Food, glorious food


First aired on Here and Now (21/11/11)

Whether you eat to live or live to eat, food is an important and complex aspect of our lives because it's both essential to our survival but also to our social well-being.

"Food is the one thing that's an absolute human necessity that we also elaborate as a human institution," The New Yorker staff writer and essayist Adam Gopnik recently told CBC's Here and Now. "We have to breathe, but it's very rare that you go to people and they say 'we have rules for breathing in our family.'"

Adam Gopnik-225.jpgYes, people have created many rules and philosophies about eating: local produce, organic, free-range, meatless Mondays, raw diet, nose-to-tail, just to name a few.

It's these conditions, and the evolution of eating from a survival strategy to pleasurable experience, that inspired Gopnik to write his new book The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food.

"We all articulate and invent rules to govern our eating. We ritualize our practice of eating. And that's what fascinates me. What are those rituals and where do they come from?"

Take the ritual of the restaurant. Dining out is a common practice for most people in Canada, but did you know that the restaurant is a relatively modern innovation?

"We go out to a restaurant and it seems to us as natural as sleeping in bed, but restaurants weren't always around, not at all," Gopnik said. "There were always places where you could trade money for food, but until the end of the 18th century in France, they were largely like taverns...where everybody shared a common table and you ate whatever the cook in the kitchen had prepared for you. The idea that you could go to a place where you would occupy your own table, with someone you were probably pursuing in some sense for business or erotic reasons that you would choose from a menu what you wanted, that you would make the choice, that the kitchen would be closed off from you, that there'd be a server who was a kind of intermediary dressed in formal clothes...all of those elements that we just take for granted were invented in France around the time of the French revolution."

You can listen to the full interview below.

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Adam Gopnik was also this year's Massey Lecturer. You can follow his exploration of the themes of winter here.


The Table Comes First

by Adam Gopnik

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From the publisher:

"Never before have so many North Americans cared so much about food. But much of our attention to it tends towards grim calculation (what protein is best? how much?); social preening ('I can always score the last reservation at xxxxx'); or graphic machismo ('watch me eat this now'). Gopnik shows we are not the first food fetishists but we are losing sight of a timeless truth, 'the table comes first': what goes on around the table matters as much to life as what we put on the table: families come together (or break apart) over the table, conversations across the simplest or grandest board can change the world, pain and romance unfold around it — all this is more essential to our lives than the provenance of any zucchini or the road it travelled to reach us. Whatever dilemmas we may face as omnivores, how not what we eat ultimately defines our society. "

Read more at Knopf Canada.

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