"Nearly everyone wants at least one outstanding meal a day," said Duncan Hines.
•On the other hand, I am taken with restaurateur Don Ho's sardonic, "I've always found it funny that we've all decided cooking and feeding are high art. Art lasts, you know what food becomes!"
Why are we so bent on glorifying food these days? Food makes us fat and being fat is not a good thing. We aren't out there anymore as field hands, warriors on horseback or hunters and gatherers just trying to keep body and soul together with enough nourishment to sustain ourselves day-to-day. Most of us are working actively to avoid food, with its attendant evils -- fat, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart problems, obesity weighing down our bones and muscles, etc. These days, instead of being hunters and gatherers, we are shoppers and consumers. And tempting food is everywhere in most of the western world.
But Thackery said, "Next to eating good dinners, a healthy man with a benevolent turn of mind must like, I think, to read about them." (And see them being made, described and tasted on television!) Manias about food, setting tables in our minds can be quite a lot of fun. And the late Clifton Fadiman noted that we are all food writers, food fanciers, food describers in our own way -- "every man having in him an autobiographical novel...This would consist of an account of ourselves as eaters, recording the development of our palates, telling over like the beads of a rosary, the memories of the best meals of our lives." He added that even writing about food belongs "to the literature of power, linking brain to stomach, etherealizing the euphoria of feeding with the finer essences of reflection."
• Ford Madox Ford said that Anglo-Saxons don't really talk about food any more than they talk about love and heaven. But he certainly found food a fit subject as he deplored other forms of popular passion: "The tantrums of cloth-headed celluloid idols are deemed fit for grown-up conversation,while silence settles over such a truly important matter as food." (What would Mr. Ford think of today's mania to watch this and that chef prepare and taste on the tube and on the Internet? Perhaps he would approve of our recent uptick in the important matter of food.)
• I have personally had a lifetime of talking, writing and lecturing about "cloth-headed celluloid idols" after over 50 years of writing in the gossip and entertainment vineyards. So it has been a relief to abandon celebrity culture, infotainment, sex-drugs-rock'n'roll and just think about food for a change. My philosophy is that you can serve people fattening food. In their hearts, they'll love you for it and maybe even forgive you for it. The answer to the problem lies in not doing it too often, nor to excess, and the answer also lies in the self discipline of eaters when it comes to proportion. The great and attractive cooking of France and Italy seems rich and fattening to the diet-conscious, but it's funny, no one I know ever gains weight on vacations in those countries. You'd have to be a real pig.
If one never serves anything forbidden or delicious, then it seems to me you are forcing a kind of unilateral "it's good for you" regime on your guests. We need to do unusual, wonderful things for special occasions. People must diet on their own terms and at their own times. The great New York hostesses I know always offer fabulous menus and assume their guests have common sense.
•Dieting is probably the most unpleasant word in our current lexicon. It can make us awfully unhappy even as we embrace its necessity. It is noted that before he was executed in 1984, one Ronald O'Bryan ordered his last meal -- a T-bone steak, French fries, salad and iced tea. With the tea he took an artificial sweetener, not sugar. A reporter observed, "He was going for the healthy option."
•Even cookbook authors get the overkill blues. Reporter Chris Howes points to disgust as "the strongest emotion seeping out of the late Elizabeth David's Christmas book." She loathed December 25 and said, "My Christmas day eating and drinking would consist of an omelet and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunch time and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne in bed in the evening."
As the old saw goes, "Everything I like is either illegal, immoral or fattening." And some people do associate eating as a surrogate for illicit sex -- wickedly tempting, licentious or guilt inducing. So, reading about food and watching people make it is the next best thing to eating it. People want to eat and not gain weight. Just as they like to have sex without getting pregnant, but the only comparable contraceptive would be to read a book rather than eat everything or even anything describing it. Mr. Howes adds," For consumers of food porn cookbooks are not manuals but fantasy reading -- if it can be called reading."
People seek companionship, comfort, reassurance, a sense of warmth and well being from food. I think eating is here to stay.
(Excerpted from a book I wrote titled Dishing from Simon & Schuster).