Edible Art

Some people have misunderstood my What Are Birds Really? blog post. They have thought that because I wanted less analysis of the concept of art, that I was against creativity and exploration in art itself. But no, that’s not what I meant at all.

An analogy with food is useful here: I think it would be unproductive for chefs to explore the concept of food, but I am all for creativity and exploration in cooking itself. I want chefs to explore all the delicious food possibilities out there. I want people from different culinary traditions to rub shoulders and create novel food combinations. I want new flavors to be invented. Food experiments! But, here are some culinary questions that I think would be dumb to explore:

  • Does “food” need to be ingested via the mouth? Food goes to the stomach ultimately. The stomach is what Aristotle would call the “natural place” of food. Why all this focus on the mouth? We have 21st century surgical technology. Why not explore new plate-stomach avenues? We shouldn’t be blinkered by tradition and think that the mouth is the only plate-stomach avenue.
  • Does “food” have to not poison you? We assume that food has to be healthy. But Camus was right when he said that suicide was the only serious philosophical question. Who says cuisine can’t help tackle the deep questions of human existence?
  • Does “food” have to taste good? Maybe our concepts of “food” have taken for granted the dogma of food needing to be delicious. Great food challenges us. Some challenges become pleasurable with time—acquired tastes. But a greater challenge is food that never rewards, and the greatest challenge is food that is consistently repellent.
  • Does a finely garnished, empty plate served at a fancy restaurant count as “food?” We are stuck in a Western, dualistic metaphysics where content is distinct from form. But if you adopt a more Buddhist attitude towards form, and see that objects are inseparable from their contexts, you see that the food/non-food distinction is vacuous.

There are people who will find such questions interesting. Most people won’t. Being against stale philosophizing about the concept of food is not to be against food creativity. I’m all about exploring new roads, but not all roads are equally likely to take you to something interesting. If you don’t agree with that, remind me never to go on a hike with you.

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2 Responses to Edible Art

  1. Gabriel Duquette says:

    This exact argument has swimming around in my head for a few years. Thanks for writing it up for me!

    I added this and your other piece to my “new aesthetics” links:



  2. Gabriel Duquette says:

    As promised, links:

    Here’s an intro to the blog I was telling you about: https://docs.google.com/document/d/13oDW3hp_yTSNG_Rz5_Ku941z3phiUmwQPKLNECBnELA/edit

    Haley’s recent Ribbonfarm series: http://www.ribbonfarm.com/author/haley/

    …and her main blog: http://thesublemon.tumblr.com/

    I’d love to meet up and chat again sometime. I’m in Jamaica Plain.


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