15 Aug

Food and the Modern World

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Amy L. Graeser
Published: 08/15/06

On Volume 62 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal, Corby Kummer discusses his book The Pleasures of Slow Food: Celebrating Authentic Traditions, Flavors, and Recipes and the movement that encourages the preservation of local varieties of foods and the crafts used for preparing them. In a recent article in the London Review of Books, Steven Shapin reviews a book written by a man who spent time learning some of those arts. In "When Men Started Doing It," Shapin describes how the book, Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford, is different from other recent books about chefs and cooking. He also accounts for the wanderlust that drove Buford to quit his job at The New Yorker in order to become an apprentice to various chefs and "food artisans" in Manhattan and Italy. Shapin writes: "Buford is a romantic, and what's gone wrong with the modern world—as he sees it—is the commodification of food and the loss of skill in making and preparing it: not knowing what's at the end of your fork but especially not knowing how to make it, not knowing how to use your hands and your senses. Having spent his working life making intellectual artistic judgments, Buford wanted to be able to make sensory artisanal judgments: how much pressure to apply to the point of a very sharp knife when separating the muscles of a cow's thigh, and to the ends of a matterello when rolling out pasta for ravioli, how to gauge the proper resilience of dough, how to touch grilled meat to tell its degree of doneness, how to hear when the risotto needs more broth, how to smell when the fish is cooked, how to tell by sight alone whether the meat is good, how to taste on the roof of your mouth the difference between grass-fed and grain-finished beef, how the polenta looks when it's ready and how to judge when it doesn't need stirring. . . . What he wanted was to be a very good cook, a cook who was the steward of vanishing artisanal traditions: 'I didn't want this knowledge in order to be a professional; just to be more human'—where more human is understood to mean less modern."

"When Men Started Doing It" is available on-line. Devoted proponents of Gnosticism should read this. [Posted August 2006, ALG]