with the food were placed on the table, the wine goblets that diners would drink from were not already placed on the table. The wine service was set up on a side table. As Strong points out about this style of dinner service, “No glasses appeared on seventeenth-or eighteenth-century tables. When a diner wanted to drink he summoned a waiter . . . who brought a salver bearing a glass of wine together with a decanter of water should there be a desire to thin the wine.”40 As someone particularly fond of a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, Louis ordered the construction of large greenhouses at Versailles, which supplied him with fresh vegetables throughout the year, especially asparagus during winter. Since the sixteenth century, many new foods had arrived from the New World, including maize, potatoes, tomatoes, chilies, chocolate, vanilla, and turkeys. Not only were there new foods, but new drinks also made their appearance, with coffee, tea, and chocolate being especially popular. 41 However, since the late Middle Ages, the most dramatic new drink to make its introduction to Europe was distilled alcohol.
THE DISTILLATION OF ALCOHOL Prior to the Middle Ages, there were no distilled alcoholic drinks in Europe. The Romans had heated wine to reduce it and make a sweeter drink or sauce, but heated wine was not a distilled spirit. The only alcoholic drinks the Romans had were those like wine that were the result of a yeast-produced fermentation. In addition to wine, the most popular fermented beverages were beer, and mead, although the juice from a wide variety of fruits, for example, apples and pears, could be fermented and turned into an alcoholic drink such as cider and perry. However, research has confirmed that from the ninth century CE, the Chinese were making an alcoholic beverage that had been distilled from rice beer.42 In the west, the first experiments with distillation to make alcohol were carried out by Arab chemists. They were curious about the process that the ancient Egyptians had used to make a dark eye makeup called kohl. One of the first to experiment with the process of distillation was Jabir Ibn Hayyan (721–815), referred to in Europe as Geber and often credited with being the founder of modern chemistry. He was responsible for inventing the alembic still, a vessel in which a fermented liquid like wine could be heated. The alembic had an extended hollow arm that could carry off the vapor produced by the heated wine and condense it into a liquid in another vessel. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so when the wine is heated the alcohol is first to vaporize and the initial condensation has a concentration of alcohol. After repeating the distillation several times with the condensed substance, a concentrated liquid is produced that will catch fire and burn. Geber thought that the distillation of this curious liquid was a scientifically interesting phenomenon, but he did not think that it had any practical value.43 The prohibition by Islam against drinking wine or other alcoholic drinks did little to promote a greater interest in distilling wine. Nevertheless, as a scientific project, Middle Eastern chemists continued to investigate the condensed substance produced by the alembic process. Eventually a Persian researcher, Al Razi (865–925), in his book, Book of the Secret of Secrets, gave the distilled liquid a name, al-kohl of wine, since the distillate was produced by a similar process to the one used to produce the kohl eye makeup.44 Europeans adapted the Arabic name and called the distillate alcohol. Whereas chemists in the Muslim world viewed alcohol as a scientific curiosity, Italian apothecaries in Salerno during the twelfth century started investigating this Arabic discovery. They used the Latin term aqua vitae (water of life) as a general name for the distilled liquid and aqua ardens (fire water) as the name for the concentrated distillate that had the capacity to ignite. The interest in distillation and aqua vita continued to grow, focusing
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
on refining the technology to increase the quantity and alcoholic strength of the product so as to produce a saleable product.45 Aqua vitae was recognized as being the causal ingredient in wine and beer that when imbibed in large amounts would produce mental states such as inebriation. Being more potent than wine or beer with their lesser amounts of alcohol, aqua vitae also was credited with having a restorative effect on the body and worthy of the name of water of life. With the spread of the technology for producing aqua vitae into northern Europe, the Latin name was translated into the regional language. In France, distilled alcohol was referred to as eau de vie, and in Scandinavia the name became akvavit. The Gaelic translation of the Latin name was uisge beatha, which eventually became the English word whisky. Alcohol was credited with being a spirit, a term meaning that it was the essence of what it had been distilled from.46 Because of its ability to produce animating changes in the human body as well as major changes in behavior, aqua vitae came to be seen as having great medicinal value. In 1309, Arnaldus of Villanova proposed aqua vitae as a cure for many illnesses. Terence Scully offers the following quotation from that noted physician: This liquor, extracted from wine but with neither its nature, nor its colour, nor its effects, is worthy of the name “water of life” for it gives one a long life. . . . It prolongs good health, dissipates superfluous humours, reanimates the heart and maintains youth. Taken alone or along with some other appropriate medicine, it cures dropsy, cholic, paralysis, quartan fever, gallstone.47
With such glowing testimonials from the medical community, there was an increasing demand for what was held to be a wonderful elixir. By 1320, an Italian merchant in Modena had figured out how to produce large quantities of aqua vitae and was offering it to the public not only as a cure-all medicine but also as a healthful tonic. With the increasing demand for this new product, Venice became the major port for exporting concentrated forms of aqua vitae to other locations around the Mediterranean and to northern Europe. In time, the technology capable of manufacturing aqua vitae spread throughout Europe.48 DESCARTES, ALCOHOL, AND ANIMAL SPIRITS Not only did distilled alcohol have an effect on medical practice, but it had an effect on philosophical theories about the relation of mind to body as well. René Descartes (1596–1650) proposed a particular theory of the emotions in his book The Passions of the Soul (1649), which can be interpreted as incorporating
ideas about the process of alembic distillation. Descartes referred to what we would now call emotions as passions. He referred to them in this way because a person did not actively will the experience of an emotion; instead, the person passively experienced the emotional state. For example, Descartes believed that a person does not actively initiate being angry. Something happens that causes that person to become angry. In the Cartesian mind-body dualistic theory, it is not the mind or soul that actively wills the emotion; it is the body that undergoes a series of causal stimulants that initiate the feelings and behaviors associated with the emotion—the causes internal to the body that produce the emotion Descartes calls animal spirits.49 These animal spirits are not mental in the Cartesian sense of being noncorporeal entities. He claims, “what I name [animal] spirits here are nothing but bodies; their only property is that they are bodies which are very small and move very rapidly—just like parts of the flame that emanates from a torch.”50 Descartes believes that the body works on mechanical principles, and the flame metaphor is not very informative about the bodies of these animal spirits. On one occasion, Descartes identifies the contents of nerves, which “contain fine air or wind called animal spirits.”51 As air in the nerves, the animal spirits would operate on pneumatic mechanical principles. However, on another occasion he claims that “very fine parts of blood compose the animal spirits.”52 If one interprets Descartes in the preceding sentence as claiming that animal spirits are liquid, then they would operate on hydraulic mechanical principles. The air or liquid problem can perhaps be resolved by considering an example that Descartes later introduces about the creation of animal spirits. He claims, “in those who have drunk a lot of wine: the wine’s vapors, suddenly entering the blood, rise from the heart to the brain, where they turn into spirits.”53 The wine-into-spirits example is likely best understood as containing a reference to the process of distilling alcohol from wine. On that assumption, when an individual drinks a great deal of wine, it enters the body and heats up. Descartes is suggesting that such an occurrence is similar to heating wine in an alembic vessel. Descartes’ reference to the “wine’s vapors” suggests the heated wine vaporizing alcohol in the alembic vessel. After entering the bloodstream and reaching the brain, the vapors have now condensed and turned into animal spirits, just as the wine vapors in the spout of the alembic vessel are condensed into aqua vitae. The wine-into-spirits example suggests that the creation of animal spirits on certain occasions might involve both an air or vapor stage and a final liquid stage. At least, there seems to be a similarity between the creation of animal spirits and the distillation of alcohol from wine. In commenting on Descartes’ identifying animal spirits with being spirits, Stephen Voss in a note to his translation of Descartes’ work observes that the animal spirits are “more
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
spirituous than spiritual.”54 There are other similarities between the effect of a large concentration of animal spirits on bodily behavior and ingesting one too many alcoholic drinks. Both are liable to make the body react in ways that the rational individual might not wish to allow, for example, exhibiting emotional extremes such as belligerent or boisterous behavior. Not being in control of one’s motor behavior due to alcohol or an overabundance of animal spirits might also produce the effect, as Descartes claims, “of moving the body in many unusual ways.”55 With the development of the technology to produce copious quantities of cheap alcohol, drunkenness and the addiction to alcohol became a major problem in the eighteenth century, particularly in England with the appearance of cheap gin. “In 1700, the average English adult drank a third of a gallon of gin per annum. By 1723, statistics suggested that every man, woman, and child in London knocked back more than a pint of gin per head per week.”56 The medieval horror of gluttony was now further enflamed with the frightening prospects of the social evils of drunkenness brought on by what was referred to as “Mother Gin.”57 NOTES 1. Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: From Classical Greece to the Present (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 117. 2. See Benedict of Nursia, “Saint Benedict’s Rule,” in The Food History Reader: Primary Sources, ed. Ken Albala (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015), 214–20. 3. Roy Strong, Feast: A History of Grand Eating (London: Pimlico, 2002), 51–54; Phyllis Pray Bober, Art, Culture, and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 209–10; and Jack Goody, Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 144–45. 4. Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages (Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 1995), 169–71. 5. Strong, Feast, 66. 6. Strong, Feast, 111. For further discussion of Bonvesin de la Riva’s The Fifty Rules of Table Courtesy, see Daniela Romagnoli, “ ‘Mind Your Manners:’ Etiquette at the Table” in Food: A Cultural History from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Jean-Louis Flandrin, and Massimo Montanari (New York: Penguin, 2000), 334–36. 7. Melitta Weiss Adamson, Food in Medieval Times (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004), 11. 8. The use of large wooden barrels to transport wine is a sign of the way that northern and southern Europe influenced one another. Wine was introduced from southern Europe, but cooperage was a northern European invention, allowing beer, wine, and other drinks to be transported in large barrels. Mediterranean societies used smaller clay vessels, amphorae, to transport wine.
9. Iain Gately, Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol (New York: Gotham Books, 2008), 80. 10. Strong, Feast, 138–39. In the following paragraphs, I have had the benefit and made use of Roy Strong’s extensive research and insights (Feast, 138–47). 11. Strong, Feast, 138–39. 12. Strong, Feast, 139. 13. Martino of Como, The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book, ed. Luigi Ballerini, trans. Jeremy Parzen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 17–20. 14. Martino, The Art of Cooking, 22–23; Strong, Feast, 140. 15. Joseph Dommers Vehling, Platina and the Rebirth of Man (Chicago: Walter M. Hill, 1941), 50. 16. Mary Ella Milham, trans., and ed., Platina’s on Right Pleasure and Good Health (Asheville, NC: Pegasus Press, 1999), xi–xviii. 17. Strong, Feast, 141. 18. Strong, Feast, 140–41. For the relationship between the theory of bodily humors and diet as understood in the Renaissance, see Ken Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003), 214–23. For a historical survey of the theory of humors from antiquity to the present, see Noga Arikha, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours (New York: Harper Perrenial, 2008). 19. Milham, Platina’s on Right Pleasure, 4–5. 20. Terrence Scully, trans. and commentary, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): The Art and Craft of a Master Cook (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 671; Strong, Feast, 142–43. 21. Strong, Feast, 143. 22. Scully, Scappi, 10–18, 25. 23. Strong, Feast, 144. 24. Scully, Scappi, 98–99. 25. It is perhaps no coincidence that forks as additions to traditional dining tableware first appeared in Italy. Eating pasta (e.g., spaghetti) with one’s fingers or a spoon is a frustrating experience. With a little practice, a fork is a much better implement for the task (Strong, Feast, 170). 26. Strong, Feast, 217–18. 27. Strong, Feast, 181. 28. Adamson, Food in Medieval Times, 107–10. 29. François Pierre La Varenne, The French Cook, introduction by Philip and Mary Hyman (Lewes, East Sussex: Southover Press, 2001), vi–vii. 30. Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe, 156–57. 31. Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 116. La Varenne’s recipe for making a roux-based sauce can be found in The French Cook, 105. 32. La Varenne, The French Cook, viii–ix; and Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe, 156–57. 33. Notable examples were Nicholas de Bonnefons’s les Délices de la campagne (1653), Pierre de Lune’s Le Cuisinier (1656), and an author only identified
Medieval and Renaissance Views on Food
by his initials, L.S.R, L’Art de bien traiter (1674) (Stephen Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996], 72). 34. Mennell, All Manners of Food, 73. 35. Mennell, All Manners of Food, 68. 36. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 152–53. 37. Albala, Food in Early Modern Europe, 155. 38. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 138–42. 39. Strong, Feast, 231. 40. Strong, Feast, 235. 41. Strong, Feast, 224–25. 42. Scully, Art of Cookery, 158. 43. Gately, Drink, 71–72. 44. Gately, Drink, 71–72; Scully, Art of Cookery, 161. 45. Robert James Forbes, Short History of the Art of Distillation (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1948), 87–95. 46. Scully, Art of Cookery, 159. 47. Scully, Art of Cookery, 162. 48. Forbes, Art of Distillation, 87–95. 49. René Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, trans. Stephen H. Voss (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1989), 22, 24. 50. Descartes, Passions, 24. 51. Descartes, Passions, 22. 52. Descartes, Passions, 24. 53. Descartes, Passions, 26. 54. Descartes, Passions, 24. 55. Descartes, Passions, 26. 56. Gately, Drink, 162. 57. On the history of the social consequences of drunkenness in England in the eighteenth century caused by the imbibing of cheap gin, see the chapter “Gin Fever” in Gately, Drink, 159–74.
Critical Taste in the Enlightenment
The eighteenth century has been referred to by George Dickie as “the century of taste.”1 During that century, a special notion of taste, critical taste, became the standard way to refer to the mental capacity to discern whether or not an object of appreciative interest was beautiful. The common notion of literal taste was metaphorically extended to critical taste because both were claimed to be hedonic responses to experienced qualities: literal taste focused on the enjoyment of flavors, and critical taste took pleasure in the beautiful. As the eighteenth century unfolded, theorists proposed different accounts of critical taste, and in the following pages of this chapter a selection of British and French theories of critical taste will be presented and discussed. No attempt has been made to discuss all of the many taste theorists. One reason is that an analysis of most major eighteenth-century British, French, and German aesthetic theorists has been recently published. Paul Guyer’s excellent and well- researched volume on “The Eighteenth Century,” the first in his three-volume A History of Modern Aesthetics provides that comprehensive perspective.2 A second reason is that the focus in this chapter is to investigate and analyze taste theorists who discuss the relationship between literal and critical taste and who show how the notion of critical taste sheds light on the developing interest in gastronomy and the appreciation of cuisine. There are several reasons why critical taste became the dominant term for critical appreciation in the eighteenth century. The first of these reasons has to do with the introduction of two major seventeenth-century philosophical views, Cartesian rationalism and British empiricism. Each proposed new ways of thinking about human consciousness. Cartesian rationalism grew out of the work of the French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), following the publication of his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).3 In his famous proclamation in the Meditations, “Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore 89
I am), Descartes asserted that the foundation of knowledge and sound judgment was the incorrigibility or indubitability of conscious experience. The reliability of an individual’s consciousness promoted the belief in an underlying confidence in being able to make judgments about the contents of that experience. The second philosophical revolution occurred on the other side of the English Channel with the publication of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). As an architect of empiricism, Locke claimed that all that we know derives from our senses. He claimed that certain of our sensory experiences contained what he referred to as secondary qualities of the objects experienced. These secondary qualities were not actual properties of the objects experienced; instead, they were qualities that only existed in the mind of the perceiver. For example, the sweet taste of honey was not a property of the honey but was a sensory quality or idea in the taster’s mind that was produced by tasting the honey.4 Both of these philosophical theories prompted theorists to investigate the role of consciousness in the appreciation of beautiful things. They began to question whether the contents of such experiences could provide the perceiver with the actual valued properties of the appreciated object. In particular, they pondered whether describing an object as being beautiful was attributing an actual property to the perceived object or instead a reference to a pleasurable quality in the perceiver’s own experience. Or, did the beautiful consist of a particular relationship between the object and the perceiver’s experience? This questioning of the nature of appreciative experience eventually led to new perspectives on gastronomy. Since the flavors of a chef’s dishes had become an increasingly greater concern in the seventeenth century, especially with the attention given to the delicacy of those flavors, theorists sought to explore what actually occurred during the tasting and experiencing of flavors in fine food. ADDISON ON FINE TASTE The origin of the notion of critical taste can be traced back to some scattered references in antiquity and the Renaissance.5 One of the first eighteenth- century English writers to use the term, Joseph Addison, traced it to the Spanish writer Baltasar Gracin (1601–1658).6 In his series of articles, “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” that ran in The Tatler in 1712, Addison informed his readers that he used the term, “fine taste,” as a metaphorical adaptation of literal taste or gustatory experience. His interest was to use the term to assist in identifying the virtues and faults in literature, and he proposed “fine taste” as the name for that mental capacity that was able to
Critical Taste in the Enlightenment
discern good and bad aspects of literary works. Consequently, he defined having a “fine taste in writing” as “that faculty of the soul which discerns the beauties of an author with pleasure and the imperfections with dislike.”7 He claimed that “this metaphor would not have been so general in all tongues had there not been a very great conformity between that mental taste, which is the subject of the paper, and that sensitive taste which gives us a relish of every different flavour that affects the palate.”8 The “great conformity” that Addison thinks is the basis for the metaphorical relation between literal taste and critical taste is that both mental and literal taste experience the qualities of the objects they encounter as being either pleasing or displeasing. Addison adopts the term relish, which ordinarily referred to the enjoyment of food and drink, to describe the pleasure that the person of fine taste would have with the positive features of a literary work. He also adds that both mental and literal tastes are capable of refinement. Just as one can educate one’s palate to become more discriminating in one’s enjoyment of food, so, he thinks, one can educate oneself to become more discriminating in picking out positive and negative features in a literary work. Addison acknowledges that it is difficult to specify exactly what the necessary features of fine taste are, but he thinks that the “faculty must in some degree be born with us.”9 Presumably, such a native ability would be similar to being born with a palate sensitive to a wide variety of tastes and smells. It would be comparable to having a “good ear” for music, to not being tone deaf but being sensitive to pitch and other tonal qualities. However, he thinks that a fine literary taste is a single critical ability and is unrelated to other sensory sensitivities or critical abilities. Being a fine critic of other art forms and media would provide no assurance that one would be a fine judge of literature. Anticipating the question of how to discern whether someone had such a talent, Addison recommends that the individual read through the celebrated authors of antiquity who have stood the test of time as well as those of contemporary literary fame, what he calls “the most Polite Authors,” to see if they produce pleasure in the reader. Pleasure in reading those authors would be a positive sign that the reader possessed fine literary taste. Nevertheless, Addison does allow that a person could improve her or his taste through reading the works of accomplished critics and conversing with those knowledgeable about literature. To a considerable extent, Addison’s recommendation begs the question of which authors and critics should be accepted as great authors or knowledgeable critics. However, the overall view is that practice improves one’s literary taste.10 Up to this point, Addison’s account of fine taste would seem to allow that there could be different kinds of fine taste. He gives the example of a tea taster who demonstrates a fine taste in being able to identify the specific
taste of ten different teas, even when the teas were mixed. He thinks that the tea taster’s talent would be similar to having a fine taste for literature.11 So, he seems willing to allow that there could be someone who had a fine taste for cuisine. Presumably, such an individual would possess a sensitive palate, have had wide experience with fine cooking, and would have tested her or his palate by reading and reflecting on the works of celebrated chefs and notable critics. Nevertheless, when Addison explains his theory of the pleasures of the imagination, he restricts the way that a fine taste can be employed by limiting it to visual perception. Despite his acknowledgment of the metaphorical connection between literal and critical taste, he claims that only sight “furnishes the imagination with its ideas [and concludes that we] cannot indeed have a single image in the fancy that did not make its first entrance through the sight; but we [do] have the power of retaining, altering and compounding those images.”12 Addison believes that the imagination or fancy allows us to enjoy images of what we are presently seeing (he calls these primary pleasures); however, he claims that we can also enjoy visual images of scenes that are not before our eyes, for example, when we remember and imaginatively manipulate images of scenes we had seen earlier. The latter are secondary pleasures and are also the kind of pleasures the reader has with literature when imagining a narrative scene.13 For Addison, one of the features of the imagination is that it requires sensory input as the basis for its pleasures, but such pleasures are not prompted by mere sensory reactions. The imagination uses sensory experiences, but it manipulates the sensory givens to achieve effects that go beyond the basic sensory stimulation. In requiring sensory input, the pleasures of the imagination are not confined to rational experience such as the pleasure of following a sequence of steps in working through a logical proof. Addison sees the pleasures of the imagination as occupying a middle ground between basic sense and rational thought. He asserts that they are “not so gross as those of sense, nor so refined as those of the understanding.”14 Despite Addison’s earlier example of the tea taster, perhaps the reason that he does not consider fine food to be an appropriate object for imaginative experience is that he is inclined to think that alimentation produces only what he earlier referred to as “gross” sensory pleasures. It will take a new account of the physiology and experience of tasting flavors before a major change occurs in thinking about food as an object that could stimulate the pleasures of fine taste. In setting out his account of the imagination as being restricted to visual images, Addison offers a very limited account of the kinds of imaginative content that one could find pleasurable. Contrary to Addison’s view, it certainly seems that we can imagine and enjoy musical phrases as well as scents, tastes, and tactile feelings (e.g., the soft feel of silk). If one does not insist
Critical Taste in the Enlightenment
that an image must be a visual picture, one might be inclined to accept that there could be images from other sensory modalities that one could call to consciousness and be the focus of an imaginative experience. In discussing imaginative experience, Addison does allow that experiential input from other senses can increase imaginative pleasure, but he limits its role to helping the listener imagine a visual scene. He describes an example of viewing a natural landscape, observing that one is capable of receiving a new satisfaction by the assistance of another sense. Thus any continued sound, as the music of birds or the fall of water, awakens every moment the mind of the beholder and makes him more attentive to the several beauties of the place that lies before him. Thus if there arises a fragrancy of smells and perfumes, they heighten the pleasures of the imagination and make even the colours and verdure of the landscape appear more agreeable; for the ideas of both senses recommend each other, and are pleasanter together than when they enter the mind separately.15
From this example, Addison recognizes that sensory input from nonvisual sources can play a role in imaginative reverie, but he limits their role since experiences of beautiful things are primarily visual. Addison generally follows Cicero in his view of the visual features that are associated with having the pleasurable experience of finding something beautiful. He mentions symmetry, proportion in the arrangement of the parts of a scene, and a variety of colors.16 He follows Locke in holding that viewers cannot know what the hidden features of the object are that cause the qualities experienced in consciousness and which in reflection we find beautiful. Taking the Lockean philosophical perspective, Addison holds that the beautiful is not a property of the object viewed but an effect produced when viewing an object and reflecting on that effect. SHAFTESBURY AND HUTCHESON Addison and a contemporary English author, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1738), both hold that the ability to perceive and take pleasure in beautiful things requires a fine taste. They also both describe the enjoyment of that beauty as the relish of those qualities.17 However, Addison follows Locke’s view that the secondary qualities of an observed object are actually qualities in the mind of the perceiver. Shaftesbury holds to the Neoplatonic view that the experience of the beautiful presents the perceiver with a vision of the divine order of the world, an order that exhibits an inspiring moral character as well. In true Neoplatonic form, Shaftesbury asserts that beauty and moral goodness are one and the same. Paul Guyer
neatly captures Shaftesbury’s position on the perception of the beautiful, pointing out that for Shaftesbury “the divine mind is what we ultimately know and admire in all perception of beauty, that with which our own mind harmonizes.”18 With his view that our experience of the beautiful is an experience of a divine order, Shaftesbury is much more explicit than Addison in his rejection of material interests such as a love of food and drink. He considers such interests to be dedicated to the pleasures of mere sense rather than refined pleasures of a higher critical taste. He claims that to live well has no other meaning with some people than to eat and drink well. And methinks it is an unwary concession we make in favour of these pretended good livers when we join with them in honoring their way of life with the title of living fast. As if they lived the fastest who took the greatest pains to enjoy least of life. For if our account of happiness be right, the greatest enjoyments in life are such as these men pass over in their haste and have scarce ever allowed themselves the liberty of tasting.19
The impression given by Shaftesbury’s comments on food and drink is that he believes an interest in fine food is a rather brutish interest. It also exhibits the moral failings of leading one to produce ostentatious displays to one’s guests and of encouraging vulgar self-indulgent behavior. One of the most influential aspects of Shaftesbury’s approach to beauty and the higher pleasures of taste is his concern that the objects and pleasures of taste should not be held to be self-serving. He urges that one should take a disinterested view of the beautiful, a view that does not promote any personal gain. His position derives from his religious position that one’s love and devotion to the deity should not be self-serving, that one’s religious devotion should be “what is called disinterestedness or teaching the love of God or virtue, for God or virtue’s sake.”20 He claims that the pleasures that come from studying mathematics derive not from any self-promoting motive but from the love of the subject. The mathematician, he says, receives a pleasure and delight superior to that of sense. When we have thoroughly searched into the nature of this contemplative delight, we shall find it of a kind which relates not in the least to any private interest of the creature, nor has for its object any self-good or advantage of the private system. The admiration, joy, or love turns wholly upon what is exterior and foreign to ourselves. And though the reflected joy or pleasure which arises from the notice of this pleasure once perceived, may be interpreted as a self-passion or interested regard, yet the original satisfaction can be no other than what results from the love of truth, proportion, order, and symmetry in the things without.21
Critical Taste in the Enlightenment
The mathematician’s pleasure is disinterested in the sense that it is a pleasure that comes wholly from an appreciation of the “truth, proportion, order, and symmetry” of the subject being studied. Given his Neoplatonic perspective, these are the same properties that Shaftesbury holds are found in beautiful things. Shaftesbury’s position that seeing the beauty in something requires one to take a disinterested view of it would be a major influence on the aesthetic theory of Immanuel Kant later in the century. It would be taken by Kant to be one of the main reasons that food and drink could not be beautiful, since he thought that we take pleasure in consuming such comestibles not for any disinterested reason but because they serve our interest in self-nourishment. One of Shaftesbury’s later philosophical supporters was Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), whose book An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue was originally published in 1725, with a corrected fourth edition published in 1738. In his investigation into the nature of beauty, Hutcheson like Addison adheres to Locke’s view about the nature of our ideas produced by our senses, which we naively take to be properties of the stimulus object rather than ideas existing only in the perceiving mind. He claims that “the word beauty is taken for the idea raised in us, and a sense of beauty for our power of receiving this idea.”22 Following Shaftesbury and Addison, Hutcheson identifies the capacity to perceive the beautiful in objects and respond to them hedonically as a fine taste. He also refers to the enjoyment of the beautiful as a relish of that quality.23 Fine taste resembles literal taste in that they both respond hedonically to what they perceive, and there is an immediacy in their response. One does not have to wait around to find out if the food pleases or if something one finds to be beautiful is pleasing. In referring to fine taste as the capacity to perceive beauty, Hutcheson considers fine taste to be a natural sense, one that is just as natural as literal taste and the other four senses. He considers it to be an additional sense, an inner sense. However, unlike the other five senses, which each have a special sensing organ, the inner sense of fine taste has no special organ responsible for perceiving the beauty. Yet, like the responses of the other five senses that respond when stimulated, fine taste’s perception of beauty is also involuntary; it naturally responds hedonically when stimulated in the appropriate way.24 Hutcheson argues that fine taste is a separate sense from sight and hearing because even when acutely sensitive those two senses might not be sensitive to beauty and harmony when they see or hear something. He only considers sight and hearing because Plato and other authors considered only those two senses as being able to perceive beauty or harmony. Nevertheless, with the eighteenth-century adoption of the notion of critical or fine taste and with theorists holding that it is metaphorically related to literal taste, it is curious
that Hutcheson does not consider literal taste as also having the capacity to respond with relish to the beautiful in fine cooking. Hutcheson is well known for his claim that the preponderance of evidence based on people’s experiences shows that we respond to something’s being beautiful because it has the qualities of “Uniformity amidst Variety.” At least he claims that is what makes for the kind of beauty that he calls absolute or original beauty. He also recognizes another form of beauty that he calls comparative beauty, which is based on something being a well-done imitation of something else.25 If one were to accept his view about the uniformity-amidst- variety nature of the beautiful, it would seem that a skillful and creative chef could create a harmoniously composed dish with a variety of flavors. Nevertheless, there are reasons why Hutcheson would not accept cuisine as ever being beautiful. First of all, Hutcheson agrees with Shaftesbury that the experience of the beautiful is disinterested and not enjoyed for any personal gain. He says that “it plainly appears ‘that some objects are immediately the occasions of this pleasure of beauty, and that we have senses fitted for perceiving it, and that it is distinct from that joy which arises upon prospect of advantage.’ ”26 An interest in tasting and consuming fine food would not be disinterested because it would be motivated by the self-interest of providing nourishment. Hutcheson also claims that since the beautiful is sensed as having a uniform arrangement of a variety of elements, it must be a complex assemblage. In arguing for the complexity of the beautiful, he is opposing the earlier discussed position of Plotinus who argued that the beautiful is not necessarily complex but that single elements can also be beautiful. Hutcheson’s contrary position is that there are far greater pleasures in those complex ideas of objects which obtain the names of beautiful, regular, harmonious. Thus everyone acknowledges he is more delighted with a fine face, a just picture, than with the view of any one colour . . . [and] in music the pleasure of fine composition is incomparably greater than that of any one note, how[ever] sweet, full, or swelling.27
There is some reason to think that for Hutcheson the sensed qualities of literal taste would be experienced as single tastes rather than as an assemblage of complex flavors. Although Hutcheson does not offer a theory of the nature of literal taste and the flavors sensed in gustatory experience, there is a passage in his Inquiry that suggests that he is restricting the experience of literal taste to the four basic qualities sensed by the tongue. In the following passage, his point is the Lockean one that an individual in experiencing sensory qualities or ideas is unaware of the causes that produced those ideas. He claims, “We may
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have the sensation without knowing what is the occasion of it, as a man’s taste may suggest ideas of sweets, acids, bitters though he be ignorant of the forms of the small bodies or their motions which excite these perceptions in him.”28 Hutcheson also has another example about the distasteful experience produced when ingesting a bitter medicine.29 He is certainly correct that gustatory experience can include tastes that are sweet, sour, or bitter; however, the issue is whether he recognizes that we can perceive flavors that are a complex assemblage of those basic tastes as well as retronasally sensed qualities. Hutcheson actually says very little about the experience of literal taste, which is again surprising since it is the metaphorical basis for fine taste, and he never mentions a wider range of flavors that might be sensed in gustatory experience. Hutcheson does not specifically argue that literally tasted qualities cannot be experienced as a complex arrangement. If he did hold such a view, one must take into consideration that he would have relied on contemporary beliefs about gustatory experience as well as the culinary context at the time in which he was writing. First, retronasal olfaction was not generally recognized until the early nineteenth century following the publication of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste in 1826. So, Hutcheson would have not have been aware of the retronasal generation of flavors, only a familiarity with how taste had been described in antiquity. Second, at the time that he was writing, Hutcheson might not have had much experience with the gastronomic developments in France that had begun with the publication of La Varenne’s cookbook in 1651 and continued with Massialot’s work in 1691, even though there was an English translation of Massialot’s book, entitled The Court and Country Cook, in 1702.30 British culture was not very accepting of the developments of cuisine moderne before 1730. Stephen Mennell quotes a passage from Joseph Addison’s article in The Tatler, no. 148 (March 21, 1709) in which he makes fun of a friend’s serving him French cuisine: At our sitting down, I found the table covered with a great variety of unknown dishes. I was mightily at a loss to learn what they were, and therefore did not know where to help myself. That which stood before me I took to be a roasted Porcupine, however did not care for asking questions; and have since been informed, that it was a larded Turkey. I afterwards passed my eye over several Hashes, which I do not know the names of to this day; and hearing that they were Delicacies, did not think fit to meddle with them.31
Things began to change in England in the 1730s following Vincent La Chapelle’s originally two- volume cookbook, The Modern Cook, initially published in English in 1733. It was later expanded to three volumes when published in French two years later as Le Cuisinier moderne.32
La Chapelle was a French chef employed in London by the British gourmet Lord Chesterfield. His cookbook has been described as “the forerunner of a lavishly illustrated series of cookbooks that might equally well be considered art books.”33 La Chapelle described his cooking as devoted entirely to modern cuisine, insisting that he had parted ways with older styles of cooking. In making such an assertion, La Chapelle was aligning his style of cooking with what was referred to as the modern approach to the arts in the ancient/modern artistic debate that was taking place at that time. Such an alignment with the moderns made it easier for critics to apply the same kind of critical and appreciative approach to cuisine—especially about a dish’s delicacy—that would have been applied to the arts.34 DU BOS AND VOLTAIRE This merging of critical attitudes toward the arts with critical attitudes toward cuisine is apparent in the famous remark by the Abbé Jean-Baptiste Du Bos (1670–1742) in his book Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music, originally published in French in 1719 and translated into English in 1748. Do we ever, in order to know whether a ragoût be good or bad; and has it ever entered into any body’s head, after having settled the geometrical principles of taste, and defined the qualities of each ingredient that enters into the composition of those messes, to examine into the proportion observed in their mixture, in order to decide whether the ragoût be good or bad? No, this is never practiced. We have a sense given us by nature to distinguish whether the cook acted according to the rules of his art. People taste the ragoût, and though unacquainted with those rules, they are able to tell whether it be good or no. The same may be said in some respect of the productions of the mind, and of pictures made to move and please us.35
According to Du Bos, “in some respect” there are similarities in how we judge cuisine and how we judge paintings and other works of art. He states that what enables us to judge in these cases is “a sense given us by nature.” His belief in a natural sense aligns him with Addison’s view that fine taste is to some extent inborn. Since we do not evaluate on the basis of rules or theories, it is not our reason that allows us to evaluate a perceived object. Instead, it is what Du Bos calls a “sixth sense,” which he says “judges from what it feels.”36 The emphasis on feeling is intended to bring out the point that it is the hedonic valence of the feeling—pleasure or displeasure—that renders our judgment about the evaluative quality of the food or the art work. In French letters, the relationship between literal taste and fine or critical taste is explored more fully in the three articles on taste (goût) written
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respectively by Voltaire, D’Alembert, and Montesquieu in the Diderot and D’Alembert edited Encyclopédie (1757).37 The essay by Voltaire (François- Marie Arouet, 1694–1778) is particularly illuminating on what were held to be the similarities and differences between literal and fine taste. Voltaire compares literal taste with what he terms intellectual taste in the following way: Taste, then, in general is a quick discernment, a sudden perception, which, like the sensation of the palate, anticipates reflection; like the palate, it relishes what is good with an exquisite and voluptuous sensibility, and rejects the contrary with loathing and disgust . . . [Intellectual] taste must not be a vague and confused sensation; but must be attended with a distinct view, a quick and comprehensive discernment of the various qualities, in their several relations and connections, which enter into the composition of the object we contemplate. And in this we see another striking resemblance between the intellectual taste and the sensual one; for as a nice palate perceives immediately the mixture of different wines, so the man of taste will quickly discern the motley mixture of different styles in the same production.38
Voltaire agrees that critical or intellectual taste is metaphorically related to literal or what he calls sensual taste. The two tastes are similar in their both having an immediate perception of what is good or faulty in the objects under scrutiny. Taste produces an immediate evaluation: one does not have to wait and reflect in order to arrive at an evaluation. For both tastes, the evaluation is experienced as an immediately sensed hedonic feeling. In the case of what Voltaire calls an ultimate true taste, the perceiver will be able to sense the total complexity of elements in the object that constitute its virtues or make up its faults. If the perceiver has a sensitivity that is less than true taste, she or he might be “bewildered” about the elements in the object and not respond with either pleasure or distaste; however, Voltaire allows that such a confused perceiver might in time develop a surer taste.39 Voltaire also draws attention to some differences between the intellectual and sensual tastes. Intellectual taste can be developed and improved through education and in having the novice perceiver become immersed in an artistic culture assisted by a suitable guide. However, Voltaire believes that sensual taste is not amenable to rational or guided instruction. For example, if a youngster detests spinach, arguments to the effect that spinach is a nutritious and vitamin-enriched vegetable are unlikely to change the youngster’s vehement attitude and turn disgust into pleasure. Another difference between the two tastes is that Voltaire believes that since sensual taste is resistant to rational suasion, one cannot dispute about matters of sensual taste. Sensual preferences are physiologically ingrained and have a deep- seated connection to the body’s need for nourishment. However, he believes that one can dispute about matters of intellectual taste
since that kind of taste can be educated and improved. Nevertheless, he does allow that some people are intransigent and reluctant to change their intellectual preferences.40 In his characterization of literal or sensual taste, Voltaire does not seem to appreciate the extent to which one’s food preferences can be emotionally induced to change. For instance, one’s food preferences can be affected by one’s cultural or religious beliefs. Also, advertisers are certainly aware that tastes in food can be emotionally swayed. In their appeal to consumers, advertisers often will use emotional means to lure customers into buying their products. They might try to entice children to want a particular breakfast cereal by putting a picture of a sports star on the package. Individuals are aware that gustatory preferences are not a static set of preferences and that in fact we do change our preferences. An individual’s taste usually changes from childhood to maturity, often preferring sweet foods when young and finding bitter foods like spinach to be distasteful. A hops- brewed beer or black coffee might strike a youngster as being bitter and unpleasant, whereas that individual twenty years later might now enjoy that same kind of beer or a cup of coffee. Recognizing that tastes change prompts people to be more willing to try new foods and expand the range of foods they enjoy. Popular cooking and wine-tasting courses attest to that willingness to experiment and not be held captive by childhood preferences. For example, how might someone who has had little experience in tasting wine learn to enjoy wines? A novice might read books on wine and peruse reviews of various wines in popular wine magazines and journals. However, having a more personal introduction will usually make it easier to acquire the knowledge and skill needed to enjoy fine wine. In seeking to appreciate and learn more about wine, the novice should be encouraged to taste different wines with a knowledgeable individual who has a developed palate and has had considerable experience with drinking wine. Being able to learn how a knowledgeable taster sips and savors a wine will help a novice learn how to engage and appreciate a wine’s qualities. With that kind of guidance, a novice wine taster might more readily acquire a taste for fine wine. HUME’S THEORY OF TASTE AND GUSTATORY EXPERIENCE In his theory of fine taste, David Hume (1711–1776) develops an account of the role of hedonically based feeling in both intellectual and sensual taste. Although Hume’s intent in his essay “Of the Standard of Taste” (1757) is to present a standard of taste that can be used to determine which critical judgments and evaluations can be supported and which ones cannot, he does offer
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some insights into the nature of the experience of literal and critical taste in evaluating objects of appreciation. Following a discussion of Hume’s theory of taste, it will be helpful to introduce some ideas on taste from Hume’s fellow Scottish thinker, Thomas Reid, who was a prominent member of the anti-Lockean common sense philosophical movement. A notable feature of Hume’s theory of taste, one that distinguishes his account from other British taste theorists, is that he thinks that artistic and culinary works can be similarly hedonically evaluated. Although he does note several differences between our attitudes toward cuisine and art, they both are judged using many of the same critical methods. In his essay “Of the Standard of Taste,” David Hume takes seriously the “great resemblance between mental and bodily taste,” identifying the mental or the internal sense of taste as a “metaphorical sense” that responds in a similar way to how we engage with gustatory qualities.41 Like earlier thinkers such as Hutcheson and De Bos, Hume also holds that the experience of critical taste is a feeling. It is what Hume calls a sentiment, which is a reflective impression, a feeling of pleasure or distaste, produced by, but not signifying, a property of some sensed object. The pleasures of both mental and bodily taste are epistemically natural: the hedonic feelings of gustatory and critical taste do not depend on the particular beliefs of the taster. We experience an object as sweet or beautiful independently of the sort of thing that we believe it to be. Repeatedly in the essay, Hume stresses that the critical experience of the beautiful is naturally produced: “it must be allowed,” he claims, “that there are certain qualities in objects, which are fitted by nature to produce those particular feelings.”42 This feeling of pleasure or distaste that occurs when encountering an object of appreciation renders an evaluative judgment about the object’s merits or faults. Consequently, Hume insists that a standard of taste is based on experience rather than derived rationally. He proclaims that “none of the rules of composition are fixed by reasoning a priori, or can be esteemed abstract conclusions of the understanding.”43 Since Hume holds that a person’s feeling of pleasure or distaste constitutes the evaluative judgment of an object’s merits or faults, it might seem that he would also hold that there is a relativity of sentimental assessments, an “equality of tastes,” and that one person’s sentiment-based evaluation is neither better nor worse than another person’s. Hume describes such an equality-of-taste account in the following way: a thousand different sentiments, excited by the same object, are all right: Because no sentiment represents what is really in the object. It only marks a certain conformity or relation between the object and the organs or faculties of the mind; . . . Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.44
Having set out the equality-of-taste account, Hume proceeds to argue against the view that any sentiment-based assessment is as correct as any other. He uses a form of argument that resembles what in logic is referred to as a reductio ad absurdum form of proof.45 In that form of reasoning, if a hypothetical premise—in this case, the equality-of-taste account—leads to a contradiction, then the hypothetical premise must be false. Hume argues that the equality-of-taste account leads to what he terms the “palpable absurdity” that one author or artist is just as good as any other. He claims, “Whoever would assert an equality of genius and elegance between Ogilby and Milton . . . would be thought to defend no less an extravagance, than if he had maintained a mole hill to be as high as Teneriffe [a Canary Islands mountain], or a pond as extensive as the ocean.”46 Unfortunately for Hume, there is no logical absurdity or contradiction that follows from holding the equality-of- taste account, but he does insist that such an account is a ridiculous position that is not to be given any serious credence. Hume concludes that “the taste of all individuals is not upon an equal footing, and that some men in general . . . will be acknowledged by universal sentiment to have a preference above others.”47 In challenging the equality-of-taste account, Hume holds that “some particular forms or qualities from the original structure of the internal fabric [of the object] are calculated to please and others to displease; and if they fail of their effect in any particular instance, it is from some apparent defect or imperfection in the [sensory] organ.”48 Following Hutcheson’s Lockean position, Hume thinks that these properties of the object, what he calls the “small springs” of its “internal fabric,” that cause the feelings cannot be directly perceived but can only be held to exist as the best explanation for why we have those feelings. Nevertheless, Hume believes that the causal process can be disrupted by the “least exterior hindrance to such small springs, or the least internal disorder, disturbs their motion, and confounds the operation of the whole machine.”49 One of the reasons that Hume thinks there is such a diversity of hedonic reactions to critically examined objects is due to the different circumstances in which those objects are evaluated. He insists that critical evaluations should take place at what he calls “the proper time and place” with a “perfect serenity of mind, a recollection of thought, [and] a due attention to the object” along with an appropriate use of the imagination.50 However, deciding on these appropriate circumstances requires that there be critics able to determine the right circumstances and possess the right natural gifts, developed skills, and sound understanding to approach the object and judiciously render an evaluation. So, Hume sets out to specify what qualifications critics must have in order to be good judges. First, he claims that the good judge must be in possession
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of a sound and defect-free sensory organ appropriate to evaluating works in that sensory-based genre: a good ear for music, a sharp eye for visual works, and a good palate for cuisine. Hume supports that requirement by claiming that a “man in a fever would not insist on his palate as able to decide concerning flavours.”51 In addition, he requires that good judges have considerable practice in critical evaluation and have honed their skills by critically comparing different works. They must approach their task free from prejudice, which is a broader requirement than being disinterested, when interpreted as not standing to benefit from the evaluation. Hume claims that the true judge should “allow nothing to enter into his consideration, but the very object which is submitted to his examination.”52 The exemplary critic must also employ good sense in discerning the nature of the work and the appropriate criteria to evaluate it. Hume summarizes his position that the true judges have the following five qualifications: “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty.”53 In requiring that the true judge must have a delicate defect-free sensory organ, Hume uses the example of a taster’s sensitive palate to support his position. He insists that the critic’s particular sense must have an acute sensitivity so as to be able to discern and hedonically respond to minute qualities in the examined object. He claims that a “good palate is not tried by strong flavours; but by a mixture of small ingredients, where we are sensible of each part, notwithstanding its minuteness and its confusion with the rest.”54 This gustatory example is the basis for Hume’s requiring that the true judge have a delicacy of taste, which he identifies in the following way: “Where the organs are so fine, as to allow nothing to escape them; and at the same time so exact as to perceive every ingredient in the composition: This we call delicacy of taste, where we employ these terms in the literal or metaphorical sense.”55 Hume holds that delicacy of taste is involved both with evaluating works sensed with literal taste and works sensed with mental taste. Hume offers a further explication of his notion of delicacy with what he initially describes as an example of the “delicacy of imagination,” although he never explains exactly how the example illustrates the use of the imagination. Following his presentation of the example, Hume indicates that the example illustrates a delicacy of taste. The example—one of the most famous examples in the history of aesthetics—is adapted from Cervantes’ Don Quixote and concerns the evaluation of a wine by the kinsmen of Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s squire. It is with good reason, says Sancho to the squire with the great nose, that I pretend to have a judgment in wine: This is a quality hereditary in our family. Two
of my kinsmen were once called to give their opinion of a hogshead, which was supposed to be excellent, being old and of a good vintage. One of them tastes it; considers it; and after mature reflection pronounces the wine to be good, were it not for a small taste of leather, which he perceived in it. The other, after using the same precautions, gives also his verdict in favor of the wine; but with the reserve of a taste of iron, which he could easily distinguish. You cannot imagine how much they were both ridiculed for their judgment. But who laughed in the end? On emptying the hogshead, there was found at the bottom, an old key with a leathern thong tied to it.56
Hume’s example will be discussed further in a later chapter on wine tasting; however, as a preliminary observation, it is no accident that Hume uses a gustatory example to illustrate the delicate sensing of an object’s minute qualities. Hume had a great interest in wine and cuisine about which he became knowledgeable and learned to love from his sojourns and diplomatic assignments in Europe. He was particularly enamored of Paris, where he once considered that he might like to reside permanently.57 In the eyes of his friends and by his own account, he was an accomplished chef. He was also famous for the clarets that he served his guests from his well-stocked wine cellar. He most certainly was familiar with French recipes because in 1769 he writes to a friend, Sir Gilbert Elliot, complaining that his current house in Edinburgh was “too small to display my great talents for cookery, the science to which I intend to addict the remaining years of my life! I have just now lying on the table before me a receipt [recipe] for making soupe a la reine [Queen’s soup], copied with my own hand; for beef and cabbage (a charming dish), and old mutton and old claret nobody excels me.”58 As has been previously noted, French chefs of this era were keen to promote the delicacy and subtle tastes of the new cuisine. That concern finds some resonance in Hume’s characterization of good taste as being delicate in its ability to detect and appreciate minute qualities.59 As was quoted earlier, Hume insists that “a good palate is not tried by strong flavors” but is able to detect subtle qualities, even when they form a part of a mixture with other elements. Such a claim is worth critically examining. It is partly correct in the sense that a good palate should be able to detect at least single instances of the five basic tastes, although there are thresholds below which normal human sensory physiology is not well equipped to detect.60 Nevertheless, minute quantities even when not detected can affect the overall flavor of a dish. As that well-established cooking technique confirms, a minute portion of salt that ordinarily would not be detectable when added to the preparation of a dish can have a sensory impact on that dish’s flavor. An examination of what one might call Hume’s analytic theory of delicate taste (i.e., analyzing and identifying the component parts) likely raises
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questions about how a critic would engage with synthetic structures— mixtures, as Hume calls them—that blend several ingredients, some of which are not basic tastes but flavors retronasally sensed. Surely a good critic would do more than just analyze the mixture and identify the component parts. Spencer Wertz provides an interesting example that challenges Hume’s view of analytic taste; it makes use of some advice given by Julia Child on preparing a sauce: Hume embraced Locke’s project of complexity reducing to simples, and he did not contemplate that with some foods, not all parts are sensible and identifiable. For example, with a wine sauce or gravy, one cannot (or should not) do such a division or identification. A sauce is blended; the elements fuse together into a harmonious mixture. As American culinary saint, Julia Child, often quipped, “If you taste nutmeg, there’s too much nutmeg.” In other words, one should not be able to taste and identify the ingredients that make up a good sauce.61
While one might be able to identify a basic taste component of a sauce (i.e., sensing it to be sweet or have a tangy sour taste), Wertz makes the point that the flavors of a sauce might be so combined and fused as to resist gustatory analysis and present the taster with a new emergent flavor. This would be the preferred way to blend a sauce in the classic French style of cuisine. Other styles of cooking might want to accent a particular flavor. However, there is a sensory synthesis that Hume acknowledges but his theory of delicate taste does not fully address. In the wine-tasting example, the kinsmen find two faults with the wine, leather and iron, but evaluate the wine as otherwise good. Of course, Hume’s view is that the kinsmen’s judgment is based on their pleasure in tasting the wine; however, in the kinsmen’s finding two faults there is the presumption that those two qualities did not fit in with the wine’s other qualities. To be sure, the key with the leather thong is an extraneous object in the hogshead, but the kinsmen would seem to have the good sense—one of the requirements for a good judge—to taste the wine and see if there is an integration or harmony of elements that contribute to its being good.62 Hume describes this search for integration and unity in the following passage. “In all the nobler productions of genius, there is a mutual relation and correspondence of parts; nor can either the beauties or blemishes be perceived by him, whose thought is not capacious enough to comprehend all those parts, and compare them with each other, in order to perceive the consistence and uniformity of the whole.”63 Tasting for minute qualities seems to be a different exercise of taste—even if they are complementary—than trying to discern the overall beauty or critical character of an object under scrutiny. The former is an analytic project; the latter is a synthetic one. Under such a synthetic concern, it would seem
that the tastes of iron and leather are faults because they disrupt the wine’s structural cohesion. Given Hume’s claim that a critic who has a delicacy of taste is able to sense the beauty or deformity of an object, it is curious but not surprising that Hume has the kinsmen only say that the wine is good. Following Plato and Augustine, Hume does not have them say that the wine is beautiful. Hume does distinguish delicacy of bodily taste from delicacy of mental taste; however, the distinction does not depend on the critic’s using a different critical approach for each exercise of taste. For Hume, the difference is a social one having to do mostly with one’s relations with other people. A developed mental taste is a social asset, encouraging conviviality with friends and acquaintances. Literal taste is apt to create a social obstacle, making for problems in sharing experiences with, and enjoying the company of, friends who have different culinary preferences. Hume claims, “A very delicate palate, on many occasions, may be a great inconvenience both to a man himself and to his friends: But a delicate taste of wit or beauty must always be a desirable quality; because it is the source of all the finest and most innocent enjoyments, of which human nature is susceptible.”64 The problem with this social distinction is that it seems to ignore the socially cohesive and pleasurable experience of people dining or sharing a meal together. True, dinner companions might have different preferences for food and drink, but in a restaurant such differences can usually be accommodated by choices from a menu. When dining in someone’s home, a sensitive host can usually find some way of preparing a meal that all can enjoy. Thus, people having different tastes in food does not seem to be the obstacle that Hume thinks it is. DELICACY OF TASTE AND THE “FINER EMOTIONS” Finally, what is the connection between delicacy of taste and the “finer emotions,” as Hume calls them? In his initial description of the wine-tasting example, Hume claims that the example will illustrate “that delicacy of the imagination which is requisite to convey a sensibility of those finer emotions.”65 Nevertheless, following the wine-tasting example, Hume discusses delicacy of taste but does little to explain the role of the imagination in the kinsmen’s judgments. To address this issue, it is well to note that in the example both kinsmen arrive at their judgments that the wine is good after “mature reflection.” Neither of them rushes to judgment with an immediate assessment, a response that might be expected given the usual eighteenth- century theory of taste that both literal and critical taste encourage immediate responses. The kinsmen’s deliberations seem to be at odds with Hume’s later characterization of mental taste as “a quick and acute perception of beauty
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and deformity [that] must be the perfection of our mental taste.”66 Are the kinsmen’s responses open to a use of the imagination because they are not immediate? In investigating the role of the imagination in Hume’s theory, Theodore Gracyk points out that in allowing that some hedonic responses of taste occur immediately, Hume is suggesting that “some perceptual forms are pleasurable without being pleasures of the imagination.”67 Yet, given Hume’s description of the example as illustrating the delicacy of the imagination, how are the kinsmen employing their imagination? Gracyk never analyzes the kinsmen’s use of the imagination. He only notes that it is the delicacy “of bodily taste [that] allows Sancho’s kinsmen to distinguish the hint of leather in the wine.”68 In his discussion of delicacy of the imagination, Gracyk concentrates on how a critic might employ the imagination to respond to and evaluate works of art, principally mimetic works.69 Gracyk interprets Hume as proposing that in using the imagination the critic calls to mind certain determinate (i.e., specific, as opposed to general) ideas suggested by particular aspects of a work sensed by the critic exercising delicate taste. These associated ideas produce a pleasurable response. Gracyk explains, Delicacy of imagination would . . . summon to mind ‘a particular and determinate idea’ of each variant of any compositional pattern previously encountered by that critic, and this activity of the imagination will result in an overriding impression of beauty (or deformity) that will take precedence over the effect of grosser, more immediate beauties in the same composition.70
After presenting what he takes to be Hume’s theory of the delicacy of imagination, Gracyk concludes that Hume’s account does not succeed because it cannot distinguish between a critic’s determinate association that is integral to the work from a capricious and extraneous association.71 If one accepts Gracyk’s view that for Hume the critic’s use of the imagination involves the association of particular “determinate” ideas, which then produce pleasure or distaste, how might Sancho’s kinsmen have employed their imagination in the way Gracyk proposes, and to what sort of emotion would that have led?72 As earlier claimed, the kinsmen recognize that leather and iron are extraneous qualities in the wine. A likely determinate idea that they might associate with the wine in the hogshead would be the recollection of a similar particular wine they enjoyed but which lacked the distracting taste of iron or leather.73 The kinsmen would likely have had some general ideas about particular styles of wine using particular grape varietals; however, it would be the specific recollected and associated experience of a good wine of that kind that would have sparked their respective pleasures and the pleasant emotion—perhaps joy—of drinking a fine wine.
In considering the kinsmen’s pleasure, it is well to keep in mind what Hume says in his Treatise about the different pleasures experienced with objects of appreciation, particularly those pleasures produced by drinking a good wine. Hume says, ’tis evident, that under the term pleasure, we comprehend sensations, which are very different from each other, and which have only such a distant resemblance, as is requisite to make them be expressed by the same abstract term. A good composition of music and a bottle of good wine equally produce pleasure; and what is more, their goodness is determined merely by the pleasure. But shall we say upon that account, that the wine is harmonious, or the music of a good flavor?74
Using their good sense, the kinsmen would most likely have formed some knowledge of what kind of wine was in the hogshead; however, their pleasure would not have come from knowing what kind of wine they were sipping but from their taste of the wine from the hogshead. It is likely that the fine emotion they might have experienced would have come from some particular recollected experience of a similar wine. Remembering the distinctive pleasure in sipping that earlier wine would likely have produced some emotional resonance. Hume’s example of Sancho Panza’s wine-tasting kinsmen will be further discussed in a later chapter on wine. In addition, the topics of delicacy of taste and capricious association will also be considered in that later chapter. However, in order to conclude this chapter and begin a discussion of Kant’s aesthetic theory, the theory of taste of Thomas Reid and its implications for gustatory aesthetics now need to be introduced and discussed. REID ON TASTE Thomas Reid (1710–1796) is known as the founder of the Scottish philosophical school of common sense. His main views on taste appeared in the final essay, “Of Taste,” in his Essays on the Intellectuals Powers of Man (1785).75 In his theory of taste, Reid agreed with the view held by other British taste theorists that there was a metaphorical relationship between external, literal, or gustatory taste and internal, intellectual, or critical taste. Both literal taste and its metaphorical counterpart were similar in their inclination to have hedonic reactions to what they encounter. However, unlike some earlier taste theorists, Reid did not think that there needed to be either a pleasurable or a distasteful reaction to what was encountered. He thought that sometimes a perceiver, whether employing either literal or intellectual taste, could be indifferent to what was perceived and neither relish a feature of an object nor
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recoil in disgust. Reid claimed that the intellectual taste like “the taste of the palate . . . relishes some things, is disgusted with others; with regard to many, is indifferent or dubious, and is considerably influenced by habit, by association, and by opinion.”76 Reid believes that our likes and dislikes, the preferences of taste, are susceptible to influences from a wide variety of sources. He recognizes that gustatory preferences originally were generated by comestibles that are, as he says, “fit for the nourishment of the body.” However, repeated use can change what earlier one had found unpleasant—Reid gives the example of rum—into something that one finds agreeable. His mentioning the roles of association and habit would seem to recognize the effects of culture and religion on taste; he would also likely recognize the role of all sorts of emotional influences, even ones that could lead to a “depraved” transformation of the preferences of literal taste for nourishing food and make someone develop a taste for “ashes or cinders.”77 Reid’s common-sense approach to philosophy opposed Locke’s epistemological position—one also held by Hutcheson and Hume—that one cannot perceive the real qualities in the objects that cause the secondary sensory qualities in the viewer’s mind. In sensory perception, we were acquainted with ideas (Hume’s impressions), but those ideas only exist in the perceiver’s mind. In opposing Locke’s position, Reid was quite comfortable applying the name for a qualitative idea (e.g., sweet) to the object that caused one to experience a sweet taste. In ordinary circumstances, sweet things when tasted cause us to have sweet tastes. In the external or gustatory taste and the critical or intellectual, Reid believes that if one reflects and uses one’s reason about what one is sensing, one will usually discover what it is in the object one encounters that is the cause of one’s hedonic evaluation. Perhaps on occasion one does not know what in the object is producing one’s pleasure, but one still ascribes a quality to the object. Reid claims, “Perhaps I cannot say what it is in the tune that pleases my ear, as I cannot say what it is in a sapid body that pleases my palate; but there is a quality in the sapid body which pleases my palate, and I call it a delicious taste; and there is a quality in the tune that pleases my taste, and I call it a fine, or an excellent air.”78 Reid finds Locke’s view leads to a very counterintuitive view about the evaluation of beautiful things. If beauty is only experienced as a feeling in the mind of the perceiver, the object responsible for producing that hedonic feeling is not actually something beautiful. This view has the consequence that we cannot literally attribute being beautiful to a poem, musical composition, or painting. This is a result that Reid finds very strange. Reid believes that common sense makes us realize that it is the perceived object that is beautiful, not the sensory quality in the perceiver’s mind.
Reid still holds to the traditional view of taste as having an immediacy of response, whether one is quickly responding in a literal way to the perception of sound or color, or one is affirming the beauty of an object.79 Nevertheless, he does have some aesthetically innovative views in his theory of taste. He develops Hume’s idea that there are a variety of different pleasurable experiences produced by different objects (i.e., Hume’s example of the different experiences one has with musical harmony as opposed to the flavors of a good wine). Reid realizes not only that different kinds of objects can generate different pleasurable responses but that there can be different kinds of pleasurable qualities in the same object as well. He says that “there is a great diversity not only in degree but in kind.” Using gustatory experience as his example, Reid acknowledges the wide diversity of qualities to be found in certain foods. He claims that “as we have not generical names for all the different kinds of tastes, we distinguish them by the bodies in which they are found.”80 Reid recognized what in an earlier chapter was referred to as the labeling of gustatory qualities. In labeling a quality, one chose to give a taste a name that would be the name of the likely familiar causal source for that gustatory quality. Or, if what seemed to be the taste of a familiar object was unlikely to be the source for the sensed taste, then one chose that name because of the resemblance to the taste of a familiar object. With labeling, tastes were not restricted in number. They were not bound to stay within the restrictions imposed by a theory that limited the number of basic tastes and mouthfeels. However, in proposing his account of the labeling of tastes, Reid lacked a theory of gustatory physiology, one that would explain how these labeled tastes could be experienced and differentiated. CONCLUSION As the eighteenth century drew to a close, the debate about the nature of critical experience and evaluation presented critics and theorists with a series of issues that they would work to resolve. First was a certain dissatisfaction with the metaphorical relationship between gustatory evaluation and critical judgments about works of art. It was thought that there needed to be a broader critical concept, one that would allow for different kinds of critical experiences in addition to the beautiful, such as the experience of the sublime or the picturesque. Critical taste seemed too focused on the beautiful. In addition, critical taste’s being tied to an immediate critical response would be considered a critical drawback. These concerns figured prominently in the approach that Immanuel Kant took to critical evaluation in his Critique of Judgment (1790), although Kant’s views introduced problems for nineteenth-century
Critical Taste in the Enlightenment
theorists about the role of emotion in critical experience. Finally, the increasing interest in cuisine, stimulated by writing about what came to be called gastronomy, new celebrity chefs, the rise of the restaurant, and new ways of preparing and serving food all played a role in the ongoing philosophical debate about food and drink. NOTES 1. George Dickie, The Century of Taste: The Philosophical Odyssey of Taste in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 3–5. 2. Paul Guyer, “The Eighteenth Century,” A History of Modern Aesthetics, vol. I (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014). 3. René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1998). 4. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975). 5. Dabney Townsend claims that there is an early notion of the metaphorical taste in the writings on painting of the seventeenth-century Italian critic Federico Zuccaro (Introduction to Eighteenth Century British Aesthetics, ed. Dabney Townsend [Amityville, NY: Baywood, 1999], 15–16). 6. In recognizing what he takes to be the origin of the notion of critical taste, Joseph Addison writes, “Gracian very often recommends the fine Taste, as the utmost Perfection of an accomplished Man” (“The Pleasures of the Imagination,” The Spectator No. 409 in Selections from The Tatler and The Spectator, ed. Angus Ross [New York: Penguin, 1988], 364). A case for Gracian being the source of the eighteenth-century use of taste is “developed by the historian Karl Borinski in his fine book on the work of Baltasar Gracian . . . [who] must be credited with the first use of the word ‘taste’ in a metaphoric sense” (Luc Ferry, Homo Aestheticus; The Invention of Taste in the Democratic Age, trans. Robert De Loaiza [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993], 14). The work that Ferry alludes to is Karl Borinski, Baltasar Gracian und die Hofliteratur in Deutschland (Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1984). Benedetto Croce also credits Borinski with identifying Gracian as the source of the term, and he claims that taste was adopted as a critical term in France and Germany in the 1680s (Aesthetic: As Science of Expression and General Linguistic, trans. Douglas Ainslie [New York: Noonday, 1922], 191–92. See also Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 72. 7. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 365. In the direct quotations from eighteenth-century British texts, the alphabet letters, spelling, capitalization of words, and punctuation have been changed to conform to present-day usage. 8. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 364. 9. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 366. 10. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 366. For a discussion of the social privileging nature of “polite” literature and the arts, see Shiner, Invention of Art, 94– 98. See also Richard Shusterman, “Of the Scandal of Taste: Social Privilege as Nature
in the Aesthetic Theories of Hume and Kant,” in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics and the Reconstruction of Art, ed. Paul Mattick, Jr. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 96–119. 11. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 365. 12. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 368. 13. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 369. There are also three different kinds of visual objects that the imagination is able to take pleasure in and they “all proceed from the sight of what is great, uncommon or beautiful” (Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 371). 14. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 369. 15. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 374–75. 16. Addison, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” 374. 17. Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, vol. III (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2001), 95, 100. 18. Guyer, “Eighteenth Century,” 43. 19. Shaftesbury, Characteristics, vol. II, 73. 20. Shaftesbury, Characteristics, vol. II, 153. 21. Shaftesbury, Characteristics, vol. II, 60. 22. Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, fourth corrected edition (London: Midwinter, 1738), 4. For a critical discussion of Hutcheson’s theory of taste, see Peter Kivy, The Seventh Sense: Francis Hutcheson and Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics, second edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 23. Hutcheson, Inquiry, xv, 6. 24. Hutcheson, Inquiry, xiv–xvi. 25. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 10. 26. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 8. 27. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 4. 28. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 19. 29. Hutcheson, Inquiry, 130. 30. Stephen Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 89. 31. Mennell, All Manners of Food, 126. 32. Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 169. 33. Philip Hyman and Mary Hyman, “Printing the Kitchen: French Cookbooks, 1480–1800,” in Food a Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari, trans. Albert Sonnenfeld (New York: Penguin, 2000), 398. 34. Mennell, All Manners of Food, 74. For a discussion of the ancient/modern artistic debate, see Shiner, Invention of Art, 79–80. 35. Abbé Jean-Baptiste Du Bos, Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting, and Music, trans. Thomas Nugent, vol. II (London: John Nourse, 1748), 238–39. 36. Du Bos, Critical Reflections, 239.
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37. All three essays were translated into English and appended to Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (London: Millar, 1759) as well as to the second edition published in 1764. 38. Voltaire, “An Essay on Taste,” in Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (London: Millar, 1764), 210. 39. Voltaire, “Essay on Taste,” 209–10. 40. Voltaire, “Essay on Taste,” 211–15. 41. David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1987), 235. There is a voluminous literature in contemporary aesthetics on Hume’s “Of the Standard of Taste.” A survey of the literature and a discussion of the issues in Hume’s critical theory can be found in Timothy M. Costelloe, “Hume’s Aesthetics: The Literature and Directions for Research,” Hume Studies 30 (2004): 87–126. The following discussion of Hume’s theory of taste is directed primarily at his essay, “Of the Standard of Taste.” In his earlier work, Treatise (1739–1740), Hume proposed a theory of the beautiful as being based on utility (A Treatise of Human Nature, eds. L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch, second edition [Oxford: Clarendon, 1978], 615–17). For discussion of that earlier theory, see Guyer, “Eighteenth Century,” 131–35; and Walter J. Hipple, Jr., The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Picturesque in Eighteenth-century British Aesthetic Theory (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1957), 39–42. 42. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 235. 43. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 231. 44. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 230. 45. Donald Crawford first pointed out to me the logical form of Hume’s argument against the equality of taste. Other commentators have recognized the argument’s form. See Dabney Townsend, “From Shaftesbury to Kant: The Development of the Concept of Aesthetic Experience,” Journal of the History of Ideas 48 (1987): 287–305. 46. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 230–31. 47. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 242. 48. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 233. 49. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 233. 50. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 232. 51. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 233. 52. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 239. 53. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 241. 54. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 236. 55. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 235. 56. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 234–35. 57. In his short autobiographical account written at the end of his life, Hume writes about Paris: “I thought once of settling there for life.” See David Hume, “My Own Life,” in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1987), xxxix. 58. Quoted in Spencer K. Werz, “Hume’s Culinary Interests and the Historiography of Food,” in Food and Philosophy: Selected Essays (Fort Worth, TX: TCU Press, 2016), 73. Soupe à la reine is an almond milk and partridge or chicken purée soup.
A recipe for that soup called “Queen’s Potage” is found in the 1653 English translation of La Varenne’s cookbook: François Pierre La Varenne, The French Cook, intro. Philip and Mary Hyman (Lewes, East Sussex: Southover Press, 2001), 24. 59. Given his emphasis on delicacy, Hume might have been familiar with Montfaucon de Villars’ book, De la délicatesse (Delicacy), published in Paris in 1671 (Croce, Aesthetic, 193). 60. Carolyn Korsmeyer cautions that there are substances that “interact chemically with each other to produce something qualitatively different. For example, salt usually enhances sweetness but may decrease it, depending on the substances in question; sugars reduce the sourness of acids, but acids do not reduce sugar tastes. Caffeine, rather than blending its bitterness with sour substances, increases their sourness.” (Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999], 77. Temperature can also affect the perception of a gustatory quality: a red wine placed in a refrigerator for twenty minutes will usually taste sweeter than it would have at room temperature. 61. Spencer K. Werz, “Leibniz and Culinary Cognitions: A Speculative Journey,” in Food and Philosophy: Selected Essays (Fort Worth, TX: TCU Press, 2016), 50–51. 62. Peter Kivy has argued that in “Of the Standard of Taste” Hume is committed to “two faculties of taste:” delicacy of taste being one of them and good sense being the other (“Hume’s Neighbour’s Wife: An Essay on The Evolution of Hume’s Aesthetics,” British Journal of Aesthetics 23 , 204– 5). See also Carolyn Korsmeyer, “Hume and the Foundations of Taste,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 35 (1976): 201–15. 63. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 240. 64. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 236. 65. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 234. 66. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 236. 67. Theodore Gracyk, “Delicacy in Hume’s Theory of Taste,” The Journal of Scottish Philosophy 9 (2011), 5. 68. Gracyk, “Delicacy,” 11. 69. Gracyk, “Delicacy,” 6. 70. Gracyk, “Delicacy,” 11. 71. Gracyk, “Delicacy,” 12–14. 72. Gracyk resists interpreting the kinsmen’s mature reflections as involving the imagination because he claims that “Hume makes the point that literal, bodily taste and its corresponding delicacy are to be distinguished from mental taste and its corresponding metaphorical delicacy” (Gracyk, “Delicacy,” 9). 73. For Hume, the imagination operates according to three principles of association: in the Treatise he identifies them as “resemblance, contiguity in time and place, and cause and effect” (Hume, Treatise, 11). In the kinsmen’s wine-tasting example, the most likely principle of association is resemblance. For further discussion of Hume’s views on imagination, see Mary Warnock, Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), 13–41. 74. Hume, Treatise, 472.
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75. Thomas Reid, “Of Taste,” in Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, intro. Baruch Brody (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969). 76. Reid, “Of Taste,” 753. 77. Reid, “Of Taste,” 756– 57. For further discussion of acquiring tastes for unusual and even disgusting things, see Carolyn Korsmeyer, Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 87–112. 78. Reid, “Of Taste,” 754. 79. Reid, “Of Taste,” 759. 80. Reid, “Of Taste,” 755.
Kant and Brillat-Savarin on Taste
At the end of the eighteenth century, a major change occurred in the way theorists conceived of experiencing something’s being beautiful. A new critical concept, the aesthetic, was introduced and gradually replaced critical taste with its metaphorical connection to literal or gustatory taste. Although the concept of the aesthetic had its roots in the ancient Greek word for sensory perception, the term got its start in critical theory through the work of the German philosopher, Alexander Baumgarten (1714–1762). Baumgarten introduced the term in his Reflections on Poetry (1735) to signify a perspective that brought together a sensory, emotional, and imaginative way of responding to poetry. He later went on to develop his idea of the aesthetic in his two-volume work, Aesthetica (1750–1758).1 However, the aesthetic as a concept in critical theory owes its continuing currency to Immanuel Kant (1724–1808), who used the term in his third critique, the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790). A few years later, Friedrich Schiller prominently featured the idea in his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795). The aesthetic became the dominant critical term in the nineteenth century, and it continues as a major critical term to this day.2 KANT ON TASTE Kant does not abandon the notion of critical taste. He refers to taste as the means to judge whether something is beautiful. One reason for this is that he also preserves the view that taste is hedonically judgmental. Under certain conditions, one’s pleasure or displeasure constitutes a judgment about whether an object is beautiful. Like some taste theorists, he holds that beauty is not an actual property of the object being judged. It exists as a feeling of 117
pleasure in the perceiver’s mind. As did earlier taste theorists, Kant holds that there are two kinds of taste, literal taste and critical taste, and that they have different ways of experiencing pleasure. As Paul Guyer rightly points out, these two kinds of taste do not produce different kinds of pleasure; instead, they each have “a different relation of their objects to pleasure, that is, a difference in the way in which objects produce pleasure.”3 One of the major ways that earlier taste theorists had characterized both literal and critical taste was that, if there were no impediments, both tastes responded in an immediate way to their respective stimulus objects. This was due to the responses being naturally caused: The hedonic experience was a nonreflective response that did not require a cognitive frame of beliefs to induce the pleasure or displeasure. (As explained earlier, Voltaire thought that critical taste was “a quick discernment, a sudden perception, which, like the sensation of the palate, anticipates reflection.”4) Kant agreed that one kind of taste experience, literal taste, did involve an immediate response; however, he thought that the other kind of taste, critical taste, did not. In this latter kind of taste experience, the perceiver engaged in a temporally extended encounter with the appearance of an object; this allowed the perceiver to contemplate the object. For Kant, if certain conditions were met, this latter kind of engagement could evoke the judgment that an object was beautiful. The literal-taste engagement would not allow one to experience the ingested object as being beautiful, only just pleasing or, to use Kant’s term, agreeable. One of the issues that posed a problem for taste theorists was that if one’s judgment of something being beautiful consisted of a feeling of pleasure in the perceiver’s mind, this left open the possibility that critical judgments were subjectively relative. Critical judgments would lack objectivity, reflecting only a person’s subjective liking or disliking. In an attempt to overcome subjective relativity, Hume proposed one way of distinguishing judgments that could be supported from those that could not. They were the judgments made by the judges who had the qualifications that Hume specified. In his account of critical judgments, Kant constructed a different theory, one that posited a special kind of encounter that if adhered to would provide a basis for a universal form of experiencing the beautiful. Kant has an extended and complex critical theory. In the following pages, no attempt will be made to analyze and assess his whole theory of beauty; neither will there be any discussion of his views on the sublime. The focus will be primarily on Kant’s views on food and wine, paying particular attention to his gustatory examples. Included in this focus will be an analysis of Kant’s requirement that the experience of the beautiful must be disinterested. That will also involve examining his related views on gustatory appetite as being a form of interest. Kant’s ideas about a “common sense” will also be scrutinized.
Kant and Brillat-Savarin on Taste
TASTE OF SENSE AND TASTE OF REFLECTION Kant begins the Critique’s “First Book: Analytic of the Beautiful” by proclaiming that the “judgment of taste is aesthetic.”5 He endows the aesthetic with a special sense. He does not use the term, aesthetic, to mean what in a later age would be understood as “of critical interest”; instead, he uses the term to mean that a judgment of taste must be based on the personal experience of the person making the judgment. A judgment of taste is subjective in the sense that it is a single individual’s experience. One should not base one’s judgment on other people’s testimony or experience; it should be based only on one’s own feelings of approbation or displeasure. In drawing attention to the individual’s own experience as the basis for judgments of taste in both gustatory and critical appreciation, Immanuel Kant claimed, this is one of the main reasons why this aesthetic power of judging was given that very name: taste. For even if someone lists all the ingredients of a dish, pointing out that I have always found each of them agreeable, and goes on to praise this food—and rightly so—as wholesome, I shall be deaf to all these reasons: I shall try the dish on my tongue and palate, and thereby (and not by universal principles) make my judgment.6
A corollary to this view is that Kant thinks that literal tastes are not established or changed by rational argument. Someone cannot rationally persuade you to change your mind and like gazpacho if you detest it. While Kant continues to use the notion of taste as a critical category, he loosens the metaphorical connection between gustatory experience and critical appreciation. As the above quotation shows, Kant believes that our critical engagement with something beautiful is like gustatory experience in being based on our own experience; however, in other respects, he believes that critical appreciation is very different from gustatory experience. He thinks that we cannot have a reflective encounter with what we consume. What we eat or drink provokes only an immediate sensory response of being either agreeable or disagreeable. Consequently, since Kant believes that the experience of the beautiful is an extended contemplation, no object of gustatory experience could be beautiful. Kant distinguishes the experience of the beautiful from gustatory experiences in the following way. He says about appreciating natural beauty: “for we consider someone’s way of thinking to be coarse and ignoble if he has no feeling for beautiful nature . . . and sticks to the enjoyments of mere sense that he gets from meals or the bottle.”7 Kant here contrasts the “enjoyments of mere sense,” associated with food and drink, with our appreciation of things beautiful. Kant distinguishes the taste of sense, from the more contemplative
and imaginative activity of experiencing the beautiful, which he calls the taste of reflection.8 The experience of sense, he claims, has only an individual or subjective application, reflecting our individual preferences. I might like gazpacho; you might not. The taste of reflection is capable of yielding a contemplative enjoyment of the beautiful, one not reflecting an individual preference. Kant identifies it as a universal form of appreciation, based on a common sense or evaluative sensibility shared by everyone. To exercise this common sense, one has to put aside one’s personal preferences and approach the object of appreciation disinterestedly. As an example of interested versus disinterested appreciation, Kant gives the example of a seventeenth-century Iroquois sachem who came to Paris and was not impressed with the appearances of the palaces but greatly admired the Parisian rotisseries. The Native American’s admiration for the rotisseries was not a disinterested appreciation because it was not an appreciation of the appearances of the rotisseries. It was an expression of his personal interest in the food, the roast meats. A person’s appreciation and enjoyment of food was not a disinterested pleasure, Kant thought, since it reflected that individual’s interest in the existence of the food and in satisfying her or his appetite.9 Kant distinguishes the taste of sense from the taste of reflection by whether their exercise involves an immediate or a temporally extended response. Kant claims that in exercising the taste of sense one experiences a direct, immediate hedonic response to an object. Kant says the pleasure comes “first” and on that basis one judges the object to be agreeable or not. Exercising the taste of sense, it seems, is a rather passive activity. One confronts the object—one is stimulated by it—and then immediately responds. With the taste of reflection, one could say the pleasure comes second or occurs during the contemplative activity that Kant describes as a free play of one’s imaginative engagement with the object.10 Experiences of reflection take some time and constitute a more active form of engagement. One’s pleasure follows and reflects the enjoyment one experiences from the harmonious exercise of one’s imaginative and cognitive faculties in free play with the object.11 Kant refers to this active engagement as imaginative free play because we employ our cognitive faculties without applying a particular (determinate) concept or purpose to the object as one would do in identifying and acquiring knowledge about what the object is. We exercise our imagination so as to experience the object as having what Kant calls a purposiveness. Kant gives the example of attributing a form to the object that will allow one to engage in imaginative reverie. That is, in imaginative free play with the object, we employ our cognitive faculties but are not using them in a pure judgment to derive any knowledge from the object, and we reflectively and imaginatively experience the object as having what Kant calls a purposiveness without a purpose.12
Kant and Brillat-Savarin on Taste
Given this abbreviated sketch of Kant’s distinction between the taste of sense and the taste of reflection, it will be helpful to examine the basis for his rejection of being able to have a critical appreciation of food and wine. Kant points out that we have individual, and at times quirky, likes and dislikes of particular foods. For example, if I have discovered a recipe for the soup that Hume mentions, soupe à la reine, and cooked up some, I might like it, but you might not. Kant thinks that we each would have respectively found it to be agreeable or disagreeable immediately on tasting it. He offers the following example about the agreeable: With regard to the agreeable, everyone is content that his judgment, which he grounds on a private feeling, and in which he says of an object that it pleases him, be restricted merely to his own person. Hence he is perfectly happy if, when he says that sparkling wine from the Canaries is agreeable, someone else should improve his expression and remind him that he should say “It is agreeable to me”; and this is so not only in the case of the tongue, palate, and throat, but also in the case of that which may be agreeable to someone’s eyes and ears. For one person, the color violet is gentle and lovely, for another dead and lifeless. One person loves the tone of wind instruments, another that of stringed instruments.13
So, in line with the taste of sense, the pleasure or displeasure that one experiences with food and wine just reveals a personal preference. For Kant, the pleasure one experiences with beautiful things is quite different. The enjoyment of something as beautiful, Kant thought, demanded that the object be experienced in a way that would call for a universal assent. It should not be based on a personal preference but instead required that one adopt a disinterested attitude. It required a taste of reflection, a sustained contemplative activity, one which engaged our common cognitive faculties, especially our imagination. This involved what Kant described as the harmonious exercise of both the imagination and the faculty of the understanding. Kant thought that the experience of this imaginative free play was very pleasurable for the individual, and that experience was the basis for finding the focus object to be beautiful. DISINTERESTEDNESS AND HAVING A GUSTATORY APPETITE In ordinary discourse, the term disinterested is usually used in a moral or legal context, such as when someone insists that judges should be impartial or unprejudiced in their opinions: they should not have a financial interest in the outcome of a trial or have some other personal stake that might sway
or bias their opinions. For Kant, disinterestedness has a special meaning. He claims that sensory appreciation can only constitute a taste of reflection if one’s pleasure is disinterested, meaning not connected with the existence, but only directed at the appearance, of a perceived object.14 If one admires, for example, a work of architecture such as a palace, one’s pleasure with the building is a critical appreciation only if one takes pleasure in experiencing the appearance of the building, what Kant calls the “presentation” of the building. If one’s enjoyment is produced by the existence of the building instead of solely with its appearance, then one’s experience is not a critical appreciation. An example of pleasure being produced by the existence of the building would be one’s being pleased because one owns the building and is admired by others because of this. Kant believes that our enjoyment of food is not a critical appreciation because it is primarily based on an interest in the existence of the food, on having the desire to consume the food.15 Ordinarily, when we eat, we are interested in the existence of our food because eating it will satisfy our hunger. Eating is not usually an experience in which we are indifferent to the existence of what we eat and concentrate solely on pleasurably sensing the qualities of what we ingest. In addition to interests in food based solely on hunger, Kant claims that we can have other interests in the existence of food. We might want to eat— and even enjoy—certain foods because they are nutritious. Or, we might avoid—and hence dislike—certain foods because of their harmful effect on our health or digestion. With this concern in mind, Kant holds that if we did like or dislike certain foods because of their effect on our health, we would enjoy or find them awful only indirectly. An encounter with something that is beautiful, Kant believes, is not an indirect but a direct appreciation, indulged in not for some indirect reason but solely for the pleasure taken in the object’s appearance or presentation.16 Nevertheless, there are occasions in which we enjoy food not because it is low in salt or cholesterol or because it is high in fiber and antioxidants but because we simply enjoy its taste. Yet Kant still resists considering such an appreciation a critical encounter because he believes that in most cases our enjoyment of food or drink is stimulated by our appetite. Our appetite, he believes, determines that our interest is directed toward the existence of what we are ingesting. No enjoyment of the presentation or appearance alone of what we eat would satisfy this desire.17 Kant does qualify this position by holding that if one were to approach what one was ingesting without appetite, without an appetite-driven interest in what one tasted, one might possibly have a critical encounter with what one ingested. He poses a situation in which instead of being hungry one is sated or fully satisfied, and he considers whether in such a condition
Kant and Brillat-Savarin on Taste
one could critically enjoy what one was tasting. He writes, “Here everyone says: Hunger is the best sauce; and to people with a healthy appetite anything is tasty provided it is edible. Hence if people have a liking of this sort, that does not prove that they are selecting by taste. Only when their need has been satisfied can we tell who in a multitude of people has taste and who does not.”18 The assumption seems to be that if one is hungry— Kant doesn’t say that one must be starving, but only that one has a “healthy appetite”—one will be interested only in finding something to satisfy one’s craving for food. For Kant, the ordinary hungry desire of a healthy appetite disqualifies one’s appreciative engagement with food from being a critical encounter.19 Enjoying what one eats or drinks, he thinks, is an interested pleasure that comes from satisfying an appetite. However, he seems to allow that if one approaches what one ingests without that desire—if one approaches food after the “need has been satisfied”—only then might one have a critical encounter with what has been ingested. I say “might” because Kant holds that alimentation produces either an immediate pleasure or displeasure of sense. He insists that a critical encounter is different; it does not produce an immediate response. It demands an extended contemplative encounter with a focus object. For Kant, it would seem that gustatory immediacy would undercut even his begrudging allowance that it might be possible to have a critical encounter with food. However, let us examine further Kant’s view about the sated encounter with food. He seems to be saying that only if one has no desire to eat or drink because one is sated might it be possible to engage critically with what one ingests. He offers the proverb that “Hunger is the best sauce,” and in so saying he seems to mean that as long as one is hungry and encounters anything edible, one will likely enjoy consuming it. On his view, hunger is such a strong desire that it indiscriminately makes anything palatable as long as it is edible. Nevertheless, consider the experience of approaching food with a healthy appetite as opposed to being sated, and compare that experience with listening to music or looking at paintings when one is fresh and rested as opposed to being fatigued. Both our enjoyment of established art forms such as painting and music as well as our experience with food demand a sensitivity and attention that aids and heightens our appreciation. For all appreciative experiences, our powers of discrimination and enjoyment can tire because of long periods of exposure or intense and demanding involvement. “Museum fatigue” is a known phenomenon. It is foolhardy to try to see in one visit everything in the Louvre, the British Museum, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, visitors are advised to pick a few pieces or select a particular national or period style (e.g., seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting) and
see the rest on other occasions. Viewers will enjoy a few works more than they will enjoy trying to see everything in the collection, a project that will leave them bleary-eyed and exhausted, a comparable state to being sated with overeating. Listening to music for long periods also dulls one’s powers of discrimination and capacity for enjoyment. Foregoing sleep and attempting to listen to all of Haydn’s symphonies straight through—over a hundred— would be exhausting. Instead, one would be advised to listen to a few at a time. Very long theatrical performances also wear down one’s attention and sensitivity. One might think that eating and enjoying music or painting are different because we do not have an appetite for music and painting in a way comparable to our physical need and biologically induced desire for food. Of course, there is a physical need to eat, and our survival does not depend upon satisfying our aesthetic pursuits. Yet, those who have developed a “taste” for painting and music can certainly feel deprived if for some reason they cannot listen to music or see works of art. Our engagement with the arts or our desire for aesthetic experiences with nature depends upon our having certain emotional, cultural, and personal needs. I think that the value we place on food also reflects similar emotional, cultural, and personal needs. Most people want something more than a subsistence diet designed to meet their physical needs and maintain their health. As long as one is not starving, simply satisfying the requirements of basic nutrition does not fulfill those same emotional, cultural, and personal interests that form the motivation behind all of our aesthetic pursuits. We want imaginative and delicious meals to savor rather than sitting down to a plain meal that quiets our hunger. Thus, there is a greater resemblance between our gastronomic pleasures and our other artistic or culturally appreciative interests than Kant allows. Kant also does not seem to recognize a broader meaning inherent in the proverb, “Hunger is the best sauce.” In so doing, he misunderstands the role of a “healthy appetite” in our enjoyment of food. Hunger he seems to say will make us inclined to enjoy indiscriminatingly what we are eating, as long as what we are consuming is edible. Certainly, if we are starving, that is likely to be true. We will just be glad to have something to eat. However, a more charitable interpretation of the proverb is that a healthy appetite will heighten the enjoyment of a meal, just as a sauce can make a dish more flavorful. If we have had our fill of even the best food or if our palate is tired, we will not fully enjoy what we have tasted. Under those circumstances, eating will not be a pleasure. On the more charitable interpretation, a healthy appetite will enliven the experience. It will make us more sensitive to the food’s subtle nuances, alerting us to qualities that we might otherwise have missed or that might not be of interest if we were sated. Hunger—at least a healthy appetite—increases
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our powers of discrimination and prepares us to enjoy the qualities of the food being consumed.20 Thus, if we approach a meal with a healthy appetite, we will be better able to direct our attention to what we are eating and have a heightened experience. KANT ON COMMON SENSE Kant thought that there were two conditions that were required for someone exercising the taste of reflection to make judgments that something was beautiful, and on the basis of which the judgment could assume a universal applicability. First, judgments of the taste of reflection had to be disinterested. Kant thought that if the judgments did not consist of a pleasure reflecting a personal preference or interest, the judgments would be universally valid. However, that condition was not a sufficient condition, only a necessary one. Even if two people did express judgments that were disinterested, those judgments would not ensure that they would both find the object to be beautiful, or that they would have a similar kind of experience as the basis for claiming the object to be beautiful. Kant’s second requirement was that someone employing the taste of reflection would need to have a contemplative experience that exercised the free play of the productive imagination along with the powers of the understanding so as to create a harmony of these cognitive faculties. The imaginative play would be centered on the purposiveness or form of the object, a purposiveness that did not have a determinate form leading to knowledge. Kant thought that it was the form of the object, to the exclusion of any emotional content, that should be the focus of one’s critical attention.21 However, one might ask: Why would Kant think that one individual’s imaginative free play would operate in the same way as another individual’s free play? Kant’s answer is that he thought that any human being’s free-play experience would be an engagement in keeping with what he held to be their human common sense.22 Kant does not mean by common sense what might be called practical wisdom; instead, he held that all human beings have a common sensory and perceptive set of faculties that included the imagination and the understanding. He thought that everyone would employ their cognitive faculties in the same way. They would use this common sensory system to perceive and acquire knowledge of the world, and they would all employ this same common sensory system when engaging in the pleasurable experience of imaginative free play with the form of the object. That pleasure would be the indication that the object was beautiful. According to Paul Guyer, Kant’s claim for there being a universal validity to judgments of reflective taste that meet the two above conditions exceeds
what his argument in fact demonstrates. Suppose one grants that there is a common sense system of cognitive faculties that are necessary for acquiring knowledge and communicating with others. Guyer is even willing to allow that “every normal person is capable of enjoying a free play of his or her imagination and understanding . . . [however,] it simply does not follow that everyone must enjoy this state in response to the very same objects. So Kant’s position that we can reasonably claim subjective universal validity for singular judgments of taste . . . is not demonstrated after all.”23 GASTRONOMY AND BRILLAT-SAVARIN Kant’s argument for a distinction between the taste of reflection based on a sustained imaginative involvement with an object and the taste of sense consisting of a hedonic response indicative of a personal preference seriously undermined what had been accepted as the metaphorical relationship between critical and gustatory taste. Also, the introduction of new critical concepts beyond the traditional concept of the beautiful, such as the sublime and the picturesque, called for a broader conception of appreciative experience and hastened the abandonment of metaphorical taste. By 1856, in Modern Painters, vol. III, John Ruskin disparaged the “baseness” of the concept of taste, noting its inappropriateness for art criticism and referring to it as providing “only a kind of pleasure analogous to that derived from eating by the palate.”24 Thus, even though Kant’s notion of the aesthetic only indicated that the experience was a singular subject’s experience, the aesthetic gradually became a broad term for various aspects of critical appreciation (e.g., an aesthetic attitude or experience or object or quality, etc.). Nevertheless, although overthrown as the major category of artistic criticism, taste at the same time emerged as a central concern of a new cultural inquiry, as the focus of a developing interest into the nature and values of gastronomy. The word, gastronomy, supposedly, was invented by the poet Joseph Berchoux in 1801, and it quickly caught on as a culinary concept, generating a ballooning literary and cultural fascination with “the art and science of delicate eating.”25 One might wonder whether the surge of interest in gastronomy was unwarranted at this time given the philosophical criticisms of both metaphorical and gustatory taste. The Kantian criticisms of the taste of sense seemed to support the charge that alimentary pleasure was idiosyncratic, passive in its penchant for immediate response, and offered little to engage the free play of the imagination. Given Kant’s characterization of the taste of sense, the pleasures of the palate it seemed could never offer the imaginative content necessary to support crediting objects of gustatory taste with being beautiful or
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critically interesting. The impression left is that for Kant there could never be a gustatory aesthetic.26 Kant thought that gustatory experience could only reflect an individual’s taste preferences. As a result, there could be nothing like a gustatory common sense that would have allowed a consumer to have an imaginative encounter or play with the organoleptic qualities of what had been ingested. Nevertheless, in the nineteenth century, with the developing interest in gastronomy, theorists were soon looking for some underlying principles of gustatory experience that would support a critical interest in cuisine. Several writers early in the century, particularly Alexandre Grimod de La Reynière (1758–1837) and Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826), challenged the view that there could not be a critical engagement with cuisine and in so doing they prepared the way for what we would now hold to be a gustatory aesthetics. Grimod de La Reynière actually set up a Tasting Jury (Jury Dégusteur) composed of fellow gourmands to render judgments on the quality of Parisian culinary fare.27 The views on gustatory taste expressed in Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s Physiologie Du Goût (1825)—The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, a classic work in early nineteenth-century gastronomy, were highly influential.28 Brillat-Savarin was not a professional philosopher, yet his attitude toward food and his model for appreciative gustatory experience directly opposed the Kantian perspective on food and drink. Unlike his contemporary in France, Benjamin Constant, who explicitly challenged Kant’s views on ethics, Brillat-Savarin never specifically refers to Kant in his discussion of gastronomy, although he does refer to German scholars. His references are to Voltaire and other French writers. 29 Nevertheless, he does use some of Kant’s terminology when he discusses cuisine as an object of reflective pleasure, and his characterization of taste challenges Kant’s distinction between the taste of sense and the taste of reflection. As indicated in the title of his book, The Physiology of Taste or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, Brillat- Savarin presents his views on the pleasures of food and drink as a transcendental gastronomy. (Use of the term transcendental in an early nineteenth-century work is more than likely a reference to Kant, who popularized the term, transcendental.) Although he does not offer a “transcendental deduction” in the Kantian sense, Brillat-Savarin proposes an account in which he urges that what we taste and smell has an equal right to be the object of a reflective contemplative hedonic experience as objects that we see and hear. In addition, the term physiology in the book’s title challenges Kant’s view that an individual’s gustatory pleasures are personal preferences and do not reflect a “common sense” or universal basis for critical evaluation. Instead, Brillat- Savarin insists that our common physiology of how we smell and taste serves as the
basis for a universal appreciative experience of food and drink and its critical evaluation. He points out that the physiology of alimentation with its distinctive temporal sequence allows for a reflective experience rather than producing just an immediate response to a stimulus. For Brillat-Savarin, tasting food can often be a complex experience. We frequently engage with a great variety of gustatory elements, often coming upon new and different elements, in the successive stages of our ingesting encounter. We are able to sense this great variety of elements because Brillat-Savarin recognized that we engage them not only by tasting them in our mouth but also by registering them with our retronasal sense of smell. In fact, Brillat-Savarin thought that taste and smell worked together to sense flavors. Brillat-Savarin proclaimed, “I am not only convinced that there is no full act of tasting without the participation of the sense of smell, but I am also tempted to believe that smell and taste form a single sense.”30 Instead of taste being a rather limited sense in keeping with the traditional view of its being a kind of touch, Brillat-Savarin thinks of the amalgam of taste and smell as a complex sensory faculty. This allows him to declare that the “number of tastes is infinite.”31 Contemporary scientific research supports his view of the integral nature of taste and smell that contributes to the synesthetic experience of taste. True, there are simple tastes one senses without benefit of olfactory engagement: sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and most recently, umami. Brillat- Savarin identifies several simple tastes: sweet, sour, and bitter, and, invoking the Kantian labels, he claims that such simple tastes provide us with hedonic experiences that are either “agreeable or disagreeable.”32 The majority of our gustatory experiences, he believes, involve a much broader range of flavors, ample resources for a complex aesthetic encounter. Whereas Kant had characterized a gustatory encounter as a single momentary experience, Brillat-Savarin, to show that gustatory experience can allow for a reflective encounter, divides the temporal sequence of ingestion into three main stages. He claims that each stage from the initial taste to final taste after swallowing features its own set of sensory qualities. He refers to them respectively as direct, complete, and reflective sensations. He describes his tripartite-stage process of appreciative ingesting with the following example of eating a peach: The direct sensation is the first one felt, produced from the immediate operations of the organs of the mouth, while the body under consideration is still on the forepart of the tongue. The complete sensation is the one made up of this first perception plus the impression which arises when the food leaves its original position, passes to the back of the mouth, and attacks the whole organ with its taste and its aroma.
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Finally, the reflective sensation is the opinion which one’s spirit forms from the impressions which have been transmitted to it by the mouth. Let us put this theory into action, by seeing what happens to a man who is eating or drinking. He who eats a peach, for instance, is first of all agreeably struck by the perfume which it exhales; he puts a piece of it into his mouth, and enjoys a sensation of tart freshness which invites him to continue; but it is not until the instant of swallowing, when the mouthful passes under his nasal channel, that the full aroma is revealed to him; and this completes the sensation which the peach can cause. Finally, it is not until it has been swallowed that the man, considering what he has just experienced, will say to himself, “Now there is something really delicious!”33
Brillat-Savarin also offers an example about wine to illustrate his model of gustatory experience: In the same way, in drinking, while the wine is in the mouth, one is agreeably but not completely appreciative of it; it is not until the moment when he has finished swallowing it that a man can truly taste, consider, and discover the bouquet peculiar to each variety; and there must still be a little lapse of time before a real connoisseur can say, “It is good, or passable, or bad.”34
It is worth noting that this extended process of ingesting is developmental; it does not provide an immediate sensory response. Instead, the succession of gustatory stages provides a general temporal structure to what one tastes. After experiencing the orthonasal aroma of the peach, one then tastes in the initial stage the sweet acidity of the fruit on one’s palate. The process continues into a middle range of flavors produced by vaporized particles of the fruit affecting one’s retronasal olfactory receptors. Finally, one swallows and enters the last third of the experience, the reflective phase, where a set of aftertastes provides both a final tonal development to the tasting of the peach and the opportunity for a reflective assessment of the structure and character of the whole experience. Yet, there might still be some doubts about whether such an experience is imaginative, as opposed to merely registering the sum of the sensations or conceptually fitting them into a particular determinate form (e.g., the taste of a peach). When we taste, how actively and imaginatively engaged are we? For Brillat-Savarin, such a successive experience is not merely a compounding of direct sensory details. The initial tastes, Brillat-Savarin’s direct sensations, say, of sweet, sour, and bitter might produce a temporally limited effect, but the full experience, in its successive developmental unfolding, encourages an extended period of inquisitive consideration. It is an occasion for reflection, requiring one to compare the beginning, middle, and end of one’s experience.
One might even have to retaste what one has ingested to evaluate it more fully or to reassess an earlier evaluation. Such a sensitive tasting calls for a contemplative attitude. BRILLAT-SAVARIN AND GOURMANDISM Brillat-Savarin also discusses the role of appetite and hunger in the appreciation of a good meal. He remarks on how frequently we hear people say, “ ‘How wonderful to have a good appetite, when we are sure of enjoying an excellent dinner before long!’ ”35 However, he relates an anecdote about a young Chevalier who gave into hunger and so stuffed himself on the first courses of a feast that he had no appetite for the wonderful dishes that followed. Brillat-Savarin cautions that in order to appreciate a special meal one should not be ruled by one’s appetite.36 With that caution in mind, Brillat-Savarin proposes that gustatory appreciation should be governed by what he calls gourmandism, which he defines as “an impassioned, considered, and habitual preference for whatever pleases the taste.”37 In insisting on the “considered” nature of this gastronomic interest, Brillat-Savarin holds that gourmands necessarily have “a power of concentration, without which the most delicious dishes can pass them by unnoticed.”38 Appreciative dining, for Brillat-Savarin, is not an automatic and unthinking process but one that demands that we pay attention to—and relish—what we consume. He repeatedly stresses that gourmandism should not be confused, as it sometimes mistakenly is, “with gluttony and voracity.”39 To appreciate a meal requires that the gourmand not be so ravenous or so obsessed with consuming the meal that she or he loses the ability to discern a dish’s flavors or enjoy what is being consumed. Gourmandism, he says, “is the enemy of overindulgence; any man who eats too much or grows drunk risks being expelled from its army of disciples.”40 In addition to distinguishing a gourmandist attention to what is being consumed from that of inattentive voracity, Brillat-Savarin introduces another distinction, what he refers to as “the pleasures of eating” as opposed to the “pleasures of the table.” The former are merely pleasures that come from satisfying a need for food. The pleasures of the table, however, exhibit “a reflective sensation,” a desire not only to appreciate what has been eaten or drunk but also to savor the ambiance of the meal’s setting and enjoy conversing with one’s dining companions. Rather than merely experiencing pleasure from staving off hunger, the appreciative diner takes pleasure in reflecting on the different gustatory qualities of what has been consumed. The “pleasures of the table” depend upon the gourmand’s being actively engaged in enjoying her or his meal. In the social context of a special meal, gustatory pleasures
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heighten other pleasures—the pleasures we experience from what we see, hear, and touch while dining.41 Brillat-Savarin clearly wants to distinguish the gourmandist interest in cuisine from gluttony and voraciousness. Yet, one needs to distinguish the insensitivity and excessiveness of those obsessions from the beneficial effects of a good appetite. Rather than getting in the way of appreciating what one eats, a good appetite, as was argued earlier, can stimulate an interest in the qualities encountered on one’s palate. Unfortunately, Brillat-Savarin considers only two possible appetitive states that a diner has when sitting down to a meal: a ravenous appetite or an appetite that is under control because one’s hunger has been abated. He does not consider a third possible state: A gourmand might want to enjoy a special meal but be unable to do so because of a lack of appetite. Consider the following example of someone who has had a hard day at the office and would like to relax and enjoy an evening meal with friends or family. However, it has been a stressful day, and the tired office worker has no appetite. What is needed in such a situation is something to stimulate her or his appetite. A few light snacks or an aperitif to get the gastric juices flowing might revive that person’s appetite. Certainly, trying to enjoy a meal without an appetite will not be as pleasurable as approaching the meal with an appetite. Thus, having an appetite contributes to our gustatory enjoyment. BRILLAT-SAVARIN’S PHYSIOLOGY OF TASTE In one’s extended reflective experience, one imaginatively invests in the overall structure, shape, and character of what one tastes. One’s experience is not just a sum of sensed qualities. We recall and imaginatively compare the flavors encountered, note complementary and contrasting qualities, and come to realize how these qualities form unities and other regional structures. There are also stylistic and expressive features that one comes to experience. Suppose a New Orleans chef prepares Shrimp Creole for us, one of the classic dishes of New Orleans cuisine. Its complex aromas assault us. We taste the shrimp in the dark roux that combines onion, garlic, tomato, celery, and peppers. We note the way the spicy heat of the cayenne pepper lingers and how that heat integrates with spices such as black pepper, thyme, clove, and allspice. There’s a lot to taste and think about in such a dish. Together these flavors express some of the distinctive features of southern Louisiana cuisine. The dish not only speaks to us of its regional origins, but it also alludes to a culinary history with French, Spanish, African, and Native American contributions. We are sensitive to the way the chef expressively shapes the dish, perhaps emphasizing qualities of the particular ingredients,
their seasonal character, or association with the time of the harvest. All of these expressive and stylistic features are not simply identified; they imaginatively infuse the whole tasting experience. Thus, Brillat-Savarin is proposing something like a Kantian reflective aesthetic in his account of appreciative tasting. Of course, he does not employ the Kantian psychology of the imagination freely acting in harmony with the understanding; however, he does advocate his alternative view of a shared common-sense way of experiencing food, particularly when consuming cuisine or drinking fine wine. As human beings, we share a “physiology” that gives us a common form of alimentation, how we ingest and swallow our food and drink. Savoring and relishing, over and above direct stimulation, is not a simple reflexive act. We have to pay attention to what we are consuming. The ordered sequence of a gustatory encounter supports such a view, and it requires our imaginative attention. Of course, a skeptical critic of gustatory aesthetics might object that a shared physiology and a developed structure of imaginative experience will not overcome the problem of the subjective relativity of individual preference. However, the quirkiness of preference is not a characteristic unique to taste. Individuals express their different preferences for artistic styles, literary authors, films, and music. We exhibit individual preferences toward objects encountered with all our sensory modalities. Yet, Brillat-Savarin has done a great deal to counter the view that culinary creations simply provoke a simple hedonic response. His account of taste demands that we think of gustatory experience with cuisine as affording a complex evolving encounter worthy of imaginative involvement and reflective enjoyment. However, while it is certainly true that individuals have their personal preferences for what they like to eat and drink, there are social and cultural influences that mitigate gustatory idiosyncrasy and encourage more uniform culinary preferences. While a child’s quirky tastes have been previously noted, those preferences often change as the child matures due to the influence of the family’s cooking style: a mother’s and a grandmother’s favorite recipes do influence the tastes of family members. Broader social and cultural influences also have their effect. In virtue of these influences, an individual’s preferences often change into a broader collective set of preferences reflective of that individual’s cultural and national identity.42 However, a major theme of this book is that culinary traditions do change, helped along by theorists who write about cooking. At least in the past, traditional family cooking followed family recipes that were not written down. They were passed along from one generation to the next. The same was true with older forms of regional cooking. However, the chefs who created cuisine moderne sought to distance themselves from the cooks of the past. They did not see themselves as carrying on and
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preserving an established form of cooking. The earlier discussed celebrity chefs of Renaissance Italy and seventeenth-and eighteenth-century France did not try to cook following nonwritten but established recipes. They were interested in transforming the cooking of the past and creating a distinctive new style of fine cooking.43 As has been discussed, these chefs published their recipes and became famous from the popularity of their cookbooks. With the nineteenth century, writing about food was not limited to cookbooks but expanded and assumed many other forms. As Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson has emphasized, The culinary text reconfigures an individual activity as a collective enterprise. The texts themselves include cookbooks and gastronomic journalism, philosophical treatises and literary works. Each of these genres sustains a critical culinary discourse by providing an idiom capable of communicating and generalizing individual sense experience and specific practices.44
Ferguson particularly emphasizes the role played by these different forms of culinary discourse in the formation of cuisine, particularly French cuisine. She argues that cuisine “negotiates the gap between collective taste and idiosyncratic tastes. Above all, by socializing appetite and taste, cuisine turns the individual relationship with food into a collective bond.”45 Ferguson’s thesis is that gastronomic discourse and writing has the power to transform individual gustatory preferences into a collective taste. However, while this collective form of gustatory preference is unlikely to have molded people’s taste so as to ensure the establishment of a universal evaluative standard, it did undercut the notion that an individual’s tastes were idiosyncratic and formed independently of social forces.46 TASTE AND THE GASTRONOMIC REVOLUTION While Brillat-Savarin and others wrote to change the way their contemporaries thought about and experienced food, there were other influences at work seeking to transform public taste. New and different ways of presenting and consuming food became more common. One of the changes in French society that led to this development was the enactment of laws that allowed for the opening of restaurants. The first Parisian restaurant, La Grande Taverne de Londres, opened its doors in the 1780s. Previously, Parisians had been able to buy prepared foods from a traiteur, but customers by law were not allowed to consume the food on the premises.47 The rise of the Parisian restaurant, as Rebecca Sprang has meticulously shown, contributed to the development of a greater aesthetic interest in food in several important ways.48 First of all, restaurants were open to not just the
aristocracy or the extremely wealthy but to all who could pay for their meal. Cuisine changed from being the exclusive isolated hobby of the rich or aristocratic who could hire their own well-trained chefs. Restaurants created an interest in culinary discernment and gustatory experience among a growing middle class. Second, food in restaurants was presented to diners in a different way than in earlier establishments such as inns where travelers could sit down to eat a meal. Since antiquity, prepared food had been available to the traveling public staying in inns; however, meals were served in a style referred to as table d’hôte: there was a large table around which people staying at the inn sat; all the food was placed on large platters in the center of the table, and people helped themselves. A guest at the inn had no choice of dishes, just what the establishment was serving that day.49 In restaurants, the form of service was very different. Patrons sat at their own table and chose particular dishes from a menu listing what was available. The dishes that were selected were served on plates, one at a time, usually starting off with an appetizer or soup and proceeding through various courses to a dessert. Because it originated in Russia, this form of presenting the food in individual servings eventually came to be called service à la russe. It replaced the earlier form of serving food called service à la française. As was explained in an earlier chapter, this latter form of meal service consisted of presenting several courses; each successive course would have had a variety of different dishes from savory to sweet all arranged in a pattern on the table where the diners sat. Diners just helped themselves to whatever they wanted. In seventeenth-century France, this was the way food was served in aristocratic houses and at the royal court.50 The encouragement of a greater interest in the aesthetic appreciation of fine food that was brought about by the restaurants was similar to the encouragement of people’s interest in the arts brought about by the opening of the Louvre as a museum in 1793. When the Louvre had been a royal palace, its art treasures were not generally accessible to the public. With the opening of the Louvre as a museum, common people now had access to great works of art. The opening of the Louvre had its counterpart in the new restaurants that introduced fine food to middle-class palates.51 The new restaurant patrons soon began to savor what they tasted and to notice the aesthetic differences among dishes. Sitting at their own restaurant table, they took the time to contemplate the meal they were consuming. Diners now sought out restaurants that had become famous because of their cuisine, often due to reviews by Grimod de La Reynière in his popular Almanach des Gourmands. The chefs who had created these wonderful dishes were no longer thought of as servants. They were recognized and appreciated
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because of their culinary creativity, and they became celebrities. The culinary inventiveness of these chefs was lauded and came to be seen as being on a par with creative invention in the arts. For those people unable to dine at these restaurants, the cookbooks of these chefs secured their reputation. CARÊME AND THE CELEBRITY CHEF In the first decades of the nineteenth century, the chef who most exemplified being such a celebrity chef was Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême (1783– 1833). The public learned of his talent not only through his many cookbooks which soon became nineteenth-century classics of cuisine moderne, but his reputation grew from his being the chef for notables such as Talleyrand, Tsar Alexander I, the Prince Regent (the future George IV) in London and at the Brighton Pavilion, as well as the fabulously wealthy Baron de Rothschild.52 As a boy, Carême was apprenticed to become a pastry chef, and throughout his career in the kitchen he created huge architectural pastry sculptures as table ornaments. In doing so, he was continuing the Italian tradition of large pastry trionfi that had been created by artists such as Bernini. His venture into creating these architectural table ornaments earned him the sobriquet of the “Palladio of pastry.”53 Carême was noted for the wide variety of his sauces, yet all of them were variations developed from a few basic primary sauces. To those tasting his dishes, there was a dominant flavor that gave the impression of a simplicity to the dish; however, the preparation of the food was quite complex. Although he was noted for his soups, his masterpieces were his soufflés, recipes for which first appeared in his cookbooks. What made his remarkable soufflés possible was his use of the newly invented ovens, such as the Rumford ovens mentioned in the first chapter, which allowed for greater control of cooking temperature than had been available with earlier ovens. Carême had a profound influence on French cooking, creating a classic cuisine (cuisine classique) whose fame spread throughout Europe.54 Carême’s rise to fame was followed by other chefs becoming celebrities such as Jules Gouffé (1807–1877), Urbain François Dubois (1818–1901), and, most popularly, Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846–1935). These chefs also wrote influential cookbooks in which they created their own culinary and gustatory paradigms and thereby spread their ideas to a growing interested public as well as to other chefs. Carême’s gastronomic vision did much to encourage the view that talented chefs had that spark of genius, that Romantic ideal of creative expression that in the nineteenth century became a central requirement for what was considered artistic talent.
EXPRESSIONISM AND FOOD The Romantic view of art has been characterized as an expressionist theory of art. It relegated imitation and formal values to a lesser importance and promoted the expression of emotion as artistically central. Nineteenth-century English Romantic poets such as Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth were praised for their inventive and emotionally expressive verse. So, too, were continental composers like Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms. Given the new artistic climate that focused on emotional expression, contemporary celebrity cooks were also lauded for their expressive creativity. In 1853, Abraham Hayward in his book The Art of Dining; or, Gastronomy and Gastronomers considered Carême with his distinctive culinary style to be “the leader of the ‘romantics.’ ”55 In establishing a new paradigm for artistic creativity, Romantic theorists proposed a rethinking of what had been the traditional philosophical resistance to accepting food as having an aesthetic character. The issue now was whether talented chefs were able to create dishes that were emotionally expressive. Monroe Beardsley held that the “fullest systematic development of the emotionalist aesthetic—art as the expression of feeling—came later in the century in L’Esthétique [The Aesthetic] of Eugene Véron (1878).”56 However, in the first half of the nineteenth century, perhaps the most famous advocate for the traditional view on food because it was thought to lack an emotional content was Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel (1770–1831). He argued in a rather cursory way that food could not express anything spiritual. Since food was apprehended and experienced by the lesser sensory modalities of taste and smell, it could never express a spiritual vision. Food was only apprehended as something material, whereas art aimed at “affording satisfaction to higher spiritual interests . . . [for] the sensuous aspect of art is spiritualized, since the spirit appears in art as made sensuous.”57 Nevertheless, Hegel does make a remark about wine in which he seems to allow for the possibility of a spiritual dimension to some objects of taste. In a letter to Goethe dated August 2, 1821, Hegel writes that “wine has already lent mighty assistance to natural philosophy, which is concerned to demonstrate spirit in nature.”58 Another thinker who was concerned about emotional expression—this time at the end of the century—was Leo Tolstoy. In his book What Is Art?, which was originally published in 1896, Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) claimed that past definitions of art had failed because art was held to be something beautiful, and beauty was conceived to be an experience of pleasure. The failures to get at the essence of art were due to not recognizing that art had to be defined in terms of its function rather than on the basis of an extraneous aspect and effect (i.e., beauty and pleasure). In making the case for defining art in terms of its function in human society, Tolstoy compares the function
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of art with the way food functions in human life. The function and purpose of food is to nourish the individual, and anyone who thinks that the purpose of food is to provide gustatory pleasure is mistaken. The best food has to be decided on the basis of what is most nutritious and not on what some people might find most pleasurable. For example, Tolstoy mentions a meal consisting of “cayenne pepper, Limburg cheese, [and] alcohol.”59 Thus, Tolstoy thinks that traditional problems of aesthetics, such as the diversity of taste and people having tastes at odds with nutrition, are revealed to be issues extraneous to the real concern: to determine the functional nature and value of food.60 Tolstoy claims that the function of art is the transmission, through a medium, of an emotion or feeling from one person to another. He believes that just as the function of language is to convey thoughts and ideas, so the function of art is to convey feelings to others. Art is not just the expression of a feeling, which might be a private matter and does not involve the social purpose of art. Instead, art must convey a feeling from one person to another through some kind of medium. Tolstoy believed that this transmission operates infectiously: the recipient of the emotion picks it up from the person experiencing or expressing the emotion. Tolstoy believes that the transmitted feeling does not have to be a pleasant or agreeable feeling, as is shown by his example of the little boy telling his story about a fearsome encounter with a wolf.61 Although Tolstoy discusses food in the context of his emphasizing the functional character of art, there are several aspects of his theory of art that reflect changing nineteenth- century views on critical appreciation. First, given Tolstoy’s view about the variety of emotional experiences that could be conveyed in an artistic transmission, aesthetic experience came to be recognized as having a broader scope than being limited to a hedonic reaction.62 Second, emotions of various kinds came to be recognized as being possible components of aesthetic experience expressed through different media. Finally, Tolstoy’s view that the transmission of emotion is accomplished through infection seemed not to explain how a medium could transmit an emotion in this way. LEWIS CARROLL ON FOOD There were other nineteenth-century writers who sought to make changes in the eighteenth-century approach to critical experience. A well-respected logician and philosopher, although he is known mainly for his fanciful literary works, was Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson, 1832–1898). In his classic tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), he draws attention to a feature of food that was known to Roman chefs and food lovers, but was not
recognized by prominent taste theorists in the eighteenth century. Food could take on a mimetic character. Since Aristotle proposed mimesis as a defining feature of art, it was recognized that people enjoyed perceiving imitations. At least, Hutcheson thought that we enjoyed seeing a well-made imitation and that such imitations could be beautiful.63 Of course, as Carême demonstrated with his architectural and sculptural table pieces, food could be molded visually to look like all sorts of objects, but could the taste of a dish imitate another dish? To pursue such a question, Lewis Carroll introduces the fanciful example of the Mock Turtle’s song in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865): Beautiful soup, so rich and green, Waiting in a hot tureen! Who for such dainties would not stoop? Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!64
The Mock Turtle seems quite convinced that a soup can be beautiful. Even so, one might object that in Wonderland a lot of bizarre and logic-defying events occur. Why should one think that such an example expresses a cogent idea and poses a serious challenge to excluding food from being beautiful? Yet, the challenging value of the example is not just that a soup is proclaimed to be beautiful. It is also that a particular fanciful hybrid creature, a Mock Turtle, utters that thought, and when Alice says that she does not know what a Mock Turtle is, she is told, “It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from.”65 The rich green soup referred to in the song is most likely mock turtle soup, a soup made out of veal but made in such a way in order to resemble turtle soup.66 The importance of mock turtle soup’s being hailed as a beautiful soup is that such a veal-based soup presumably is pleasurable to eat and that it imitates something, turtle soup. The Mock Turtle recognizes food as a medium that can be used mimetically, just like the media that other art forms employ. Crediting a soup with having such a mimetic character shows that a soup could be the sort of thing that was beautiful. In the traditional division between objects of sight and sound and objects of taste and smell, the former could be crafted into mimetic objects whereas the latter, it was thought, could only be examples of themselves. Yet here was an example that challenged that distinction; here was food that was mimetic and in virtue of that had at least the possibility of being beautiful. Challenges to the view that food could not be beautiful, or have a rich aesthetic character, or be emotionally expressive began in the late eighteenth century and continued on into the nineteenth century. The impetus for recognizing the aesthetic character of food and the chefs who created
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innovative cuisine was also bolstered by what were argued to be new artistic genres that relied on nontraditional media. The most prominent of these new artistic genres were photography and the cinema. However, there were also new aesthetic paradigms that played a role in the debate over the critical reception of cuisine and the artistic status of the talented chefs who created fine food.67 NOTES 1. Alexander Baumgarten, Reflections on Poetry, trans. Karl Aschenbrenner and William B. Holther (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954). For commentary and critical analysis of Baumgarten’s notion of the aesthetic, see Paul Guyer, “The Eighteenth Century,” A History of Modern Aesthetics, vol. I (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 318–40; and Larry Shiner, The Invention of Art: A Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 146. 2. For the view that the aesthetic eventually became defined as a “refined” pleasure whereas the older concept of taste had emphasized a social utilitarian value, see Shiner, Invention of Art, 140–46. 3. Paul Guyer, Introduction to Critique of the Power of Judgment, by Immanuel Kant (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), xxviii. 4. Voltaire, “An Essay on Taste,” in Alexander Gerard, An Essay on Taste (London: Millar, 1764), 209. 5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 89. Guyer and Matthews present an excellent literal translation of Kant’s Critique. Another excellent translation of Kant’s Critique is Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987). 6. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 148. 7. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 169–70. 8. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 55–64. 9. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 45–46. 10. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 61–62. 11. Archibald Alison in his book, Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790) also separates the pleasures of taste into two sorts: there is a simple sensory pleasure and a more complex one that he calls delight, which is infused with emotional associations. He explains, “I apprehend that the term Delight is very generally used to express the peculiar pleasure which attends the emotions of Taste, in contradistinction to the general term Pleasure, which is appropriated to simple emotion. We are pleased, we say, with the gratification of any appetite or affection,—with food when hungry, and with rest when tired . . . But we say, we are delighted with the prospect of a beautiful landscape, with the sight of a fine statue.” Archibald Alison, Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1968), 120–21. For further analysis of Alison’s position, see George Dickie, The
Century of Taste: The Philosophical Odyssey of Taste in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 55–69. 12. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 65. See Guyer, “The Eighteenth Century,” 421. 13. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, 97. 14. For further discussion of the role of “disinterestedness” in the history of aesthetic appreciation, see Jerome Stolnitz, “On the Origin of ‘Aesthetic Disinterestedness,’ ” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20 (1961): 131–43. For further analysis of Kant’s views on disinterestedness, see Donald W. Crawford, Kant’s Aesthetic Theory (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974), 37–54. On Kant’s liking “devoid of all interest,” see Paul Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Taste, second edition (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 148–83. 15. Roger Scruton, The Aesthetics of Architecture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 113–16; and Dave Monroe, “Can Food Be Art? The Problem of Consumption,” in Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry, eds. Fritz Allhoff and Dave Monroe (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 133–44. 16. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 50. 17. Writing before the invention of color photography, Kant could not have imagined what recently has been referred to as gastroporn. These are photographs in lush and vibrant colors depicting the presentation of culinary dishes that encourage diners to feast their eyes on them and drool in anticipation of consuming these creations. See Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2014), 3. Some might find some of the images to be beautiful, especially if they depict imaginative presentations of the food. From a Kantian perspective, these photographs are representations that are intended to appeal to a viewer’s imagination; however, a present-day Kantian might object to calling them beautiful because viewers still have an interest in the existence of the depicted food as a possible dish to savor. 18. Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Pluhar, 52. The proverb (Hunger is the best sauce) might have been familiar to Kant from its appearance in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Volume II, Book I, Chapter V. See Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote De La Mancha, trans. Tobias Smollett, intro. Carlos Fuentes (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986), 450. More than likely, the proverb has a much older history. 19. Portions of the following discussion of appetite were based on an earlier essay. See Kevin W. Sweeney, “Hunger Is the Best Sauce: The Aesthetics of Food.” In The Philosophy of Food, ed. David Kaplan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 52–68. 20. In sympathy with Kant’s views on appetite, Schopenhauer (1788– 1860) thought that an appetite would hinder one’s being able to contemplate and appreciate an object of aesthetic interest. See Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969), 207–8. 21. Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, 107–8. 22. For analysis and discussion of Kant’s notion of common sense, see Crawford, Kant’s Aesthetic Theory, 125–31. 23. Guyer, “The Eighteenth Century,” 442.
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24. Robert L. Herbert, ed., The Art Criticism of John Ruskin (New York: Da Capo Press, 1987), 167. 25. Stephen Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present, second edition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996), 266. For an English translation of part of Berchoux’s poem, see Denise Gigante, ed. and intro., Gusto: Essential Readings in Nineteenth-Century Gastronomy (New York: Routledge, 2005), 275–81. 26. As Korsmeyer has pointed out, Kant accepted the traditional distinction between the higher sensory modalities of sight and hearing and the lower modalities of smell, taste, and touch. As a lower sensory modality, taste was excluded from any experiential connection with the beautiful. For further discussion of Kant’s opposition to a gustatory aesthetic, see Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 54–63. 27. In his yearly publication Almanach des Gourmands (1803–1812), Grimod de La Reynière was at the forefront of this culinary revolution. See Giles MacDonogh, A Palate in Revolution: Grimod de La Reynière and the Almanach des Gourmands (London: Robin Clark, 1987). For an English translation of some of the Almanach and the writings of other writers in this movement, see Gusto, ed. Gigante, 1–55. For a discussion of Brillat-Savarin’s influence on gastronomy, see another book by Giles MacDonogh, Brillat-Savarin: The Judge and His Stomach (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992); and Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 68–71. 28. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, trans. M. F. K. Fisher (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978). 29. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 22. 30. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 39. 31. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 38. 32. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 38. 33. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 40. 34. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 40–41. 35. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 57. 36. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 362–65. 37. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 148. 38. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 159. 39. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 147. 40. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 148. 41. Brillat-Savarin, Physiology of Taste, 148. 42. For further discussion of some of the objective influences on gustatory preferences, see Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 98–102. 43. For further discussion of the relationship between popular cooking and the development of cuisine, see Jean-François Revel, Culture and Cuisine: A Journey through the History of Food, trans. Helen R. Lane (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 19–23. 44. Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson, Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 17.
45. Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 18–19. 46. For a more recent contribution to the debate about taste, arguing against Kant’s view that literal taste is a matter of individual preference, see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984). 47. Mennell, All Manners of Food, 138. While restaurants were opening in France at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, Chinese restaurants had been featuring fine food at least since the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) in large cities such Hangzhou and Kaifeng (Joanna Waley-Cohen, “The Quest for Perfect Balance: Taste and Gastronomy in Imperial China,” in Food: The History of Taste, ed. Paul Freedman (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 111–12. 48. For a full account of the development of the Parisian restaurant, see Rebecca L. Sprang, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). See also Amy B. Trubek, Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 31–41. For a fine overview of this culinary revolution, see Denise Gigante’s “Introduction” to Gusto, xvii–xliii. 49. Sprang, Invention of the Restaurant, 7–8. 50. For an overview of the transition to service à la russe and the role that the great French chef and culinary author, Antonin Carême, played in the transition, see Ian Kelly, Cooking for Kings: The Life of Antonin Carême, the First Celebrity Chef (London: Short Books, 2003). 51. Mennell cautions, “The story of how the great Parisian restaurants arose after the Revolution is a little more complicated than how it is sometimes told. It was not simply that the cooks formerly employed in the kitchens of aristocrats who had fled abroad or perished in the Terror, finding themselves without work, were obliged to open fine restaurants. Noble emigration and the guillotine certainly did play their part in making available an increased supply of skilled manpower. Yet the first of a new form of eating-place open to the public—that which came to be known as the restaurant—made its appearance in Paris during the two decades before the Revolution” (All Manners of Food, 135–36). 52. Kelly, Cooking for Kings; and Mennell, All Manners of Food, 145. 53. Roy Strong, Feast: A History of Grand Eating (London: Pimlico, 2003), 282. For further discussion of Carême, see Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 121–26; and Ferguson, Accounting for Taste, 49–75. 54. Mennell, All Manners of Food, 144–49; and Strong, Feast, 280–83. 55. Hayward’s attribution is quoted in Mennell, All Manners of Food, 147. 56. Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: From Classical Greece to the Present (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 249. 57. Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, Hegel’s Introduction to Aesthetics, Being the Introduction to the Berlin Aesthetic Lectures of the 1820s, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 39. 58. Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, The Letters, trans. C. Butler and C. Seiler (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), 701. I would like to thank my former colleague David Stern for bringing to my attention Hegel’s remark on wine.
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59. Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art?, ed. Vincent Tomas, trans. Aylmer Maude (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1996), 46. 60. Tolstoy, What Is Art?, 46–47. 61. Tolstoy, What Is Art?, 50–51. 62. This had been recognized by eighteenth-century theorists of the sublime such as Edmund Burke, Alison, and Immanuel Kant. 63. Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue, fourth corrected edition (London: Midwinter, 1738), 10. 64. Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland: Authoritative Texts of Alice’s Adventures” in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark, ed. Donald J. Gray (New York: Norton Critical Edition, 2013), 82. 65. When Alice says that she does not know what a Mock Turtle is, she is told: “It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from” (Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, 71). In Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations of the Mock Turtle, which accompany Carroll’s text, the creature has the head, rear hooves, and tail of a calf but the shell and front flippers of a turtle. Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, 73, 77. 66. In the mid-eighteenth century, turtle soup was considered an elaborate and expensive dish found only at the tables of England’s wealthy and aristocratic families. The green turtles used to make the soup had to be brought back to England all the way from the West Indies. In a desire to emulate the ways of the rich, nineteenth- century middle-class English families were fond of serving mock turtle soup, which resembled turtle soup but substituted a veal head for the turtle. It was, of course, considerably less expensive. A recipe for mock turtle soup first appeared in the sixth edition of Hannah Glasse’s popular eighteenth-century cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1758). See C. Anne Wilson, Food & Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to the 19th Century (Chicago: Academy Chicago, 2003), 225. 67. The debate has by no means ended. In the twentieth century, there were still advocates of the position that objects of taste should not be credited with a full aesthetic character. See D. W. Prall, Aesthetic Judgment (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1967), 57–75; Monroe Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, second edition (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987), 98–99, 111; and Roger Scruton: The Aesthetics of Architecture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 104–34.
Creating and Tasting Can Fine Food Be Fine Art?
The growing appreciation of cuisine in the nineteenth century continued in the twentieth century. This increased appreciation of fine cooking was aided by the gradual acceptance and popularity of new art forms that had emerged, such as the previously mentioned photography and cinema. In addition, the succession of new artistic styles, such as Impressionism, Postimpressionism, and Expressionism, that dominated the art world in the second half of the nineteenth century continued with a series of new styles in the first half of the twentieth century. While there was a resistance to these new artistic genres by conservative critics and theorists, who were tenacious in their wanting to preserve a mimetic component to art, an emerging avant-garde of artists and critics countered that resistance. The openness of the avant-garde to new art forms and aesthetic experiences benefited the cause of those who advocated the acceptance of food as a legitimate aesthetic interest. Social change and revolutionary fervor also played a role in the avant- garde’s openness to new artistic styles in the early days of the Russian Revolution and in post–World War I Weimar Germany. Nevertheless, new social orders in the twentieth century also produced their share of resistance to avant-garde styles such as in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. One example of the way that social ferment led to an attempt to generate a new food aesthetic can be seen in the Italian Futurist Manifesto of Futurist Cooking, an article published in Turin’s Gazzetta del Popolo on December 28, 1930, by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Fillia. Marinetti’s newspaper article contained some radical proposals for changes in the Italian diet and for instituting new dining practices; however, it created quite an uproar at the time in advocating the elimination of pasta from the Italian diet.1 In its often wild proposals, Marinetti’s Manifesto was more a poet’s playfully poking fun at past traditions of cooking and food service, but one in which 145
there was the looming ideological undertone of emerging Italian Fascism. Thus, the Manifesto was more social provocation on Marinetti’s part than a serious attempt to invent a new gustatory aesthetic. CLEMENT GREENBERG’S MODERNISM Another influence on the increasing interest in gustatory aesthetics was a new aesthetic paradigm that had a profound influence on many art forms and cultural pursuits in the twentieth century. This new aesthetic paradigm, which actually came into being in the nineteenth century, was generally referred to as modernism. There were several different theories about what constituted modernism, depending on whether one was analyzing literature, twentieth- century urban living, or specific art forms. However, the critic and art theorist, Clement Greenberg (1909–1994) developed a theory of modernism that became influential and had a broad application to many different art forms and cultural institutions. In his article, “Modernist Painting,” Greenberg proposed that what was distinctive of the arts—and even philosophy—in modern times was that they were self-critically reflexive in their handling of the medium specific to their genre.2 Each work in a modernist genre had to justify itself by the artist or those creating the work, presenting it in a way that foregrounded the essential nature of the medium. The work needed to be created in a way that presented the features distinctive of that genre. For example, the distinctive feature of painting was not imitation or illusion. Other genres such as sculpture could show those features. What was distinctive of a painting was its being a two- dimensional flat surface. Although Greenberg realized that painting would find it difficult to avoid exhibiting at least a very shallow space—one line crossing another seemed to generate such a shallow space—a modernist painting had to foreground itself as approaching a flat two-dimensional work. In the article, Greenberg traces the history of modernist painting from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century showing how painting became increasingly flat with the passing of years. Although there were earlier precedents for flatness in painting, Greenberg claims that modernist painting, beginning in the nineteenth century with French painter Édouard Manet’s canvases, became increasingly flat as it developed in the twentieth century. It eventually evolved into flat styles like the Abstract Expressionist paintings of Jackson Pollack and others. Greenberg was keen to point out that modernism was not just an artistic movement but that other forms of contemporary life also exhibited modernist tendencies. For example, twentieth-century philosophy’s “linguistic turn” where philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein examined the language used
Creating and Tasting
to state traditional philosophical problems was a self-reflexive modernist movement. It was also the case that various arts and other social phenomena became modernist at different times, some earlier and some later than others. For example, modernist dance, which foregrounded natural body movement, was a twentieth-century artistic movement. It was opposed to traditional ballet that presented dance as an illusion in which the human body could float around on its toes. Modernist architecture was also a twentieth-century phenomenon with architects designing many buildings mid-century in the International Style. However, modernism should not be seen as a movement that stressed a unitary approach to style. Mies van der Rohe could design buildings in one modernist style, while Frank Lloyd Wright and le Corbusier could design buildings in their own modernist styles. CLIVE BELL AND “SIGNIFICANT FORM” The modernist theoretical perspective with its anti- illusory focus could already be seen in several theories that preceded Greenberg’s groundbreaking aesthetic: Bloomsbury critics Roger Fry (1866–1934) and Clive Bell (1881–1964) developed critical theories designed to support the style of Postimpressionist artists such as Paul Cézanne. In his book, Art (1913), Bell held that the essence of a work of art was not its mimetic quality but its compositional organization, what he referred to as its “significant form.” The examples that he offered of works of art that had significant form were to be found in a broad range of media, from architecture to ceramics, and came from a variety of cultures. In Bell’s view, many different formal structures could be perceived to be formally significant. Yet all of these forms were capable of producing an emotional response in individuals who had the sensitivity to perceive their significance. Bell referred to this appreciative response, of which there were many different kinds, as all being instances of what he called the “aesthetic emotion.”3 He insisted that the aesthetic emotion was a feeling that one would only experience with an artifact’s significant form. In contrast to works with significant form, he gave examples of what he referred to as instances of “Descriptive Paintings” that he claimed were not works of art. Luke Fildes’ The Doctor (1891) and William P. Frith’s Paddington Station (1862) were very popular paintings; however, Bell dismissed them as not being works of art because he claimed they lacked significant form.4 Bell strictly distinguished works of art from nonworks. He claimed that this demarcation was based on all works of art having a common kind of formal quality. There must be some defining essence to art, he thought, “some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist” and that was significant form.5
Bell offered what aestheticians have called an honorific definition of a work of art. This was the requirement that only successful works of art were true works of art; failures were not works of art at all. For Bell, any alleged work of art that lacked significant form was not a work of art. His strict distinction between works of art and nonworks would become an important characteristic of modernism. Bell narrowed the scope of aesthetic appreciation by restricting the aesthetic emotional response only to artifacts that had significant form. He explicitly states, “Does anyone feel the same kind of emotion for a butterfly or a flower that he feels for a cathedral or a picture? Surely, it is not what I call an aesthetic emotion that most of us feel, generally, for natural beauty.” The problem with most people’s response to nature, for Bell, was that it was a response to beauty, and as a modernist he was suspicious of the aesthetic standing of beauty: it was such a broad term and did not apply specifically to “significant form.” Bell offered a very narrow account of art, one that focused on the formal or structural composition of the object, and he insisted that the response to art must be a particular type of emotional experience. The common criticism of Bell’s accounts of significant form and the aesthetic emotion is that there is a problematic circularity in his account: significant form is defined as a structure that produces the aesthetic emotion, and the aesthetic emotion is a kind of feeling produced by significant form. However, his dismissing of popular examples of what many people considered works of art prompted a change in people’s thinking. By insisting on an obscure formal feature only sensed emotionally, Bell offered to people skeptical of his theory that there could be a wider range of new kinds of objects worthy of aesthetic interest. PRALL AND BEARDSLEY ON WHETHER TASTES AND SMELLS CAN HAVE STRUCTURES Theories like Bell’s narrow modernist view that stressed a required formal essence to works of art generated a philosophical debate that had implications for a gustatory aesthetic. Two philosophers, in particular, were skeptical of food and drink being capable of providing a rich aesthetic appreciation on a par with what was available with readily accepted works of art. Both D. W. Prall (1886–1940) and Monroe C. Beardsley (1915–1985) questioned the aesthetic sophistication of objects of taste and smell because, it was claimed, they lacked qualitative structures. Prall claims that tastes and smells lack a qualitative structure in that “there is no clear, complete order in them directly apprehended by us, which is intrinsic to their nature . . . so in composition with them we have no adequate
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control of structural forms or distinctly perceptible intelligible patterns.”6 Nevertheless, he does recognize that we can have aesthetic experiences by employing our senses of taste and smell, but he insists that what is tasted and smelled “remain only elements in such experience, like bodily feelings, and offer no intrinsic structure or formal relations in variation or combination by which they might become the materials of conscious arts of smell and taste.”7 Monroe C. Beardsley also thinks that tastes and smells cannot be arranged in series “and so we cannot work out constructive principles to make larger works out of them.” Thus, he concludes that there is not much chance of eventually being able to compose “taste-symphonies and smell-sonatas” because he claims that “there does not seem to be enough order within these sensory fields to construct aesthetic objects with balance, climax, development or pattern.”8 Both Prall and Beardsley question the possibility of using individual tastes and scents to construct what Beardsley refers to as “taste- symphonies and smell-sonatas.” However, the possibility of creating “taste-symphonies and smell-sonatas”— particularly separating taste compositions from smell compositions—is not the relevant aesthetic issue. Instead, the major focus in the debate about the aesthetics of taste and smell is whether certain styles of cuisine or the creations of talented chefs can offer objects (dishes or meals) that can involve diners in having a rich aesthetic experience with them, an experience that would also have an imaginative and emotional component. Another assumption that is questionable in their positions is using the color spectrum or a tonal musical scale as the standard in deciding whether gustatory experiences with food and drink can have, as Beardsley writes, “balance, climax, development or pattern.” Given the post-Brillat-Savarin perspective that taste and smell and—as we now realize—other sensory modalities form an integrated multisensory perceptual system, to think that one sense (taste or smell) would be the sole means to assessing “balance, climax, development or pattern” seems aesthetically questionable. On the other side of the debate opposing Prall and Beardsley, Elizabeth Telfer has questioned both their claim that tastes cannot be arranged in sequences and the view that such arrangements are necessary for a complex aesthetic experience. Reacting to Beardsley’s claim, Telfer counters that it is not true that there are no sequences in tastes. We can arrange them in sequence from sweet to sour, for example, or from least salty to most salty. And not all art forms have “systematic, repeatable, regular combinations”: this is true of music and architecture, but not of representative painting or sculpture. In any case, food does allow of systematic, repeatable combinations: the cook creates the possibility for them, which the eater then realises.9
Another philosopher, Frank Sibley, also disputes Beardsley’s grounds for questioning the nature of taste and smell as being suitable for constructing complex aesthetic objects. In answer to Beardsley’s view of taste and smell’s lacking “systematic, repeatable, regular combinations,” he replies, “A rejoinder might be that repeatability and regular combination are precisely what are aimed at—and who is to say they are not achieved?—by so-called classic dishes and menus.”10 However, there were earlier philosophers who thought that food could provide a structured experience. Describing a structure that would organize the presentation of the aesthetic qualities in a culinary dish and would indicate how a consumer should approach such a dish was a topic that John Dewey discussed in his aesthetic theory. DEWEY ON HAVING AN EXPERIENCE WITH FOOD In his book Art as Experience (1934), Dewey constructs a structural model of aesthetic experience, one which he thought is applicable to consuming fine food and gustatory experience. He starts off with an account of what he calls having “an experience,” which he describes as an experiential occurrence that is neither loosely aimless nor mechanically constricted. Instead, it has a flow to it in which the separate parts of the experience form an integrated structural whole united by an emotional quality that gives it an aesthetic tone or flavor.11 The structure has a beginning and an end as well as a climax or high point that organizes the parts of the experience into a structural whole. Dewey does not claim that such an experience must be pleasurable—it could be frightening or emotionally disturbing—but it would have a decided emotional significance for the person pursuing and undergoing the experience. Several of Dewey’s examples of people having “an experience” are about their enjoying a meal and having an experience in savoring the meal. He mentions the example of a meal in Paris that was remembered as “an experience.” For Dewey, there is nothing about gustatory experience that disqualifies it from achieving that emotionally infused qualitative integrity that is indicative of the structure of “an experience.” Dewey goes on to claim that successful works of art have this structural experience in their creation. They have an economy of detail that in the artist’s creating the work—engaging in what Dewey calls “doing and undergoing,”—achieves an organization in which the work’s “qualities as perceived have controlled the question of production.”12 Certainly, that qualification applies to cuisine: how the dish finally tastes is the controlling factor in its production. Because of his claim that the artist’s structural experience goes into the creation of the work of art, Dewey holds that only an artifact can be a work of art. Pleasing natural objects that were not created with the required kind
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of experience cannot be works of art. Dewey also insists that just as the artist creates the work of art through having a structured experience, the perceiver’s aesthetic experience with that work of art must be similar to the artist’s experience. He claims, For to perceive [a work of art], a beholder must create his own experience. And his creation must include relations comparable to those which the original producer underwent. They are not the same in any literal sense. But with the perceiver, as with the artist, there must be an ordering of the elements of the whole that is in form, although not in details, the same as the process of organization the creator of the work consciously experienced. Without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art.13
For Dewey, the artist’s creative experience is an expressive experience, and in recreating that experience the perceiver also engages actively and expressively with the artist’s work. Although Dewey does not explicitly claim that a master chef can create a dish that would be a work of art, much of what he says about how works of art are created applies to a chef’s creation as being similar to the creation of a work of art. There is also a similarity to the perceiver’s aesthetic encounter with a work of art and how a diner should approach and consume a chef’s creation. Dewey claims that to enjoy a chef’s dish as an aesthetic experience, a diner has to have a different kind of experience from that had by an individual who simply enjoys what she or he is eating. In an aesthetic encounter with a dish, the diner has to be aware of the chef’s intention in creating the dish. Dewey distinguishes the two ways of eating: Even the pleasures of the palate are different in quality to an epicure than in one who merely “likes” his food as he eats it. The difference is not of mere intensity. The epicure is conscious of much more than the taste of the food. Rather, there enter into the taste, as directly experienced, qualities that depend upon reference to its source and its manner of production in connection with criteria of excellence.14
Although Dewey claims that his structural model of an experience accommodates all sorts of different experiences, the model that Dewey proposes has a general unitary form to it. In addition, it is a structure that favors a complex organization of elements. Both Bell and Dewey have rather narrow requirements for how perceivers should aesthetically respond to works of art. Bell requires that the perceiver respond to the work of art’s significant form with the aesthetic emotion, and Dewey advocates that the perceiver recreates the artist’s creative experience. Yet, Dewey’s requirement that the perceiver recreate the artist’s experience
seems excessively restrictive, unlike Kant’s requirement that the perceiver engage in a free play of the imagination. In response to Dewey’s distinguishing two kinds of gustatory experience, one might also ponder how much an epicure needs to know about the dish being served. It might be argued that some of the enjoyment of fine food comes from the diner’s discovering in the dish new gustatory combinations or finding a rethinking of a familiar dish. Nevertheless, Dewey recognizes that works of art are a particular artist’s expressive creation, and in acknowledging the artist’s tie to the work, the perceiver should respect that connection and try to engage with the artist’s creative intention. In virtue of an artist’s connection to her or his work, Dewey proposes that a diner should become familiar with a chef’s style of cooking, know something about the particular ingredients’ preparation, and be willing to consume a particular dish as the chef recommends. There is a recent version of Dewey’s epicurean position: twenty-first-century chefs are increasingly more inclined to inform—even instruct—diners on the specific way to eat a new dish that they are being served. Certainly, Ferran Adrià at El Bulli often had his staff inform diners about how they should approach and eat certain dishes. In the final decades of the twentieth century, philosophical aesthetics started to reconsider its attitude toward food. With a few exceptions, it had previously followed the Platonic tradition of rejecting fine cooking as worthy of a rich aesthetic interest. The debate about food still continued, but now it did not favor so strongly the position opposing food. One of the influences that led to this change was a much broader view of what could count as aesthetic experience. Beginning with the eighteenth-century accounts of the experience of the sublime, what could count as critical experience had broadened to include other kinds of experience. With the arts in the twentieth century becoming more socially critical, the Kantian requirement that the perceiver adopt a disinterested engagement with the appearance of the aesthetic object had lost its dominant position in aesthetics. This broadening also led to a reevaluation of what could be an object of aesthetic interest, and one of the areas that was now considered appropriate for such an interest was food. MODERNISM AND CUISINE Although Dewey has a very broad view of what can be the focus of an aesthetic interest, one of the ways in which his theory could be considered a modernist theory is his advocating a unitary structural model to make the aesthetic encounter an experience. As a modernist, Bell had also advocated a specific response, the aesthetic emotion, to works of art with their significant form. Just as French painting in the twentieth century had adopted
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modernism, so did French cuisine adopt a form of modernism in its breaking away from an earlier haute cuisine style of cooking. Greenberg thought that one of the defining features of modernism was its anti-illusionary prescription, its insistence that the focus of a work should be on revealing the medium that was employed. Modernism urged a getting away from attempting to hide the medium and creating an illusory effect; instead, the effort should be to reveal the qualities of the medium. Chefs had long had a debate about how to prepare food: to reveal the nature of the food or to disguise it. Colman Andrews states the two positions: There have been two main currents in what might be called elective cooking, cooking whose goal is something other than simply rendering raw materials edible: the quest for purity of flavor, for the preservation and perhaps enhancement of a foodstuff’s essence; and the desire to mislead (at least theoretically in a benevolent manner)—to divert and amuse the diner by turning a meal’s ingredients into something unexpected and perhaps not easily identifiable.15
The rise of modernism reawakened the question of which alternative to follow. In the 1960s, a new style of French cooking (nouvelle cuisine) had evolved that took to heart a modernist view that food preparation should not attempt to disguise the nature of a dish. By the 1980s, nouvelle cuisine had become quite popular and was seen as a reaction to the earlier cuisine classique that had been introduced by Carême and carried on by Escoffier, although at the end of the nineteenth century Escoffier had begun to lighten the dishes he created.16 There was also another influence on the development of this new form of cooking. The earlier cuisine classique with its many sauces and rich fare was judged not to be a health-conscious form of cooking. A lighter cuisine would provide a healthier alternative. Diners had become much more observant of the kind of foods that they were consuming, and they generally wanted a healthier form of cuisine. The older concerns about gluttony, which saw overeating as a failure of will to control one’s appetite, gave way to thinking of overeating as a medical condition that needed to be addressed either through weight-loss programs or some form of therapy.17 Counting calories now became a concern of those who had been medically advised that they were overweight. Nouvelle cuisine addressed this dietary worry: eating this new form of cuisine, one could enjoy the food but avoid the calories. Nouvelle cuisine stressed that the ingredients in a dish should not be smothered under a rich sauce that disguised the food, but should only be dressed in a light way that accented the flavors of the food. Natural flavors and the use of the freshest of fruits and vegetables should be the center of the cuisine. There was also an interest in incorporating culinary ideas from
other countries and different regional styles of cooking in order to introduce new flavors. This was a way to call attention to the chef’s creative role in the invention of this new style of cooking. Perhaps the greatest outside influence on nouvelle cuisine was Japanese cooking. The presentation of the dishes also reflected a Japanese influence, and it was now the responsibility of the chef to present the food on the plate, creating dramatic but simple compositions. Traditionally, it had been the waiter who had assembled the dish at the table.18 Not only were presentations influenced by Japanese cooking but also the ingredients used. Jean-Robert Pitte draws attention to a nouvelle-cuisine chef’s use of a Japanese ingredient: “With his ‘Salmon Shizuo or The Return of Japan,’ Alain Senderens would even go so far as to finish soy sauce with butter, something many of his colleagues would also do henceforth with varying degrees of discretion.”19 With the modernist influence on the development of nouvelle cuisine, an influence that was recognized to have also affected the arts, this new kind of creative cooking with its Japanese-influenced presentation of the food on the diner’s plate prompted a question. Was nouvelle cuisine becoming a new art form? TELFER AND KORSMEYER ON THE PLEASURES OF TASTE Two books that created a great interest among aestheticians in food and that also took a position on whether prepared food could be an art form were Elizabeth Telfer’s Food for Thought (1996) and Carolyn Korsmeyer’s Making Sense of Taste (1999). In her work, Telfer argues against the traditional arguments found in Plato and later thinkers that gustatory pleasure was only a physical interest and therefore not one of the higher pleasures involving the intellect. Telfer objects: “All pleasures are mental, in the sense that they all depend on consciousness. It is true that the pleasures of eating and drinking have a physical source, in that they depend on input from the senses; but so do many so-called higher pleasures, such as looking at art or nature, or listening to music.”20 In addition to her argument that gustatory pleasures are not lesser pleasures—they are just as physically oriented as are the pleasures that come from art or music—she also argues against the view that food has no meaning. She points out that food is served at social occasions and has a particular meaning in virtue of its being part of the occasion. She provides a list of occasions (e.g., weddings and religious observances) in which the food served expresses the meaning and significance of the occasion.21 In her book, Carolyn Korsmeyer also argues against the philosophical tradition that rejected food because it was claimed to appeal to the lower
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senses. She attacks the traditional hierarchy of the senses showing that it is based on a biased view of human life, one that privileges a “masculine” capacity for reason associated with sight and hearing but denigrates women by associating them only with the “lower” senses.22 She presents an impressive array of scholarship from antiquity to the present day showing how thinkers have viewed the senses, especially taste, smell, and touch, and how these “lower” senses were traditionally restricted in their ability to generate aesthetic experience. One of the innovative aspects of Korsmeyer’s account of taste is her broadening the scope of the aesthetic interest in food to recognize that food has a symbolic function in human society. In that respect, we can approach food with a cognitive interest. She claims that “taste qualifies as a cognitive sense that directs attention to objects and events in the world” and in such a cognitive capacity there are “a number of similar features” between food and works of art.23 While both Telfer and Korsmeyer argue against the traditional view of the senses, and they both agree that food can be a source of aesthetic experience, they are reluctant to grant that prepared food can achieve the status of fine art. Telfer allows that cooking can be considered to be a minor art form but not one of the fine arts. In making that claim, she holds that there are three reasons for why food cannot be fine art. She claims that “food is necessarily transient, it cannot have meaning and it cannot move us.”24 First, she argues that while there are recipes for dishes that seek to provide a more permanent existence for the dish, the ingredients over time are likely to change, thus making the dish have a transient existence. She believes that a short-lived object cannot be a work of art. Second, she claims that prepared food does not have meaning in itself, even though she had earlier asserted that food could contribute to an occasion that does have meaning. It is only the person preparing the food who gives meaning to the food. She claims that food on its own is not able to represent or express anything. A semantic content, she believes, is a requirement for something’s being a work of art. Finally, she claims that “food cannot move us in the way that music and the other major arts can.”25 Since she has allowed that people can have an aesthetic appreciation of a particular dish, her claim that food cannot “move” us seems questionable. She offers the following support for her view, claiming that “good food can elate us, invigorate us, startle us, excite us, cheer us with a kind of warmth and joy, but cannot shake us fundamentally in the way of which the symptoms are tears or a sensation almost of fear. We are not in awe of good food, and we hesitate to ascribe the word ‘beauty’ to it, however fine it is.”26 Telfer’s claim that food “cannot shake us fundamentally” is at odds with neuroscientific research that shows that taste and smell receptors convey
information to the brain and connect with emotion-centered sites there, particularly the hippocampus and the amygdala. Gordon M. Shepherd observes that because of taste and smell’s connection to these sites in the brain, “tastes are strong elicitors of emotion.”27 Marcel Proust’s vivid emotional reaction in Swann’s Way to the tea-soaked madeleine is probably the most famous example of the way that taste and smell can emotionally move us. Of course, such a strong reaction depends upon memory, but the relevant sites in the brain are interconnected and promote such reactions.28 Telfer’s final point that food is not the sort of thing that can be beautiful reintroduces the Platonic claim about the inappropriate use of the term when applied to food. However, as we have seen in setting out the succession of different critical paradigms, and in Lewis Carroll’s acceptance and Bell’s modernist rejection of the term, whether food can be seen to be beautiful depends to some extent on the particular paradigm employed. In commenting on ascribing beauty to food, Korsmeyer points out that the issue is whether such “terms of praise qualify as aesthetic discourse . . . [and] with appropriate adjustment to accommodate the sense modality, it seems they can be.”29 Korsmeyer agrees with Telfer that food is limited in its ability to express emotion and that it does not have the capacity to affect us as profoundly as traditional art forms. Yet, she insists that our experiences with food are not to be slighted and that “a discriminating palate is perhaps as hard to come by as a musical ear.”30 In raising the issue of whether good cooking could be a form of fine art, it is important to narrow the kind of cooking that is being considered for fine-art status. If the range is too broad a category to include traditional family dishes, regional forms of cooking (e.g., traditional Moroccan cooking), or prepared food associated with ceremonies (e.g., traditional wedding cakes), then it would seem that the weight of evidence would only support thinking of such forms of cooking as at most being minor art forms. Often such family or regional forms of cooking do not have an acknowledged creator who has exercised an authorial control over the dish. Such a creator would be comparable to a traditional artist’s relation to her or his work of art. In the last few centuries, the fine arts have been recognized as having a public audience. Of course, in some cases, there can be limited access to them (e.g., paintings in private hands, expensive theater, or concert tickets), but reproductions, recordings, journalistic reviews, and social-media venues have a way of alerting the public to their existence and even in some cases (e.g., the Watts Towers in Los Angeles) turning a person’s private creation into a public work. Private family dinners do not seem to fit in with the public nature of contemporary art. However, as has been discussed, with the emergence of the restaurant in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, along with the publication of famous chefs’ cookbooks, cuisine created by these celebrity chefs has become public. Cuisine is no longer cooking that would be available only to
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diners at aristocratic houses. In some cases, as in El Bulli, only a few people could have actually dined at the restaurant, but information about Ferran Adrià’s cooking was readily available, especially with the present-day interest in cuisine. Thus, in raising the question of whether food can ever be fine art, it makes sense to consider whether a creative chef’s cuisine in some form has been available in a public venue. THE ART WORLD AND CUISINE Art is a social and cultural phenomenon, and in the first quarter of the twentieth century a definition of art has been proposed by George Dickie that has focused on the social context in which works of art exist, a context known as the art world. Dickie’s Institutional Theory of Art has gone through several formulations and been subjected to an extensive critical debate. In its original formulation, Dickie defined a work of art in the following way: “A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or person acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the art world).”31 Dickie no longer holds that artifactuality can be conferred on something, but he does still claim that the art world as a “broad informal cultural practice” provides the context that separates works of art from nonworks of art.32 There are a variety of ways in which the art world can recognize something’s being a work of art. Depending on the nature of the art form, art critics, historians, museum directors, and others recognized as acting on behalf of the art world can make the case for the inclusion of a candidate as a work of art.33 The Institutional Theory is a controversial theory, and it is not being considered because it is held to be the correct definition of a work of art, any more than the Mimetic Theory or the Expressionist Theory were thought to define art.34 However, it is a useful theoretical lens for considering whether cuisine could be art. If it could be shown that there was an extension of the art world that provided a recognition and embedding context for considering cuisine to be a new form of fine art, such an art-world recognition would bring cuisine closer to being accepted as art. However, being embedded in an art-world context would not be a sufficient condition for cuisine to be recognized as a work of art, since the Institutional Theory does not address the kind of experience diners would have with the food that would connect cuisine to other art forms. As set out in the first chapter, Jean-Paul Jouary argues that Ferran Adrià is an artist, and one of his reasons for thinking so is that he holds that an art- world context has been extended to include Adrià as an artist. As evidence for this art-world extension, Jouary points out that in 2007 Adrià was invited to
participate in Documenta 12, an international prestigious art show held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Adrià was invited to participate in the show not as a chef but as an artist.35 Advocates for Adrià’s being recognized as an artist appeal to such an inclusion in a major art show as evidence that the art world has recognized him as an artist and has recognized cuisine as a new art form. However, just as “one swallow does not a summer make,” skeptics might claim that a single talented chef’s being invited to an art show by itself does not transform cuisine into an art form. A reply to such an objection might be that Adrià’s participation in Documenta 12 was in 2007 and that ten years later there are more celebrity chefs who are worthy of such recognition. In any case, there is still a vibrant philosophical debate about whether cuisine is an art form. The two philosophers in the following section of this chapter argue one side of the issue and Roger Scruton who will be discussed in the next chapter argues the other side. KUEHN AND MONROE: CAN CUISINE BE FINE ART? In recent years, there has been considerable philosophical interest in the question of whether food can ever be considered fine art. Two philosophers who have weighed in on this question are Glen Kuehn in his essay, “How Can Food Be Art?” and Dave Monroe in his essay, “Can Food Be Art? The Problem of Consumption.” 36 Both argue for the affirmative position. Kuehn takes a Deweyan aesthetic perspective and argues against Telfer’s three reasons for limiting food to being a minor art. First, Kuehn objects to Telfer’s “transient” condition. Since he thinks that the creation and reception of art is by its nature transient (i.e., it takes time for both to happen), one should expect that some works of art are transient. Nevertheless, there are musical scores and recipes that provide some stability. Kuehn finds that a dish prepared following a recipe is no different than a musical work that is performed by musicians following a score.37 Second, Kuehn disagrees that food is not representational or expressive in the sense that it is not about anything. He finds that many dishes or styles of cooking are about something in that they can illuminate a culinary culture, a particular style of cooking, or the skill of an accomplished chef. They can also draw attention to the way in which a chef’s style of cooking marks a decided departure from the way in which similar dishes have been prepared by other chefs. Finally, Kuehn considers Telfer’s claim that food can emotionally stimulate us, but it does not have the power to “move” us. Kuehn objects that it can move us, and he offers several examples of how tasting a food for the first time has moved him (e.g., his tasting Beluga caviar the first time).38 In her insistence that food cannot move us, Telfer perhaps reveals a
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limited acquaintance with contemporary cuisine. Diners at El Bulli and at other great restaurants such as René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in England, or Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago have reported being greatly affected by their experience. Dave Monroe in his article argues that particular culinary preparations should be considered works of art. He first considers and rejects a requirement proposed by Hegel that being a work of art requires some permanence. According to that requirement, the consumption of food disqualifies it from being fine art. However, Monroe objects that not all works of art are permanent physical objects. Art forms such as music, theater, and dance are not made up of works of art that are physical objects. They are composed of performances that begin and end at a particular time. What preserves a musical, theatrical, or dance piece as a particular work of art beyond its transitory performance is that it is based on a musical score, theatrical script, or choreographical notation that preserves the work as being the same work from one performance to the next. In the case of cuisine, a recipe has the same function, allowing a chef to create the same dish from one occasion to the next.39 Of course, there might be slight differences to the dish when a chef makes it on different occasions, but there will also be some differences in musical, theatrical, and dance performances on different occasions. Finally, Monroe grants that there will be occasions in which he eats something because he is very hungry, but in the case of his primary example, it is the flavor of the dish that is for him his major focus and the dish’s inherent value, not its instrumental value of providing him with sustenance. POSTMODERNISM AND THE MULTISENSITIVITY OF TASTE While modernism as an aesthetic paradigm held sway in the first half of the twentieth century, it was challenged by a new paradigm in the second half of the twentieth century, a paradigm that has come to be called postmodernism. One way to approach postmodernism is to contrast it with modernism. As has been noted, the artistic paradigm modernism has insisted on a clear direction for the arts: accentuate the nature of the respective medium and avoid illusory effects, often introducing motifs or elements that alluded in a playful way to historical precedents. As a modernist, Bell advocated a clear distinction between art and nonart. Art had a specific definition: “either all works of visual art have some common quality, or when we speak of ‘works of art’ we gibber.”40 Bell also insisted on a common aesthetic response to art, the aesthetic emotion, and to avoid other kinds of emotional associations. In order to make such a sharp distinction
between art and nonart, there must be a set of underlying values or theoretical positions that support such a distinction. Jean-François Lyotard referred to these underlying positions or values as “metanarratives.” Lyotard proposed the following definition of postmodernism: “I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”41 According to Lyotard, postmodern society no longer accepts the authority of earlier underlying cultural values. With respect to the arts, an important metanarrative that appeared during the Enlightenment was that the “high” or fine arts were superior in the kind of experiences they could stimulate and in the role they played in society than lower forms of entertainment and pleasure. As a cultural or philosophical position, a postmodernist view would be skeptical of such a distinction with respect to the arts.42 Consider now how a postmodernist would view the debate about whether cuisine could be a fine art. Drawing a sharp boundary between fine art and cuisine depends upon a legitimizing metanarrative. If one is incredulous about such an authorizing metanarrative, whether or not cuisine is accepted as a form of fine art ceases to be an important issue. One can accept different forms of cooking from street vendors to kebab shops to three-star Michelin restaurants as having value without having to decide whether the restaurant with the celebrity chef’s cuisine is a form of fine art. In France, haute cuisine was traditionally recognized as expressing the essence of French culture; however, as societies become more pluralistic, tastes in food become more eclectic and a metanarrative supporting haute cuisine as superior to other cooking loses its authority. Lyotard characterizes pluralistic tastes in the following way: “Eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: one listens to reggae, watches a western, eats McDonald’s food for lunch and local cuisine for dinner, wears Paris perfume in Tokyo and ‘retro’ clothes in Hong Kong; knowledge is a matter for TV games.”43 Lyotard finds a general cultural eclecticism and diversity of tastes as indicating that metanarratives supporting traditional dominant forms of a culture’s identity are being challenged. Not only was the “incredulity” toward metanarratives a general eclecticism of tastes, and diverse cultural interests prominent features of postmodernism, but postmodernism also challenged modernism’s minimalist aesthetic and its desire for an anti-illusionist use of the medium. One of the first challenges to the modernist aesthetic came as a reaction to modernist architecture with its restrictive view of its employed medium. From the 1970s onward, architects began to use what modernist architects would consider extraneous details in the designs of their buildings. Taking into consideration such changes in architectural style, Charles Jencks offered the following account of postmodernist architecture: “I would define Post-Modernism as I did in 1978 as double coding: the combination of Modern techniques with something else (usually traditional building) in order for architecture to communicate with
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the public and a concerned minority, usually other architects.”44 Examples of double coding in postmodernist architecture would include the use of ancient Egyptian, Gothic, or Beaux-Arts motifs in an otherwise contemporary-styled building. Modernist architecture had been antihistorical: modernist architects were supposed to shun any allusions to past architectural styles in their buildings. With its different aesthetic, postmodernist architecture allowed the use of what Jencks called “new techniques and old patterns,” adding older forms and details not in a revivalist way but in a playful and at times ironic or parodic way. Instead of adhering to a restrictive architectural aesthetic such as the International Style, postmodernist architects developed what Jencks calls a “hybrid language,” often combining earlier architectural motifs in a contemporary stylistic way.45 Although Jencks acknowledges that different art forms reacted against modernism in their own particular ways, he does find that double coding can be found in other contemporary art forms such as painting and literature. Double coding also aptly describes Ferran Adrià’s style of cooking, identifying him more as a postmodernist than a modernist chef. Adrià claimed that his deconstruction of traditional Spanish dishes like gazpacho and paella were part of his interest in creating a “conversation” with diners in a “new language.”46 His transformative aesthetic is similar to Jencks’ postmodern “hybrid language,” alluding to past culinary traditions but radically transforming those references in new ways. Adrià’s use of the new technologies of molecular gastronomy to achieve his culinary transformations seems to be in accord with Jencks’ characterization of the postmodern aesthetic as using “new techniques and old patterns.” Adrià’s introduction of unusual kinds of ingredients and using new technologies in order to create his spherifications as well as his intent to “reinvent” food provoked criticism from some. Critics of Adrià’s cooking have claimed that by using unusual chemical products to create his dishes he was not preparing “real” food. Such a criticism is a modernist criticism that he is violating one of the modernist metanarratives about adhering to the medium and avoiding other effects.47 The criticism adds emphasis to the view that Adrià has moved away from a modernist culinary aesthetic and has adopted a postmodernist style of cuisine. The kinds of experiences diners have with Adrià’s cooking also moves away from the more restricted modernist view (e.g., Bell’s aesthetic emotion) of what an appropriate aesthetic response should be. Reflecting on his experiences dining at El Bulli, Jean-Paul Jouary emphasized how Adrià’s revolutionary cuisine made him experience food in a new way. Here was cooking that appealed to all of a diner’s senses. Jouary described how Adrià’s cooking caused him to respond in a variety of ways including astonishment,
laughter, as well as different kinds of emotional reactions. Jouary concluded about Adrià’s cuisine: “This cooking addresses itself to our intelligence.”48 In eliciting a variety of responses from the diner, Colman Andrews was keen to point out that Adrià was interested in appealing to what Adrià termed a diner’s “sixth sense,” stimulating her or him to make associations between Adrià’s dishes and past gastronomic experiences. Of course, food has always had the potential to get us to reach back to earlier gustatory experiences, from childhood on through later stages of life. However, this potential has not always been realized when from habit or expediency we find ourselves regularly eating the same dishes. Adrià’s cooking clearly challenges this complacency and seeks to overcome Telfer’s claim that food cannot move us. Jouary’s and Colman Andrews’ descriptions of their experiences with Adrià’s cuisine clearly show that it can. While Adrià, as a postmodern chef, has been criticized for his use of unusual ingredients and new cooking techniques, there are also critics who have a broad complaint about the postmodern vision of contemporary society. They claim that many of society’s metanarratives are worth believing in, such as the distinction between the fine arts and other cultural pleasures such as fine food. As has been discussed in earlier chapters, one of the reasons for cuisine being excluded from the fine arts was because of the traditional distinction, established in antiquity, between the “higher” pleasures of sight and hearing and the “lower” pleasures of taste and smell. Based on this division of the senses, it was urged that cooking could not be considered one of the higher pleasures—what we would now call having a complex aesthetic experience—because it appealed to the “lower” senses of taste and smell. Brillat-Savarin challenged the separation of taste and smell, pointing out that they form an integrated sensory unit. He considered taste and smell to be a single sense. In addition, he proposed a broad sensory experience of dining that he refers to as Gourmandism, which included extending our sensory experience of dining to responding to the ambiance of the setting and the company of fellow diners. Contemporary scientific research has shown that our enjoyment of food and drink depends neither solely on a single sensory modality (taste) nor on a dual experience of taste and smell. Instead we experience what we eat and drink from a multisensory perspective involving all of our senses.49 Neuroscientific research has confirmed the multisensory connections of input from different sensory modalities in the brain. The research of psychologists such as Charles Spence and others, as well as the research of philosopher Barry C. Smith, has drawn attention to the variety of things in the environment that can affect our gustatory experience.50 In a restaurant, this can include the tablecloth, cutlery, plates, and dishes; how the menu lists the dishes; as well as the setting, lighting, and sounds that create the restaurant’s
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ambiance.51 Other philosophers, like Raymond D. Boisvert, Lisa Heldke, and Nicola Perullo, have proposed multisensory aesthetics of food and have even broadened their theories to include ethical, ecological, and nutritional concerns that influence our experience.52 These broader accounts of the sensory and aesthetic engagement with food oppose the traditional division separating what were considered to be the higher and the lower senses. These recent accounts insist that our experience with food is not restricted to taste and smell but includes all of our senses—and our emotions and intellect too—in our engagement with what we are eating. Those opposed to considering food to have the potential to provide diners with a rich aesthetic experience need to find other arguments to defend the position that food is only perceived and enjoyed with our “lower” senses. While the philosophical debate about whether good cooking or cuisine should be considered a fine art is by no means over, participants in the ongoing debate need to recognize recent research that shows that gustatory experience is multisensory. NOTES 1. Alan Davidson, “Futurist Meals” in The Oxford Companion to Food, ed. Alan Davidson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 327. 2. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” Art & Literature 4 (1965): 193– 201, reprinted in Philosophy of Art: Readings Ancient and Modern, ed. Alex Neill and Aaron Ridley (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995), 110–17. 3. Clive Bell, Art (New York: Capricorn Books, 1958), 17. 4. Bell, Art, 22–24. 5. Bell, Art, 17. 6. D. W. Prall, Aesthetic Analysis (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1967), 48. 7. D. W. Prall, Aesthetic Judgment (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1967), 64. 8. Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, second edition (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987), 98–99. 9. Elizabeth Telfer, Food for Thought: Philosophy and Food (London: Routledge, 1996), 55. 10. Frank Sibley, “Tastes, Smells, and Aesthetics,” in Approach to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics, ed. John Benson et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 228. 11. John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Capricorn Books, 1958), 35–40. 12. Dewey, Art as Experience, 48. 13. Dewey, Art as Experience, 54. 14. Dewey, Art as Experience, 49. 15. Colman Andrews, Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food (New York: Avery, 2011), 136. 16. Jean-Robert Pitte, French Gastronomy: The History of a Passion, trans. Jody Gladding (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 130.
17. See Francine Prose, Gluttony: The Seven Deadly Sins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 77–82. 18. Pitte, French Gastronomy, 149. 19. Pitte, French Gastronomy, 149. 20. Telfer, Food for Thought, 30–31. 21. Telfer, Food for Thought, 38–39. 22. Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 30–37. 23. Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 114, 103–4. 24. Telfer, Food for Thought, 58. 25. Telfer, Food for Thought, 58–60. 26. Telfer, Food for Thought, 60. 27. Gordon M. Shepherd, Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 124, 178. 28. Shepherd analyzes Proust’s response to the tea-soaked madeleine in his book (Shepherd, Neurogastronomy, 174–83). 29. Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 106. 30. Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste, 109. 31. George Dickie, The Art Circle: A Theory of Art (Evanston, IL: Chicago Spectrum Press, 1997), 8. 32. Dickie, The Art Circle, 9. 33. For a sociological perspective on the various art worlds, see Howard S. Becker, Art Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). 34. For an overview of critical discussion of Dickie’s Institutional Theory of Art, see David Graves, “The Institutional Theory of Art—A Survey,” Philosophia 25 (1997): 51–67. 35. Andrews, Ferran, 223–26. 36. Glenn Kuehn, “How Can Food Be Art?” in The Aesthetics of Everyday Life, ed. Andrew Light and Jonathan M. Smith (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 194–212; and Dave Monroe, “Can Food Be Art? The Problem of Consumption” in Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry, ed. Fritz Allhoff and Dave Monroe (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 133–44. 37. Kuehn, “How Can Food Be Art?” 203–4. 38. Kuehn, “How Can Food Be Art?” 205–7. 39. Monroe, “Can Food Be Art?” 136. 40. Bell, Art, 17. 41. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv. 42. Other philosophers have become interested in what is being called the aesthetics of “everyday life,” see Thomas Leddy, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: The Aesthetics of Everyday Life (Buffalo, NY: Broadview Press, 2012); and Yuriko Saito, Everyday Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 43. Lyotard, Postmodern Condition, 76.
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44. Charles Jencks, What is Post-Modernism? 3rd edition (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 14. 45. Jencks, Post-Modernism, 14. 46. Andrews, Ferran, 24. 47. For a view of Ferrran Adrià’s cooking as modernist cuisine, see Russell Pryba, “The Content of Cooking: Modernist Cuisine, Philosophy and Art,” in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 371–79. 48. Jean-Paul Jouary with Ferran Adrià, Ferran Adrià: The Art, The Philosophy, The Gastronomy (New York: Overlook Press, 2014), 83. 49. Charles Spence summarizes the contributions of each of our five senses to gustatory experience in Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating (New York: Viking, 2017), 1–109. 50. See Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014); Charles Spence, Gastrophysics: The New Science of Eating (New York: Viking, 2017); and Barry C. Smith, “Tasting and Liking: Multisensory Flavor Perception and Hedonic Evaluation,” in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 250–60. 51. See Spence and Piqueras-Fiszman, The Perfect Meal, 37–337. 52. See Raymond D. Boisvert, I Eat, Therefore, I Think (Lanham, MD: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014); Raymond D. Boisvert and Lisa Heldke, Philosophers at Table: On Food and Being Human (London: Reaktion Books, 2016); and Nicola Perullo, Taste as Experience: The Philosophy and Aesthetics of Food (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).
The pleasures of drinking wine made from grapes, a fruit containing a very high concentration of sugar, began and can be traced back to around 7000 BCE. There is archeological evidence from that time that grapes were grown and vinified in the Zagros Mountains of Armenia and Iran.1 Wine was eventually exported often by boat throughout the Fertile Crescent. Although wine as an imported commodity was an expensive tipple as opposed to the local beer, it had developed a following among the aristocracies of the region. Babylonian and Assyrian monarchs served wine in their palaces at royal celebrations.2 At the time of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s rule, grapes were now grown in Egypt, and there were wineries that specialized in producing both white and red wines as well as sweet wines. The burial chamber of Tutankhamen (1322 BCE) contained many amphorae of his favorite wines; each vessel was sealed and inscribed with the winemaker’s name and the name of the vineyard from which it came. Tutankhamen’s tomb also contained his alabaster wine chalice fashioned in the shape of a lotus blossom.3 Eventually, wine was adopted by the Greeks and Romans and its use spread throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe. Despite its early and continuing popularity, in the popular mind, wine tasting has often been thought of as a subjective, idiosyncratic pleasure, masquerading behind a false façade of expertise. Who is to say that the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that I am swirling in my glass has, in fact, the flavors of “coffee” or “blackberry”? Does that Sancerre, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, that I have poured for you really possess a mineral middle range, a stony quality, accented with nuances of flint and steel? And do these claims have any objective foundation or are they nothing more than personal opinions or idiosyncratic associations?4 167
Philosophers, too, have often been skeptical of claims about a wine’s aesthetic character. While acknowledging that a glass of wine could contribute to our enjoying the conversation of other persons, Immanuel Kant thought that the pleasures of tasting wine were only personal and idiosyncratic.5 If someone thinks that a wine from the Canary Islands is exquisite, Kant claims that such a judgment is no more than a personal preference, one without any objective support. Others need not share that view.6 One of the reasons that Kant held that critical judgments about food and drink registered only personal preferences is that he thought that our senses of taste and smell were “more subjective than objective, that is, the idea obtained from them is more a representation of enjoyment than of cognition of the external object.”7 Matters of gustatory taste, our sensory acquaintance with what we orally ingest, he thought, were matters of personal pleasure: our judgments about wine and food were not cognitive appraisals of objects but indicators of our individual pleasurable experiences or taste preferences. SCRUTON ON TASTE AND SMELL Even with recent aestheticians’ interest in gustatory taste and smell and in alimentary experience in general,8 there are still philosophers who believe that wine tasting is concerned with the taster’s own subjective enjoyment rather than an experience with an aesthetic object. For example, Roger Scruton has argued, Vision and hearing, unlike taste and smell, may sometimes be forms of objective contemplation. In tasting and smelling I contemplate not the object but the experience derived from it. A further distinguishing feature might also be mentioned, which is that in tasting, both the object and the desire for it are steadily consumed. No such thing is true of aesthetic attention.9
Wine tasting, on Scruton’s view, is excluded from being an aesthetic activity because it yields an “object-less” pleasure. Vision and hearing offer cognitive and aesthetic encounters with their respective objects, but Scruton claims taste and smell do not. Yet there is something very counterintuitive about Scruton’s position that in wine tasting there is no aesthetic consideration of an object. Wine is something tangible; the wine that I taste is an empirical object. The object that I see in my wine glass, savoring its fruity aroma, is the same object that I taste on my palate, hear and feel as I roll it around in my mouth. It is an object that I sense with all of my senses. Can it really be the case that we are not encountering an object and at least on some occasions having an aesthetic experience with it? It certainly seems that we are engaged
with an object and are having what might be described as a phenomenological encounter with that object in the world. In a recent book on wine, I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine, Scruton has continued to hold to the view that a perceiver can have a visual or aural aesthetic encounter with an object, but a perceiver using taste and smell is not able to have an aesthetic encounter with an object.10 At the same time, he has shown himself to have a superb palate for appreciating wine, honed from having been the wine critic for The New Statesman, and from many years of drinking great wines. Given Scruton’s expertise and critical familiarity with wine, his view that a taster does not engage with a wine as an object is rather hard to accept, let alone, understand. Scruton, claims that “while the art critics describe works of art, wine critics describe tastes, and wines are not represented in their tastes as artworks are represented in the way they look or sound.”11 He argues that an object’s visual and aural qualities represent that object—they refer to actual properties of the object—while the gustatory and olfactory qualities we sense do not represent the wine. He claims, We speak of smelling a cushion, but the smell is not a quality of the cushion. It is a thing emitted by the cushion, that could exist without the cushion, and indeed does exist in a space where the cushion is not—the space around the cushion. Hence smells linger in the places where their causes have departed. . . . I don’t “sniff through” the smell to the thing that smells, for the thing is not represented in its smell in the way that it is represented in its visual appearance.12
Scruton proposes that when one smells and tastes a wine, one does not, as he says, “sniff through” to the wine itself because the gustatory and olfactory qualities are separate from their stimulus object. For Scruton, wine is not an aesthetic object because it is not experienced as an object; it is only experienced as a set of tastes, smells, and perhaps other qualities. First, Scruton’s position is questionable, that we need to distinguish the object-connected sensory properties of sight and sound from what are only the subject-experienced properties of smell and taste. While it is certainly true that a smell can linger after the object that has caused the smell has disappeared or ceased to exist, the same can be said about visual and aural qualities of objects. Presumably, when we gaze at the stars, not all the bright twinkles that we see come from stars that still exist. It is likely that we see light from stars that no longer exist. The same is true with sounds. We see the lightning flash and then disappear, but only later do we hear the sound of thunder produced by the lightning flash. Echoes also persist after the cause of the sound has ceased. I shout, and after I have stopped shouting, I then hear my echo reverberate from one wall of the canyon to the other. Thus, there is no good
reason to distinguish sights and sounds from tastes and smells because the latter can be separated from their objects. Sights and sounds can be separated from their objects, too. Second, Scruton claims that smells—and presumably tastes too—“linger in the places where their causes have departed.” On his view, I might swallow a wine, and its taste and smell linger on my palate, and in their lingering I experience only the smells and tastes, but not the wine. While it is certainly true that tastes and smells can linger, sometimes they can appear very much connected to their object when we quickly respond to their causal stimulus. With the glass of white Sancerre under my nose, I quickly register its grassy scent, and when I then sip the wine I quickly sense fruit and acidity. This quick sensory response to the wine on my palate suggests that we do sense “through” what we smell and taste and ascribe those sensory qualities to the wine. While Scruton does not urge the following view, one reason that one might consider more favorably Scruton’s distinguishing the qualities of sight from those of smell is that there are some qualitative differences between the wine that we gaze at in the glass and the wine that we go on to sip and swallow. As a visual object, the wine in the glass does not exhibit all of the properties it will eventually reveal—or warrant the evaluation it will receive—once the wine is tasted. The wine in the glass has only the dispositional or potential qualities that hopefully will emerge once the wine is ingested. Of course, scent, temperature, and possibly other aspects unite the visual and gustatory object: we smell the wine in an orthonasal way before we sip it and then sense its flavors in a retronasal way. However, because of the temporal process of ingesting, the wine’s qualities as experienced on the palate, unless one is sipping a very simple wine, might not have the qualitative integrity that the visual object and its qualities have. Because of the temporally extended series of qualities of a complex wine, in order to evaluate the wine one needs to recall and structurally integrate all of the wine’s qualities that were sensed during the different ingesting stages. Do the qualitative differences between the wine that is seen and the wine that is tasted pose some problems that Scruton might be hinting at, problems that are worth exploring? Perhaps there is another way to think about the difference between the way we experience visual and aural objects and how we experience objects like wine that we taste and encounter in our bodies. With visual and aural objects, there is a common object that two or more people can both perceive. However, the wine that an individual ingests is sensed on that individual’s palate, but does that private interior acquaintance create a problem? Of course, it could be that the wine that two people sip might have been poured from the same bottle, which would present a common object to their palates. Or does gustatory experience by its nature have an ingrained subjectivity to
it that would resist one’s thinking of the ingested wine, even from the same bottle, as a common object? Is Scruton right that our experience with a wine is not with the object itself because there are obstacles to encountering the object? HUME’S WINE-TASTING EXAMPLE RECONSIDERED A good place to start to address these issues is with Hume’s example that he adapts from Don Quixote about Sancho Panza’s wine-tasting kinsmen. This was the example that was discussed in the section on Hume in an earlier chapter. One of Hume’s goals is to counter a skeptical position about the possibility of making objective evaluations of wine. The example poses the situation in which each kinsman tastes and evaluates the wine. One of them pronounces the wine to be good but for a fault of a taste of iron; the other also pronounces the wine to be good but for the fault of a taste of leather. Both kinsmen are laughed at because of their finding different faults but in the end are vindicated when a key with leather thong is found on emptying the barrel. 13 In many respects, Hume’s example is bizarre as far as wine tasting is concerned. Nevertheless, in its peculiarity it invites questioning about the fundamental aesthetic character of wine tasting and prompts us to search for a more adequate response to the wine skeptic. The example is troublesome for the following reasons. Certainly, each kinsman respectively senses a minute quantity of leather or of iron in the wine, and Hume claims that the mark of a good palate is the ability to sense minute quantities of ingredients and to make fine discriminations about the ingredients tasted. “A good palate,” he says, “is not tried by strong flavours; but by a mixture of small ingredients, where we are still sensible of each part, notwithstanding its minuteness and its confusion with the rest.”14 Yet Hume does not explain how the sensing of minute ingredients fits into the overall evaluation of a wine. How is sensing iron or leather related to judging a wine to be good-but-for-the-taste-of-x? How does sensing leather or iron connect with recognizing these qualities to be faults and with judging the overall evaluative quality of the wine? Hume’s apparent answer is that the “true judge,” possessing a practiced skill, fine sensory ability, and unbiased outlook, can taste a wine and after due consideration render an objective evaluative judgment. Yet the example also gives a very unusual proof of that expertise. Sancho’s kinsmen are laughed at because they offer differing verdicts about the wine, when objectivity would seem to require a uniform judgment. However, the proof that vindicates the kinsmen’s judgment, the key with the leather thong, gives a generally misleading account of the nature of warranting a judgment about wine.
The key-with-the-leather-thong proof is misleading because it suggests that sensing a minute quality in a wine will have an objective correlate that will support a claim that the wine has that quality. However, can we expect that a claim to taste a grapefruit quality in a Sauvignon blanc will be supported by a grapefruit section or peel either being in or at one time having been in the wine? Hume’s proof seems to take a very unusual situation—the key with the leather thong supporting the kinsmen’s judgments—as a paradigm for the kind of support usually available for verdicts about wine. In the example, the form of the proof seems to be that there is some substance in the wine that the wine judges sense and identify. If one independently finds that substance in the wine or its container, one has confirmed the wine judge’s claim or verdict. So, one kinsman, on the basis of tasting the wine, claims the wine to have a taste of iron, and a piece of iron is found in the wine barrel confirming the judgment. The other kinsman tastes leather, and a piece of leather is found confirming his judgment. (There is also the suggestion that iron and leather are extraneous elements that are not natural components of wine.) ANALYTIC REALISM Although I have found Hume’s example to be troublesome, there is some initial plausibility to the view that there is this kind of objective support for our claims about what we taste in a wine. For example, imagine that you taste a Chardonnay and say, “This wine is very oaky. The oak dominates the taste of the wine, and I don’t taste much else.” We come to learn that the wine was stored in new oak barrels, the wine was from a poor year, the grapes didn’t fully ripen, and so the wine has little extract to counteract the oak. You have tasted the oak in the wine because that quality (the oaky taste) comes from the oak staves of the barrels. Instead of there being a moderate amount of oak, which with another wine might have provided some structure to support the wine’s complex qualities, the oak, in this example, obliterates any sense of structure and overwhelms whatever qualities the wine might have had. In this Chardonnay-tasting example, one probably doesn’t need the fine discriminating palate of the kinsmen to taste the oak. (I have heard people say on tasting a very oaky Chardonnay that it was like “chewing on boards.”) You taste the oak because it comes from the barrel; the kinsmen taste the iron and the leather because it comes from the key and thong. Both of the examples illustrate tasting extraneous qualities, but one can also find examples concerned with tasting qualities intrinsic to the wine. For example, you taste a young red wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and say, “I’m getting a taste of green pepper in this wine.” Unlike the kinsmen
example and the oak-in-the-Chardonnay example, this example is not about sensing an extraneous element in the wine. No pieces of green pepper have been added to the Cabernet; however, there is a chemical in the Cabernet, one of the methoxypyrazines, which is also found in green peppers and causes green peppers to taste the way they do.15 When you taste the Cabernet and sense “green pepper,” it is quite likely that you are registering the presence of this green-pepper-tasting chemical. Consider another example of intrinsic tasting. You taste a young Chardonnay and say, “There is a green-apple crispness to this wine.” Very likely this is a wine that has not undergone a full malolactic fermentation, and you are sensing the malic acid in the wine, the same acid that gives apples their crisp apple-like characteristic taste. Let us call this view of tasting analytic realism. According to analytic realism, “in tasting, the taster believes, on the basis of experiencing a sensed gustatory quality which admits of a certain label, that she or he is registering the actual stimulus agent that produces that quality. And, the taster believes that the stimulus agent can be accurately identified with the label.” One needn’t be able to label the component scientifically—one does not have to know that one is sensing malic acid—but it should be clear from what is said that you believe that the sour taste that is being sensed is produced by a stimulus agent in the wine. Furthermore, you believe that the stimulus agent is sour. Of course, making these discriminations requires some sensory acuity and some familiarity with the qualities sensed. Thus, Sancho’s kinsmen are exercising a realistic analytic ability in tasting the hogshead. They respectively sense iron and leather, and what they sense is actually in the wine. The analytic realist might very well recognize that our sensory impressions can be illusory or that we might be flat out mistaken in our sensory report. So, someone says, “I taste vanilla in this Pinot Noir,” and on the basis of that sensory report claims that someone has put vanilla extract in the wine. This person has not realized that some oak barrels impart a vanilla quality to the wine. The problem with analytic realism is that not all the qualities that we impute to the wine when we taste it are qualities that accurately share a label with the stimulus agent in the wine. In fact, there are a great many qualities that we claim to sense in a wine, which have labels that do not accurately describe the stimulus agents that produce the taste qualities. In Alice in Wonderland (1865), Lewis Carroll playfully looks at what might be recognized as familiar wine-tasting terms, all of which have no analytic realistic reference. The following example occurs when Alice picks up a little bottle labeled “Drink Me.” On drinking the bottle, she found that it had “a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast.”16 Consider another example that resembles, yet is quite different from, the example of Sancho’s wine-tasting kinsmen. Someone says, “When I taste this wine, I taste leather, and I am getting a metallic taste as well.” Now
sometimes there is copper or iron in a wine, and one might taste the metal, in which case we have an instance of analytic realistic tasting; however, usually there aren’t any noticeable metallic qualities in the wine when it is claimed to have a metallic taste. So, let’s suppose that there is no metal or leather in the wine or in the barrel in which the wine was stored. Should we immediately dismiss this report as being no more than idiosyncratic association? I think not. There might be justification for making this claim even though there is no metal or leather in the wine. First of all, there is an accepted view that low-alcohol wines harvested from unripe grapes will often have a “metallic” taste. It is the tannin from these unripe grapes that we taste as being metallic. “Tinny” is the label that wine tasters usually reserve for this quality.17 Second, “leather” is not an unusual quality to taste in red wines, particularly in some wines made from Rhône varietals and especially in some Nebbiolos from Italy’s Piedmont region. The taste of leather is produced by the extract in the wine made from grapes from those varietals. Both sensed qualities, “leather” and “metal,” are not caused by leather or metal but by other agents that we would not identify as “leather” or “metal.” This is not an unusual example in wine tasting. Wine tasters regularly report all sorts of tastes for which there is no actual stimulus agent accurately describable with that same qualitative label. They taste white or black pepper, licorice, mint, melon, figs, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, lychee nuts, coffee, cedar, tar, violets, and a great many other qualities. Young high-extract Rieslings are often claimed to have a “petrol” character, yet there is no petrochemical agent that causes the taster to register that quality. Tasters regularly report sensing grass, flint, and a “feral” quality often identified as “cat pee” in Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire.18 Other tasters report what some have euphemistically referred to as “barnyard” qualities— the standard French label is merde de cheval—in red Burgundies from Nuits-Saint-Georges. None of these labeled sensed qualities can be said to identify accurately a stimulus agent in the wine, and wine tasters rarely believe that such qualities accurately identify a substance in the wine. One is not going to hear tasters who have identified a Loire Sauvignon Blanc as having a “cat pee” quality say, “They need to keep the kitties out of the chai where they store the wine barrels.” Or, after noting a “barnyard” quality in a young Burgundy, say, “I think that this vineyard has gone overboard with its organic fertilizer program.” And one should not jump to the conclusion that these sensing reports amount to negative evaluations of the respective wines. These terms are not usually used as abbreviated negative evaluations. They are usually used to pick out a quality in the wine. Of course, if these qualities dominate and overwhelm a wine’s other sensory aspects and if they occur in wines that do not conform to the regional stylistic parameters appropriate for that wine, they might very well be sensed as faults.
ANALYTIC INTERPRETIVISM One should not conclude that what these examples that fall outside the scope of the analytic realistic perspective on wine tasting show is that there is no cognitive basis for such sensory reports and judgments based on such reports. In many cases, these are not baseless claims. There is some cognitive basis for these particular sensory reports. Nevertheless, with examples like these, one should be prepared to accept them as occurring within a range of similar sensory qualities produced by a stimulus agent rather than restricted to a single sensory effect. For example, someone might report sensing a blackberry quality in a wine, and one would probably be responding to the fruity character of the wine. Others might report blackcurrants, cassis, or even raspberries, all qualities that fall within a range of generally similar tasting fruits. There have been several different proposals for grouping similar tastes together in distinctive categories. Tasters might be familiar with these guides and use them to label what is being sensed. For example, some schema distinguish among other qualities a wine’s floral, woody, vegetative, spicy, and different kinds of fruity (berry, citrus, tropical, dried) qualities.19 I am going to label this secondary group of examples as instances not of analytic realism but of analytic interpretivism. Under analytic interpretivism, a taster might attribute a sensed quality to a wine yet that quality not be an actual quality of the wine. That is, the labeled quality wouldn’t also accurately label the stimulus agent in the wine. One might say, “I taste lychee nuts or grapefruit in this Sauvignon Blanc.” Yet there might be no stimulus agent that is common to both the wine and to lychee nuts and to grapefruit. I call these examples instances of analytic interpretivism because they call for an imaginative act on the part of the taster. The taster must come up with an imaginative interpretation that is apt, that fits within the correct sensory category, but within that category there is room for interpretation. For example, when a wine, say a Chardonnay, undergoes malolactic fermentation, the crisper malic acid changes into the softer lactic acid. One of the by-products of malolactic fermentation is a chemical substance called “diacetyl,” which tasters often register as having a buttery taste. Diacetyl is not butter, but when butter starts to turn rancid diacetyl is produced. Diacetyl is often used as an artificial butter flavoring. So, in the context of other flavors and qualities of the wine, a taster might interpret a wine with diacetyl as having a buttery taste. Yet, depending on the concentration of the chemical, some tasters might not taste the wine as being buttery but instead label the taste as caramel, or butterscotch, or even honey.20 However, if a taster seemed to identify diacetyl as having a minty taste, a taste well out of the range of flavors usually associated with diacetyl, one would question the taster’s sensitivity or acumen.
In their book The Aesthetics of Wine, Douglas Burnham and Ole Martin Skilleås offer the view that this interpretive vocabulary (e.g., lychees or grapefruit), what they term as metaphors, can have a socially influenced origin. They point out that “the descriptive terms for such scents may hide a metaphor, but one that has become so generally accepted that we no longer notice its metaphorical quality. Our point is that such terms clearly function for groups of wine tasters, and thus point to social activities of tasting and talking about wine.”21 Their point is a good one. Often tasters do adopt metaphorical ascriptions on the basis of their familiarity with the use of those terms by other tasters or by their regular use by those considered expert in the field. As Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson has argued and as was discussed in a previous chapter, accepted critical discourse—in this instance about wine—has a way of molding responses and creating a uniformity among knowledgeable tasters’ experiences. While uniformity is not the ideal standard of objectivity, these ascriptions are not idiosyncratic. However, there is still the issue of how particular terms gained currency among a group of tasters: Who was the first critic to use that term and was responsible for establishing its use? Was that person’s coining of the term an analytic interpretation? Do particular labels established by critics recognized as authorities preclude having one’s own interpretation of a wine’s qualities? Even in the case of terms that have been established and gained acceptance, there is often some leeway in how to interpret the quality picked out by the metaphorical label. A recent example is the term, white flower, used to describe white wines. While one might gather from the way that the term has been repeatedly used to describe particular white wines that there is a specific meaning, there is still a vague aspect about it. There are many different species of plants that have white flowers; some have very different scents. A gardenia flower has a very different scent from an apple blossom. Kent Bach has weighed in on the issue and urges a certain caution given the challenging nature of specifying a particular flavor, trying to pin down the aesthetic or even the descriptive properties of particular wines. Tasting notes, suggestive and evocative as they can be, can vary considerably from one critic to another, and it is not clear that the various descriptors critics use really get at the qualities tasters encounter. Tastes and smells are generally described in terms of what they are the tastes and smells of, such as asparagus, black cherries, jasmine, licorice, and roses. So we might wonder, do the terms critics and other tasters use genuinely describe the wine or merely identify salient similarities or even vague associations between the wine and familiar items with characteristic tastes or smells?22
With these concerns in mind, how do wine tasters come to make a judgment about a wine? In examining Hume’s example of Sancho’s kinsmen, it seems the kinsmen are exercising a fine “realistic analytic” acuity and are using that as the basis for their judgment. Nevertheless, realistic analysis is not the major model for discerning and evaluating a wine, and, for that reason, Hume’s example is not very informative about most critical judgments about wine. Yet, Hume’s example poses the problem of what exactly is the basis for a critical appreciation and evaluation of a wine. Is it based on approaching the object with realistic analytic acuity? Is it an imaginative or interpretive exercise? Or, is it some combination of several approaches? I think it is the latter. Perhaps the skeptic about wine appreciation focuses exclusively on the imaginative aspect of tasting and concludes that these interpretative efforts show up the personal, idiosyncratic character of taste. Believing that wine tasting involves only a personal interpretation, the skeptic might conclude that there is no public object of appreciation—wine appreciation is an object-less pleasure. Nevertheless, our appreciative tasting is not an unrestricted, free- associational interpretation. There is a basis of realistic identifications that tasters make use of, and a taster’s interpretations should be both consistent with those realistic reports and fall within a particular range of appropriate qualities. Certainly, I do not think that when we interpret what we taste, such an interpretive activity should count against our having an aesthetic encounter with the wine. In our experience with most artistic genres, we believe it appropriate to interpret the works of art we experience. We interpret novels, poems, plays, movies, paintings, sculptures, etc. Works in these genres and media have realistic bases in accordance with which we build our interpretations, and so do wines. The overall problem with Hume’s example as a model for appreciative wine tasting is its exclusive analytic realistic perspective on wine tasting. There is no question that an analytic attitude aimed at identifying the qualities we taste is an important part of our whole tasting experience; however, it is not the sole major activity of appreciative ingesting. Analytic imaginative tasting also has a significant role to play. Appreciative tasting is not restricted to finding one or more components, in great or minute quantities, which are faults, or even positive elements, in the wine. Neither is our pleasurable experience with a wine nor the wine’s overall evaluative quality simply due to its having particular identifiable components. Consider the presence of volatile acidity (VA, i.e., vinegar) in a wine: this usually is a major fault in a wine, but not always. Artisanally crafted wines from the Langhe region in Italy’s Piedmont, classic old-style Barolos, sometimes have a little VA in their extravagant middle range of violets, leather, tar, and a variety of red and dark fruits. The presence of VA adds to the complexity of the wine.
In a series of essays, Barry C. Smith argues against a subjectivist view of wine by urging that a distinction be made between the hedonic experience tasting a wine, whether the taster likes or dislikes the wine, and the sensing of the qualities of the wine. As he points out, “we need to distinguish between the hedonics of eating and drinking and perception of the flavours of what we’re eating and drinking . . . [and] while liking may be part of, or an accompaniment to, the experience of tasting, it is not part of a food or liquid’s taste.”23 As Smith argues, the liking or disliking of what is being tasted is ascribed to the subject who is doing the tasting; the flavor is ascribed to the object that is being tasted. However, he is also concerned to show that there are physiological and psychological reasons why an individual’s perception of a flavor might not be an accurate perception of that flavor. Making use of recent neuroscientific and psychological research on the multisensory nature of gustatory experience, Smith is able to appeal to norms about the discernment of flavors. These norms about the recognition of flavor are similar to norms about the recognition of qualities in other senses such as colors. Thus, Smith claims that with normative standards for the perception of flavors, and physiological or psychological explanations about why someone might not accurately perceive the flavor, one should not conclude that the perception of flavor is idiosyncratic. “There is widespread agreement,” he points out, “about whether something has the flavor of onion, beef, lamb, chicken, mint, cinnamon, coconut, peach, pear, strawberry, or mango.”24 THE SYNTHETIC CHARACTER OF WINE TASTING Wine tasting is a temporal activity that requires one to take a synthetic attitude to what one ingests. One needs to taste in a way that synthesizes or brings together the variety of tastes that are registered at different stages of the gustatory experience. These various stages of the ingesting process one needs to link together to form the aesthetic object of the wine. The process of wine tasting follows no one particular track that exhibits a single stylistic character.25 Nevertheless, our common organs and processes of alimentary ingesting (i.e., our tasting and swallowing what we ingest) dictate a certain general sequence of encounters with a wine. Before the wine enters one’s mouth, one engages with its color as one looks at it in the glass and with its aroma as one lifts the glass to one’s lips. As one sips the wine, there are three major stages of the tasting experience: the initial encounter with the wine, primarily in the front of one’s mouth; the middle stage in which the bitter or phenolic qualities of the wine come out in the back of one’s mouth; and finally the finish, after one swallows, in which the wine’s flavors often change and develop as they linger.26 Despite the uniform sequence of ingesting and tasting, there is
no single tasting template to which all wines conform, and there is no single standard by which all wines should be judged. There are stylistic differences among wines that have to be recognized in our tasting experience and in our assessment of them. Wines of different styles are ingested and experienced in different ways on one’s palate. The aesthetic ingesting of wine is more like attending to music than contemplating a painting. In tasting a wine of a particular sort, we follow a physiological prescription as to the order in which we encounter the flavors and other aesthetic features of what we have ingested. The wine we taste, however visually appealing, is presented to our palates in a specific temporal sequence that is dependent upon the physiological character of our organs of alimentation. Rather than a quick hedonic reaction, our experience with wine requires an extended encounter, of greater or lesser duration, depending on the particular type of wine. On bringing the wine to our lips, we proceed through an ordered ingesting sequence. For example, a Spanish Albariño from Galicia starts off with a series of floral notes, there is a mineral range in the middle, and it ends with a dry finish. Because of the way a wine of a particular style registers on the palate as one proceeds through the ingesting stages, one can prescribe how one should taste the wine. For example, a white wine like a Muscadet from France’s western Loire presents itself initially as a light crisp taste that is followed by a middle range of mineral qualities. It is a wonderful wine with shellfish because it cleanses the palate without dominating the subtle tastes of the seafood. This pairing of food and wine complement each other. To taste this wine expecting great complexity and a long and evolving finish would be to misperceive the wine’s functional character. These different stylistic qualities and distinctive functional characteristics need to be acknowledged in our experience and evaluation of wine. The skeptic who thinks that the pleasure we take in wine is either an idiosyncratic preference or an object-less reflexive experience does not recognize the stylistic parameters and functional nature of the wine being ingested. The skeptic also fails to recognize the legitimate but measured nature of our imaginative investment in what we taste, an investment in a distinctive temporal object, realistically analyzed, imaginatively interpreted, and synthetically unified. Wine tasting is not an objectless pleasure; it is a realistic and imaginative encounter with a gustatory object. Barry Smith has also weighed in on the assessment of a wine, evaluating it on the basis of properties such as its balance or finesse. Smith argues that evaluative qualities such as balance and finesse depend on a relationship among several objective features of a wine such as its fruit, acidity, alcohol, and other substances, depending upon the kind of wine being evaluated.27 Smith advocates that a quality like finesse should be considered an objective
quality of the wine, but “one identified solely by the quality of experiences it gives rise to in us.”28 What one needs to establish are “statistically normal perceivers” within certain cultural parameters and to determine whether a person fitting within such a parameter is “a reasonably reliable taster.”29 While a good judge might be someone who fits within the normative parameter, such a person also has to have the experience to have developed an expertise in evaluating the relevant wines. Yet, specifying that an individual fit within such normative parameters is a good starting point for determining a good judge, and it certainly blocks a skeptic’s claim that evaluation is a subjective personal whimsical assessment. Cain Todd also considers how one might describe and evaluate a wine as being balanced. He would agree with Smith that at a minimal level there are “certain empirical thresholds governing balance in wine” and one needs to be sensitive to the basic components in the wine that affect its balance. However, since balance is as an evaluative term, we “need also to make reference to the evaluative experiences of drinkers.”30 This is because a person making a judgment about a wine’s balance will need to have certain knowledge about and familiarity with the wine. Different kinds of wine will need to be evaluated in different ways. Finally, what is significant about the debate among philosophers as to the aesthetic character and the evaluation of wine is that there is considerable interest in arguing for the objectivity of taste; however, there is some difference of opinion in how the description and experience of the wine, as well as its evaluation, can fit in with that objective framework. NOTES 1. Patrick E. McGovern, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 82. 2. McGovern, Uncorking the Past, 113–15. 3. Leonard H. Lesko, King Tut’s Wine Cellar (Berkeley, CA: B.C. Scribe, 1977), 22–45. 4. Portions of this chapter are based on an earlier essay, Kevin W. Sweeney, “Is There Coffee or Blackberry in My Wine?” in Wine & Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking, ed. Fritz Allhoff (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 205–18. 5. Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (1798), ed. and trans. Robert B. Louden, intro. Manfred Kuehn (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 46, 51, 63–64. 6. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment (1790), trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987), 55. 7. Kant, Anthropology, 46. 8. The foremost recent work on gustatory taste is Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).
9. Roger Scruton, The Aesthetics of Architecture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979), 114. 10. Roger Scruton, I Drink Therefore I Am: A Philosopher’s Guide to Wine (London: Continuum, 2009). 11. Scruton, I Drink Therefore I Am, 124. 12. Scruton, I Drink Therefore I Am, 121. 13. David Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” in Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Classics, 1987), 234–35. 14. Hume, “Of the Standard of Taste,” 236. 15. The chemical is 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine. See Marian W. Baldy, The University Wine Course (San Francisco, CA: The Wine Appreciation Guild, 1997), 39; and Andrew Sharp, Winetaster’s Secrets (Toronto, Canada: Warwick, 1995), 88. I have benefited from lectures on wine tasting given at University of California-Davis by John Buechsenstein and Ann C. Noble. 16. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland: Authoritative Texts of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Through the Looking-Glass,” “The Hunting of the Snark,” ed. Donald J. Gray (New York: Norton Critical Edition, 2013), 11. 17. “When tannins are green, from unripe grapes, or are at aggressive levels in a wine that is fairly young, and the wine is acidic and thin, a metallic taste can easily be generated. Though no metals are involved, the wine can actually become ‘tinny’ to the taste.” Sharp, Winetaster’s Secrets, 100, 187. 18. In her book on Loire wines, Jacqueline Friedrich writes: “Ever since I began tasting wine seriously I have felt that many Sauvignon Blancs had an aroma of cat’s pee. As revolting as this sounds, it is not a disagreeable scent in a wine. It’s a pungent, vegetal aroma with a bit of something feral in it. If you’ve ever had a close relationship with a cat, you’ll probably agree that the image is apt” (A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire [New York: Henry Holt, 1996], 62). 19. A popular and easy-to-use schematic aid to identify ranges of taste qualities is “The Wine Aroma Wheel” pioneered by Ann C. Noble and others. See Baldy, University Wine Course, 33. The classic ten-category schema is that proposed by Emile Peynaud, The Taste of Wine: The Art and Science of Wine Appreciation, trans. Michael Schuster (San Francisco, CA: The Wine Appreciation Guild, 1987), 48. 20. “A little imagination can find a wide range of rich, complex and familiar smells in wine” (Peynaud, The Taste of Wine, 48). 21. Douglas Burnham and Ole Martin Skilleås, The Aesthetics of Wine (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 24. 22. Kent Bach, “Review of Douglas Burnham and Ole Martin Skilleås, The Aesthetics of Wine,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71 (2013), 389. 23. Barry C. Smith, “Tasting and Liking: Multisensory Flavor Perception and Hedonic Evaluation,” in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink, ed. Carolyn Korsmeyer (New York: Bloomsbury, 2017), 250. 24. Smith, “Tasting and Liking,” 258. 25. For a more developed account of this synthetic character of wine tasting, see Kevin W. Sweeney, “Alice’s Discriminating Palate,” Philosophy and Literature 23 (1999): 17–31.
26. I need to clarify that I am not urging a “tasting map” theory of gustatory experience. That is, I am not claiming that we taste particular qualities at and only at particular sites on our palate. As was explained in an earlier chapter, the tasting map account would claim, for example, that we taste sweet qualities on the tip of our tongue and bitter qualities at the back of our tongue. This is a scientifically discredited theory. We taste the range of basic qualities all over our palate. We do not just taste sweet qualities on the tip of our tongue. One can also taste the bitter qualities of aspirin on the tip of one’s tongue. See Baldy, University Wine Course, 24. Nevertheless, we register basic tastes at different temporal rates: we taste sweet qualities sooner than bitter qualities which take some time to develop on our palate. See Sharp, Winetaster’s Secrets, 47. 27. Barry C. Smith, “The Objectivity of Tastes and Tasting,” in Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine, ed. Barry C. Smith (Oxford: Signal Books, 2007), 65–66. 28. Smith, “Objectivity of Tastes,” 66. 29. Smith, “Objectivity of Tastes,” 66. 30. Cain Todd, The Philosophy of Wine: A Case of Truth, Beauty and Intoxication (Durham, UK: Acumen, 2010), 67–68.
The Philosophical Debate about the Aesthetics of Food
The philosophical debate over whether prepared food is the sort of cultural phenomenon that can be the object of a rich aesthetic appreciation has been the overall focus of the preceding chapters. The opening chapter described the amazing rise and reception of Ferran Adrià’s cuisine at El Bulli. That rise posed a question as to what was so distinctive about Adrià’s cooking that it should have led to the phenomenal aesthetic interest in his cuisine. French philosopher Jean-Paul Jouary sought to explain the challenging nature of Adrià’s cuisine and describe the ways in which it was savored. He concluded that Adrià was an artist, one joining the pantheon of artists from other genres of the art world. Jouary’s conclusion needs to be understood in the context of the philosophical debate about whether cuisine was worthy of a rich aesthetic appreciation and whether it was the sort of phenomenon that could be described as an artistic work. The remaining chapters of the book were ordered chronologically from the first presentation of the sides of the debate to present-day statements of the opposing positions. The goal was to clarify the philosophical positions that led up to Jouary’s conclusion. The successive historical stages of the debate were framed by how the respective societies viewed and prepared food and the extent to which the role of prepared food in those societies supported or opposed the stated philosophical positions. The debate began in early antiquity by raising questions about the relation of food to human beings’ having a developed and sophisticated mental life. Did food play a constitutive role in the creation or maintenance of a rational mentality? Or, was it only an accidental feature of our developing a rational mind? In addition, this concern about the nature of our mentality sought to clarify how we came to make aesthetic judgments that certain objects were beautiful. Could fine food 183
have an aesthetic character worthy of the kind of appreciation that would be directed to works of art? The concern about the relation of food to human mental life can be seen as one of the core topics in some of the earliest narratives created by human beings. The epic of Gilgamesh relates a narrative in which one of the major civilizing factors in the transition of Enkidu from wild creature to civilized human being with a moral sense was his learning to eat and enjoy bread and beer, the culinary products of a civilized Sumerian society. Contemporary anthropology also weighed in on the question of what caused us to evolve from ape-like Australopithecine creatures to our present-day species of Homo sapiens: Was a diet of cooked food a significant causal influence in the evolutionary transformation of our species? Although this is a topic of fairly recent anthropological research, it was also a topic of a much earlier philosophical debate. In the fifth century BCE, Plato argued against the view that the food that cooks created was constitutive of human rational life. In fact, he claimed that it posed a threat to our rational mentality. It did not promote philosophy. Giving in to a desire to enjoy a chef’s culinary extravagances led to gluttony and a deterioration of health. For Plato, cooking was not an art or craft dedicated to the good or health of a person; instead, it was only a knack for producing a debilitating pleasure. Opposed to the Platonic rejection of the benefits of enjoying fine cooking, Epicurus advocated that fine food could be a catalyst for gathering intellectually curious people together and encouraging them to engage in thoughtful dialogue. In this debate about the role of fine food and drink in society, people at the time had certain theoretical beliefs, which were rather limited, about the nature of taste and smell and the kinds of sensory experiences that they could register during alimentation. Taking a different approach to the benefit of food, Aristotle advocated the view that eating a healthy diet promoted the good life, which he believed was achieved by adopting a mean position between the poles of gluttony and gustatory insensitivity. However, Aristotle, like Plato, had a limited understanding of the sensory experiences involved in alimentation. A glimmer indicating a broader understanding of the sensory nature of alimentation and a recognition of the richer experiences to be had with fine food could be seen in the traditions—sometimes extravagant traditions—of Roman and Greek dining practices. In antiquity, the standard for the evaluation of objects of critical appreciation was whether the object of interest was beautiful. Plato thought that the appearance of the beautiful could only be perceived with one’s eyes and ears. That Platonic position continued to be the requirement for perceiving the beautiful for centuries. Aristotle introduced imitation as a focus of critical
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interest; however, he too thought that the pleasures of perceiving both the beautiful and a well-wrought imitation of something were reserved for sight and hearing, not for taste and smell. Medieval views about the nature of critical experience and objects of beauty were dominated by religious beliefs about the evils of bodily pleasures, which would only corrupt people and prevent them from seeking an otherworldly salvation. Nevertheless, there were philosophers like Plotinus, St. Augustine, and St. Aquinas who, using Greek and Roman ideas about beauty, sought to clarify the nature of beauty, focusing on qualities such as harmony. This interest in beauty-making qualities would later be directed toward considering whether prepared food could ever be credited with having an aesthetic character. In addition, new ways of serving food were introduced that would affect later forms of food service and encourage individuals to take a greater appreciative interest in what they were eating. However, further new thoughts on the aesthetics of cuisine would have to wait for Renaissance thinkers—for the most part chefs—to publish their views that raised philosophical questions about the role of food in achieving the good life and that proposed new styles of prepared fine food. The popularity of their published cookbooks and thoughts on food began to arouse considerable curiosity about fine food in an emerging middle class. The Renaissance interest in writing about food was stimulated by the discovery of Greek and Roman cookbooks and philosophical writings about food. In time, this led to culinary proposals urging a break with past ways of cooking and encouraging the creation of new and modern forms of cooking. While beauty continued to be the dominant critical paradigm used to describe objects of highly valued critical appreciation, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave rise to a new critical paradigm that sparked a great increase in philosophical thinking and debate about the nature of critical appreciation. This new idea was that critical appreciation involved a kind of taste. For many critical theorists and philosophers, critical taste was metaphorically based on literal taste or the sensing of what was orally ingested. Like literal taste, it was believed that critical taste produced a personal hedonic response, was natural and immediate in its reaction, and rendered a judgment about what was tasted. However, unlike literal taste, critical taste could be changed and improved through education. Although the tradition of perceiving beauty only with one’s eyes and ears still persisted, there were attempts to broaden what was involved in critical experience. One of these newer concerns was to investigate the role of the imagination in critical appreciation. Hume recognized that food could be an object of imaginative experience. Hume, especially, recognized that wine could be approached with a delicate taste so as to bring forth the finer emotions. Most British taste theorists accepted the Lockean
position that beauty was not a property of a perceived object but a qualitative experience in the mind of the perceiver. Since people might have different experiences, the problem of the subjectivity of taste became a major issue. Hume proposed to solve the problem by urging a standard of taste that was the consensual judgment of unbiased critics possessing good sense and finely attuned senses who arrived at their verdicts through the benefit of having had considerable critical practice. One of the most innovative critical theories of the eighteenth century was that of Immanuel Kant. Judgments of something being beautiful, he thought, were aesthetic, meaning that the individual had to experience the purported object personally in order to attest to its being beautiful. Recognizing that critical taste was metaphorically based on gustatory experience, he distinguished two kinds of taste: There was the taste of sense and the taste of reflection. Using wine as an example, the taste of sense registered an immediate hedonic reaction that expressed a personal preference, one with which others might not agree. The taste of reflection was the means of having a critical engagement with an object. It did not incur an immediate response but took some time to contemplate the object in a disinterested manner. One engaged the object with a free play of one’s imagination that achieved a harmony with the understanding. Since it was a common cognitive activity enjoyable by all human beings having a similar set of mental faculties, it could be grounds for calling the object beautiful. Kant’s views prompted later thinkers to transform the notion of the aesthetic into a broad form of critical experience. From the nineteenth century on, the aesthetic became the dominant critical paradigm. Despite Kant’s rejection of food as worthy of a contemplative critical interest, the early nineteenth century saw the emergence of a great interest in fine food. It began an age of gastronomy. Restaurants opened up, critics and thinkers such as Grimod de La Reynière and Brillat-Savarin began writing about food, and talented chefs like Carême became famous. While not naming Kant in his book The Physiology of Taste, Brillat-Savarin proposes what is a gastronomic aesthetic that allows for a contemplative experience with what we eat and drink. Whereas Kant thought that our experiences with food were immediate, Brillat-Savarin proposed what could be taken as an alternative to Kant’s common sensory and cognitive faculties. Brillat-Savarin held that our common physiology of alimentary processing—a physiology of taste—allowed us to take our time to contemplate what we were tasting. The temporal trajectory of ingesting and swallowing allowed us the time to discern aesthetic patterns and structures in what we were tasting. One of the major aesthetic paradigms in the nineteenth century, a core idea of Romanticism, was Expressionism. This paradigm was a change from the idea that art was supposed to imitate something to the idea that art was
The Philosophical Debate about the Aesthetics of Food
supposed to be the expression of an artist’s emotional states. Parallel to artistic creativity, celebrity chefs such as Carême and others were seen to possess the talent to express themselves in their culinary creations. Tolstoy’s view that art was supposed to communicate feelings registered the importance of a broad range of emotional states. Such a broad view about the emotional content of art made it much easier to accept that a talented chef could express something in a dish. Even Lewis Carroll’s view that food had the potential to imitate something broadened the view of what food was capable of in the hands of an accomplished chef. Another paradigm that arose in the nineteenth century and extended into the twentieth century was modernism, which urged artists to accentuate the distinctive features of their media. While Bell proposed a broad view of art forms that could exhibit significant form, he insisted that there was a common feature to all art and a common response. Modernist ideas can be seen at work in the development of nouvelle cuisine, a style of cooking that did away with the use of heavy sauces. Instead, the particular ingredients of a dish should be prepared so as to bring out the natural flavor of those ingredients rather than disguising them. With the popular acceptance of the aesthetic nature of fine cooking, there was a recognition that talented chefs were not limited to pursuing a Platonic knack, but instead with some culinary training, they might be able to produce innovative cuisine. With this recognition, philosophers started to debate whether good cooking or cuisine could be a new art form. Acknowledging the creative efforts of Ferran Adrià, Jean-Paul Jouary wondered if an extension of the art world could provide the necessary social context within which cuisine could be embedded and thereby provide some reason for thinking that cuisine could be art. Did Ferran Adrià’s participation in the Documenta 12 art show provide such a context and offer another reason for thinking that cuisine was art? Another consideration in the debate about whether cuisine could be art was whether, even accepting the creative efforts of talented chefs, food could stimulate diners to have a rich aesthetic experience. Were the pleasures of the palate quite different from our experiences with works of art? Could good cooking “move” us as certain works of art such as Shakespeare’s tragedies or the novels of George Eliot were able to do? Here it is important to point out the different kinds of moving experiences that different art forms offer. Dance and architecture provide different kinds of moving experiences from the narrative arts. Fine food stimulates us to have a variety of insightful experiences. Regardless of whether it is accepted as an art form, fine food, as has been discussed earlier, plays an important role in many people’s lives. It can give us insight into how we have changed individually and as a society. We often
think about the memorable meals we have had at various times. Food also provides insight into the regional and cultural identities of people. It serves to draw attention to the cultural direction in which a society is moving and how it is changing. Advances in culinary technologies have led to new kinds of dishes, making us aware of changes in social life. The great contemporary interest in creative cuisine is evidence of the high value people place on cooking. The issue of the complexity of gustatory experience was examined in the chapter on wine. Skeptics like Roger Scruton were reluctant to grant the same kind of aesthetic status to wine as works of art were acknowledged to have. Nevertheless, a growing number of philosophers were willing to credit some wines as having a rich aesthetic character. An account that sought to address that complex character looked at what were held to be the analytic realist nature of some of a wine’s qualities and the analytic interpretive nature of other qualities. In addition, it is important to recognize the multisensory way in which a wine’s qualities as well as its aesthetic characteristics such as balance, structure, and evolution on the palate are discerned. The introduction of the ideological paradigm of postmodernism raised another issue in the debate about the aesthetic status of food. Should one adhere to or reject the modernist metanarrative that there needs to be a clear distinction between the fine arts and other kinds of cultural pursuits and pleasures? Should Ferran Adrià’s cuisine be accepted as art, or was it enough to consider it as a form of postmodern experiment? Modernists—as well as earlier Enlightenment thinkers—adhered to such a sharp distinction as an important issue because of the belief in the superiority of the experience stimulated by the fine arts over that offered by lesser cultural experiences. The postmodern perspective is skeptical of the need for a sharp distinction between art and nonart. The present-day diversity of people’s tastes discounts the need for such a distinction. We can find value in a wide range of cultural pursuits without sharply needing to distinguish the experiences we have with art or with nature from those we have from other sources. Given the change of attitude toward fine cooking since the Renaissance, it certainly seems that cuisine is getting closer and closer to being considered an artistic creation. Is it important to have a sharp distinction between art and nonart to support the claim that Ferran Adrià’s cuisine either has or does not have a certain cultural value? Does Ferran Adrià’s cuisine have a value because it is held to be art? Does it have a lesser value if it is held not to be art? The need to make a clear distinction between art and nonart to decide that issue does not seem to be quite as important as it was in earlier times. The philosophical debate is by no means over, and positions are continuing to evolve to take into consideration recent developments in neuroscience, the psychology of dining, and a changing artistic climate.
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Achatz, Grant, Alinea restaurant in Chicago, 159 Addison, Joseph, 90–93, 97; fine taste metaphorically related to literal taste, 90–92 imagination and visual imagery, 92–93 Cicero and symmetry, 93 Lockean account of beauty, 93 Adrià, Ferran, 4–9; food as language, 5–6 dematerialized food, 8–9 emotional experiences with food, 7–8 molecular gastronomy, 4–6 Adrià’s cuisine as fine art, 8–9, 157, 183, 187, 188 postmodern cuisine, 160–61 deconstruction, 5, 8 dining instructions, 152 aesthetic, 2–3, 117 aesthetics of food, 1, 71 alcohol, distillation, 82–83; aqua vitae and aqua ardens, 82–83 Arab chemists, 82 Medicinal claims, 83 eighteenth-century England, 85 Alison, Archibald, two kinds of pleasurable experience, 139–40n11 Andrews, Colman, on Adrià, 6–8; two approaches to cooking, 153
Apicius’s On Cookery (De re Coquinaria), 54, 67n53, 74, 76 Aquinas, Saint Thomas, 62–64, 185; rational and cognitive character of the beautiful, 62 formal features of the beautiful, 62 two forms of pleasure, 62–63 Kant, 63 gluttony, 63–64 Archestratos of Gela’s Hedupatheia, 31–32, 33, 35, 38nn39–40, 53–54 Aristotle, 39–53, 71, 184; medial view towards food, 39–40 gluttony, 40–41 harmony, 42, 43, 48, 50 theory of taste as a form of touch, 42–46 on smell, 43–44 spectral nature of flavors, 44–45 tactile qualities, 45–46. See Freeland common sense, 47–48 food cannot be beautiful, 48–49 mimesis, 49–50, 52 labeling tastes, 50–51 art world, 157, 164n33 Athenaeus (The Deipnosophistae), 53, 74
Augustine of Hippo, Saint, 60–62, 185; gluttony, 60 reason, harmony, and the beautiful, 60–61 rejection of a gustatory aesthetic, 60–62 the beautiful and the divine, 61–62 Augustus, Roman Emperor, 54–55 Australopithecines, 22–23, 184 avant-garde, 3, 4, 5–8, 145 Bach, Kent, 176–77 Baldy, Marian, 11, 182n26 Baumgarten, Alexander, 117 Beardsley, Monroe C., 61, 62, 71, 136, 148–50 beauty and the beautiful, 1–2, 90, 185; sight and hearing requirement, 25, 49, 57, 61, 62, 92–93, 95 Plato, 25 Aristotle, 48–50 Cicero, 57 Plotinus, 57–60 Augustine, 60–62 Aquinas, 62 Addison, 93 Shaftesbury, 93–94 Kant, 117–121 Bell rejects beauty, 148 beer, 20–22 Bell, Clive, 147–148, 152, 159, 187; significant form and the aesthetic emotion, 147–48 rejects beauty, 148 Benedict of Nursia, Saint, 72; meals in monasteries, 72 Berchoux, Joseph, on gastronomy, 126 Blumenthal, Heston, 4; Fat Duck restaurant in England, 159 Boisvert, Raymond D., 163 Bottura, Massimo, 4 Bourdieu, Pierre, 142n46 bread, 20–22; Athens has the best bread, 32
Brillat-Savarin, Jean-Anthelme, 97, 127–133, 149, 186; opposed to Kant, 128–130 gourmandism, 130–131, 162 appetite, 130–131 physiology of taste, 127–130, 131–132 Burnham, Douglas and Ole Martin Skilleås, 176 Carême, Marie Antoine (Antonin), 135–136, 186–87; trionfi table pastry, 135 creates cuisine classique, 135 Carroll, Lewis, 136–138, 187; Mock Turtle example and mimesis, 137–138, 143nn65–66 Chinese cuisine, 12–13; five flavors of sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and spicy 12, 17n30 fan and tsai dishes, 12–13 different textures 13 Confucius, 13 distillation of alcohol, 82 restaurants, 142n47 Christianity and food, 60–64 Cicero, Marcus Tullius, 56–57, 76; harmony, 57 convivium, 54–57, 72–73 Crawford, Donald C., 113n45, 140n22 cuisine, 1, 132–133; as fine art, 155–156, 158–59, 160–62 Danto, Arthur, 52 delicacy, 80, 90, 98, 103–106, 114n59 Democritus on taste, 9, 16n19 Descartes, René, 83–85, 89; animal spirits and alcohol, 84–85 Cartesian rationalism, 89–90 Dewey, John, 150–52; an experience, 150–51 perceiver of a work of art recreates the artist’s experience, 151 Dewey on cuisine, 151–52 Dickie, George, 89; Institutional theory of art, 157
diet and human nature, 19–20, 22–24 disinterested appreciation of the beautiful, 66n34, 95, 96, 120–122, 140n14 Du Bos, Abbé Jean-Baptiste, 98, 101 sixth sense for judging food and art, 98
Gracyk, Theodore, 106–107, 114n72 Greenberg, Clement, modernist aesthetic, 146–147, 153 Grimod de La Reynière, Alexandre, 127, 134, 186 gustatory aesthetics, 1, 71, 123–127 Guyer, Paul, 89, 93–94, 118, 125–126
El Bulli, 4–10, 157, 159 Enkidu, 20–22, 34, 184; Adam and Enkidu, 21–22. See Gilgamesh Epicurus of Samos, 33, 35, 53 Escoffier, Georges Auguste, 135, 153 Expressionism, 3, 136, 145, 187
haptic touch, 46–47, 21 harmony, 42, 43, 48, 50, 57, 62 haute cuisine, 4, 5, 153, 160 Hegel, Georg Friedrich Wilhelm, 9, 136 Heldke, Lisa, critique of Plato’s Gorgias, 26–28, 34, 163 Homo erectus, 22–24 Hume, David, 100–108, 113n41, 185–86; natural character of taste, 101 argument against relativism, 101–102 qualifications of a good judge, 102–103 delicacy of imagination, 103–106, 114n39, 114n73 Hume’s interest in cuisine, 104, 113n57 wine tasting example, 103, 105, 108, 171–72, 177 analytic and synthetic tasting, 104–106 the finer emotions, 106–107 hunger, 1, 19, 130, 159 Hutcheson, Francis, 95–97, 101; Lockean view of beauty, 95 inner sense perceives the beautiful, 95–96 beautiful as “uniformity amidst variety,” 96 disinterested appreciation, 96 beautiful is complex, 96 lack of a gustatory aesthetic, 96–97
Ferguson, Priscilla Parkhurst, 133, 176 Ferry, Luc, 111n6 feudal feasts, 72–73; trenchers, 72–73 flavor, 11, 13, 17n28, 30–31, 92, 97; synthetic, 44 delicacy, 80 Freeland, Cynthia, critique of Aristotle’s account of touch, 46–47. See haptic touch gag reflex to bitter, 11 Galen of Pergamum, theory of humors, 76 gastronomy, 2, 4, 71, 89, 97, 111, 126, 186 Gibson, James J., 46 Gigante, Denise, 141n25, 141n27, 142n48 Gilgamesh, The Epic of, 20–21, 184 Gilgamesh, 20–21, 34. See Enkidu gluttony, Plato on gluttony, 25–26, 32–34; Aristotle on gluttony as intemperate touch, 40–41 Augustine on gluttony, 60, 62 Aquinas on gluttony, 63–64 Brillat-Savarin, 130–131 Gracin, Baltasar on taste, 90, 111n6
Ikeda, Kikunae, discoverer of umami, 10 imagination, Aristotle, 48, 67n45; Addison, 92–93
Hume, 103–106 Kant, 120–121 Brillat-Savarin, 129–130 immediacy of taste, 2, 8; Aristotle, 46–47 Aquinas, 62–63 Voltaire, 99 Hume, 106 Reid, 110 Kant on literal taste, 118–120 Indian aesthetics, 14–15; rasa, 14–15 Islamic food influences, 73, 76 Italian Futurist Manifesto on cooking, 145–146 Japanese cuisine, 154 Jencks, Charles, 160–61; double coding, 160–61 hybrid language, 161 Jouary, Jean-Paul, 6–9, 187; argues that Adrià is an artist, 157, 161–62, 183 Kant, 2–3, 9, 95, 110, 117–123, 168, 186; notion of the aesthetic, 117–119, 126, 186 taste of sense, 119–121, 126, 186 taste of reflection, 120–121, 126, 186 disinterested appreciation, 95, 118, 120–123, 140n14, 152 free play of the imagination, 120–121, 152 appetite, 121–124 “Hunger is the best sauce,” 123–125, 140n18 common sense, 125–126 no gustatory aesthetic, 123–127 Korsmeyer, Carolyn, 24, 114n60, 115n77, 141n26, 141n42, 142n53, 154–56, 180n8; cognitive theory of taste, 155 on food as fine art, 156 Kuehn, Glen, 158–59
La Chapelle, Vincent, 97–98 La Varenne, François Pierre, 78–79, 97 labeling of tastes, 30–31, 35; Aristotle, 50–51 Reid, 110 Bach, 176 Locke, John, 90, 95; British Empiricism, 90, 93 secondary qualities, 90 Louis XIV’s influence on French cuisine, 80–81 Louvre museum, 134 Lyotard, Jean-François, 160; metanarratives, 160 Martino of Como, 75–76 Massialot, François, 79–80, 97; freelance cook, 80 Mennell, Stephen, 87n35, 97, 142n51 mimetic character of food, 50–51, 137–138 modernism, 3, 15n5, 146–147, 187, 188; modernism and cuisine, 152–54 molecular gastronomy, 4, 15n5 Monroe, Dave, 158–59 mouthfeel, 45. See somasensory qualities multisensory gustatory experience, 3, 11, 17n28, 149, 162–163, 178, 188 neuroscientific research, cranial nerve connections of taste cells to the brain, 11; taste and emotion, 156 nouvelle cuisine, 5, 8, 153–54, 187 oral capture, 44; as oral referral, 65n19 orthonasal olfaction, 44, 170 papillae, circumvallate, foliate, fungiform, (filiform), 9–10 Perullo, Nicola, 163 Petronius’s The Satyricon, 55–56
Pitte, Jean-Robert, on Japanese influences on nouvelle cuisine, 154 Platina (Bartolomeo Sacchi), 75–76 Plato, 2, 24–32, 34–35, 39, 51–53, 184; Phaedo, 24–25, 28, 36n15 Hippias Major, 25, 37n19 n. 19, 49 Gorgias, 26–28, 34, 74–75, 77 Republic, 28, 30–31, 36n14 Symposium, 33, 68n68 Timaeus, 28–29, 32–33 on beauty and the beautiful, 25, 28, 29 gluttony, 25–26, 32–34 theory of taste, 28–31 Plotinus, 57–60, 185; emotional and cognitive experience of the beautiful, 58–59 harmony not necessary for being beautiful, 58 relation to Plato and Cicero 58 Plotinus and gustatory aesthetic, 59–60 Postmodernism, 3, 15n5, 159–62, 188 Prall, D. W., 148–149 printing of cookbooks, 74–75, 135, 185 public nature of the arts, 156 Redzepi, René 4; Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, 159 Reid, Thomas, 108–110; non-Lockean account of taste, 109 hedonic indifference, 108–109 labeling, 110 relish, 14, 91, 93, 95–96, 109, 132 Renaissance gastronomy, 71; classical influences, 74–75 Italian, 74–78 French, 78–81 restaurants, 3, 73; Parisian, 133–135, 142n51 Chinese, 142n47 retronasal olfaction, 13, 29–30, 35, 44, 61, 97, 170
Roca, Joan, 4 Roman cuisine, 52–57; spices, 53–54 Romanticism, 136, 187 Ruskin, John, 126 Scappi, Bartolomeo, 76–77 Schiller, Friedrich, 117 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 140n20 Scruton, Roger, 158, 168–71, 188 Scully, Terence, 83 senses, distal versus proximate, 24, 155 service à la française (French service), 80–81, 134 service à la russe (Russian service), 3, 134, 142n50 servizio al’italiana (Italian service) using a credenza, 78 Shaftesbury, Third Earl of (Anthony Ashley Cooper), 93–95; beautiful is transcendent, 93–94 brutish interest in food, 94 disinterested appreciation, 94–95 Shepherd, Gordon M., 10, 17n27, 156 Shiner, Larry, 111n10, 112n34 Sibley, Frank, 150 Smith, Barry C., 162, 178, 179–80 Socrates, 24–26, 28, 30–31, 33–34, 52 somasensory qualities, 45–46, 66n25 spherification, 6, 161 Spence, Charles, 17n28, 162 Sprang, Rebecca, 133 stoves, 3, 17n3 Strong, Roy, 73, 74, 81 sublime, 2, 143n62 Sumerian food, 20–22; beer and bread, 21–22, 184 table manners, 73, 85n6 Tailevent’s Viandier, 78 Taoism on taste, 13–14; Lao Tzu, 14 wuwei, 14 taste buds containing taste cells, 9
taste, critical or fine, 2, 14, 89, 95, 99, 110, 118–119, 126, 185 taste, literal 2, 9–12, 14, 89, 100, 117–120, 185; four tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) 10–12 umami as fifth taste 10, 128 fat and metallic as possible tastes, 12 taste map theory (discredited), 10, 182n26 Telfer, Elizabeth, 149, 154–56; argues against Plato, 154 food cannot be fine art but only a minor art, 155–56 food cannot “move us,” 155–56 This, Hervé and Nicholas Kurti, 4 Todd, Cain, 38n44, 180 Tolstoy, Leo, 136–137, 187; functional view of food, 136–137 Townsend, Dabney, 111n5, 113n45 Trang, Corrine, 12 Trubeck, Amy B., 142n48 trionfi (table sculptures), 77. See Carême, 135 Tutankhamen, Pharaoh, 167
Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), 99–100; intellectual taste is immediate, 99 intellectual, but not literal, taste can be educated, 99 cannot dispute about literal taste likes or dislikes, 99
umami, 10, 128
Zink and Lieberman, 23–24
Wertz, Spencer K., 13–14, 105, 113n58 Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham, 79, 80 wine, Medieval trade, 73–74; Sante Lancerio (Papal wine steward), 76 wine tasting, educating one’s palate, 100, 107–108; analytic realism, 172–75, 188 analytic interpretivism, 175–76, 188 synthetic character, 178–80 Wrangham, Richard, the cooking hypothesis 22–24, 34, 36n12 Xenophon’s Symposium, 33–34 Yuan Mei, 13