Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Grotesque Hospitality in 'The Tempest'

Act III, Scene 3, 17-

SD. Solemn and strange music
ALONSOWhat harmony is this? My good friends, hark!
GONZALOMarvellous sweet music!
SD. Enter PROSPERO above, invisible. Enter several strange Shapes, bringing in a banquet; they dance about it with gentle actions of salutation; and, inviting the King, &c. to eat, they depart.
ALONSOGive us kind keepers, heavens! What were these?
SEBASTIANA living drollery. Now I will believe

That there are unicorns, that in Arabia

There is one tree, the phoenix' throne, one phoenix

At this hour reigning there.
ANTONIOI'll believe both;

And what does else want credit, come to me,

And I'll be sworn 'tis true: travellers ne'er did


Though fools at home condemn 'em.
GONZALOIf in Naples

I should report this now, would they believe me?

If I should say, I saw such islanders--

For, certes, these are people of the island--

Who, though they are of monstrous shape, yet, note,

Their manners are more gentle-kind than of

Our human generation you shall find

Many, nay, almost any.
PROSPERO[Aside] Honest lord,

Thou hast said well; for some of you there present

Are worse than devils.
ALONSOI cannot too much muse

Such shapes, such gesture and such sound, expressing,

Although they want the use of tongue, a kind

Of excellent dumb discourse.
PROSPERO[Aside] Praise in departing.
FRANCISCOThey vanish'd strangely.
SEBASTIANNo matter, since

They have left their viands behind; for we have stomachs.

Will't please you taste of what is here?
GONZALOFaith, sir, you need not fear. When we were boys,

Who would believe that there were mountaineers

Dew-lapp'd like bulls, whose throats had hanging at 'em

Wallets of flesh? or that there were such men

Whose heads stood in their breasts? which now we find

Each putter-out of five for one will bring us

Good warrant of.
ALONSOI will stand to and feed,

Although my last: no matter, since I feel

The best is past. Brother, my lord the duke,

Stand to and do as we.
Thunder and lightning. Enter ARIEL, like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table; and, with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes.
ARIELYou are three men of sin, whom Destiny,

That hath to instrument this lower world

And what is in't, the never-surfeited sea

Hath caused to belch up you; and on this island

Where man doth not inhabit; you 'mongst men

Being most unfit to live. I have made you mad;

And even with such-like valour men hang and drown

Their proper selves.

Further Reading 

Jacqueline E. M. Latham, 'The Magic Banquet in The Tempest', Shakespeare Studies 12 (1979), 215-27.

Writing, Philosophy and Food

Feeding Gargantua

François Rabelais's 'novel' The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel narrates the adventures of the two giants who give the books their titles. The texture of the narrative is soaked in food and drink. The fabric of the fiction is defined by an exuberant linguistic excess and a copiousness of detailed physical decription. This has the effect of fattened out the corpulent text in all directions. Rabelais has created a feast for all the senses, and the experience of reading it can be compared to taking part in a joyous but rowdy banquet.

There's a fierce energy in the unstoppable desire to embrace life, and this theme and mood finds comic expression in the need to celebrate the open body of common humanity. This notion of the open body was most famously outlined and analysed in Mikhail Bakhtin's book Rabelais and His World. While Rabelais's carnivalesque humour pokes fun at different versions of authority and respectability, Bakhtin's critical work, composed in the 1930s has similarly been read as a satire on the official version of life as experienced under the oppressive Russian Stalinism. Accordingly, the celebration of the open body can be read as a challenge to totalitarian ideology, and to the regulation of the human body; by continuing Rabelais's vision, Bakhtin offers a satire on discipline, regulation, dietary regimes, authoritarianism and state control.

In his work on Dostyevsky and the poetics of the novel Bakhtin had characterised the genre in terms of its dialogical nature; its preference for a multiplicity of styles and voices. Arguably, the conversational mode can also be linked, in the form of the feast or banquet, to the raucous celebration of the human voice, and  perhaps, more grotesquely, to the open mouth: eating, devouring, talking, singing, shouting...

The encyclopaedic abundance of detail and the all-encompassing range of the text provides evidence for the influence of the classical genre of epic, and links it to the heroic quest and monster narratives that came to be called romance. But rather than presenting the world with from the position of heroic hierarchies, Rabelais world, and Bakhtin's enthusiastic celebration of it, so bottom up. It workd from low to high, with an emphasis on organic process, life forces, and common comic energies. While there are satirical elements, these are never bitter, negative, or destructive.

In a sense, the more modern dimension of Rabelais's writing is best explained by the welding of epic and romance range and iclusiveness with a resolutely contemporary grotesque popular realism that would eventually feature in the emergence of the novel in the eighteenth and nineteenth century

Food is deeply coded into the fiction from the outset. I want to argue also that what the writing presents is a philosophy of the belly, and a celebration of alimentary discourses and culinary critiques. Accordingly, from the start, the author blends high and low references (body and mind) by alluding to the traditional relations between conversation, conviviality, and critical thinking. "The Author's Prologue to the First Book." clearly repays study as the entrée to this great work. In order to support the task of attending to the culinary critique, all the references to gloriuos food have been highlighted.

The Author's Prologue to the First Book.
 Most noble and illustrious drinkers, and you thrice precious pockified blades (for to you, and none else, do I dedicate my writings), Alcibiades, in that dialogue of Plato's, which is entitled The Banquet, whilst he was setting forth the praises of his schoolmaster Socrates (without all question the prince of philosophers), amongst other discourses to that purpose, said that he resembled the Silenes. Silenes of old were little boxes, like those we now may see in the shops of apothecaries, painted on the outside with wanton toyish figures, as harpies, satyrs, bridled geese, horned hares, saddled ducks, flying goats, thiller harts, and other such-like counterfeited pictures at discretion, to excite people unto laughter, as Silenus himself, who was the foster-father of good Bacchus, was wont to do; but within those capricious caskets were carefully preserved and kept many rich jewels and fine drugs, such as balm, ambergris, amomon, musk, civet, with several kinds of precious stones, and other things of great price. Just such another thing was Socrates. For to have eyed his outside, and esteemed of him by his exterior appearance, you would not have given the peel of an onion for him, so deformed he was in body, and ridiculous in his gesture. He had a sharp pointed nose, with the look of a bull, and countenance of a fool: he was in his carriage simple, boorish in his apparel, in fortune poor, unhappy in his wives, unfit for all offices in the commonwealth, always laughing, tippling, and merrily carousing to everyone, with continual gibes and jeers, the better by those means to conceal his divine knowledge. Now, opening this box you would have found within it a heavenly and inestimable drug, a more than human understanding, an admirable virtue, matchless learning, invincible courage, unimitable sobriety, certain contentment of mind, perfect assurance, and an incredible misregard of all that for which men commonly do so much watch, run, sail, fight, travel, toil and turmoil themselves.

Whereunto (in your opinion) doth this little flourish of a preamble tend? For so much as you, my good disciples, and some other jolly fools of ease and leisure, reading the pleasant titles of some books of our invention, as Gargantua, Pantagruel, Whippot, the Dignity of Codpieces, of Pease and Bacon with a Commentary, &c., are too ready to judge, that there is nothing in them but jests, mockeries, lascivious discourse, and recreative lies; because the outside (which is the title) is usually, without any farther inquiry, entertained with scoffing and derision. But truly it is very unbeseeming to make so slight account of the works of men, seeing yourselves avouch that it is not the habit makes the monk, many being monasterially accoutred, who inwardly are nothing less than monachal, and that there are of those that wear Spanish capes, who have but little of the valour of Spaniards in them. Therefore is it, that you must open the book, and seriously consider of the matter treated in it. Then shall you find that it containeth things of far higher value than the box did promise; that is to say, that the subject thereof is not so foolish as by the title at the first sight it would appear to be.

And put the case, that in the literal sense you meet with purposes merry and solacious enough, and consequently very correspondent to their inscriptions, yet must not you stop there as at the melody of the charming syrens, but endeavour to interpret that in a sublimer sense which possibly you intended to have spoken in the jollity of your heart. Did you ever pick the lock of a cupboard to steal a bottle of wine out of it? Tell me truly, and, if you did, call to mind the countenance which then you had. Or, did you ever see a dog with a marrowbone in his mouth,—the beast of all other, says Plato, lib. 2, de Republica, the most philosophical? If you have seen him, you might have remarked with what devotion and circumspectness he wards and watcheth it: with what care he keeps it: how fervently he holds it: how prudently he gobbets it: with what affection he breaks it: and with what diligence he sucks it. To what end all this? What moveth him to take all these pains? What are the hopes of his labour? What doth he expect to reap thereby? Nothing but a little marrow. True it is, that this little is more savoury and delicious than the great quantities of other sorts of meat, because the marrow (as Galen testifieth, 5. facult. nat. & 11. de usu partium) is a nourishment most perfectly elaboured by nature.

In imitation of this dog, it becomes you to be wise, to smell, feel and have in estimation these fair goodly books, stuffed with high conceptions, which, though seemingly easy in the pursuit, are in the cope and encounter somewhat difficult. And then, like him, you must, by a sedulous lecture, and frequent meditation, break the bone, and suck out the marrow,—that is, my allegorical sense, or the things I to myself propose to be signified by these Pythagorical symbols, with assured hope, that in so doing you will at last attain to be both well-advised and valiant by the reading of them: for in the perusal of this treatise you shall find another kind of taste, and a doctrine of a more profound and abstruse consideration, which will disclose unto you the most glorious sacraments and dreadful mysteries, as well in what concerneth your religion, as matters of the public state, and life economical.

Do you believe, upon your conscience, that Homer, whilst he was a-couching his Iliads and Odysses, had any thought upon those allegories, which Plutarch, Heraclides Ponticus, Eustathius, Cornutus squeezed out of him, and which Politian filched again from them? If you trust it, with neither hand nor foot do you come near to my opinion, which judgeth them to have been as little dreamed of by Homer, as the Gospel sacraments were by Ovid in his Metamorphoses, though a certain gulligut friar and true bacon-picker would have undertaken to prove it, if perhaps he had met with as very fools as himself, (and as the proverb says) a lid worthy of such a kettle.

If you give no credit thereto, why do not you the same in these jovial new chronicles of mine? Albeit when I did dictate them, I thought upon no more than you, who possibly were drinking the whilst as I was. For in the composing of this lordly book, I never lost nor bestowed any more, nor any other time than what was appointed to serve me for taking of my bodily refection, that is, whilst I was eating and drinking. And indeed that is the fittest and most proper hour wherein to write these high matters and deep sciences: as Homer knew very well, the paragon of all philologues, and Ennius, the father of the Latin poets, as Horace calls him, although a certain sneaking jobernol alleged that his verses smelled more of the wine than oil.
So saith a turlupin or a new start-up grub of my books, but a turd for him. The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing, celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine. I truly hold it for an honour and praise to be called and reputed a Frolic Gualter and a Robin Goodfellow; for under this name am I welcome in all choice companies of Pantagruelists. It was upbraided to Demosthenes by an envious surly knave, that his Orations did smell like the sarpler or wrapper of a foul and filthy oil-vessel. For this cause interpret you all my deeds and sayings in the perfectest sense; reverence the cheese-like brain that feeds you with these fair billevezees and trifling jollities, and do what lies in you to keep me always merry. Be frolic now, my lads, cheer up your hearts, and joyfully read the rest, with all the ease of your body and profit of your reins. But hearken, joltheads, you viedazes, or dickens take ye, remember to drink a health to me for the like favour again, and I will pledge you instantly, Tout ares-metys.


French text first published 1532. English translations 1653 and 1693 by Thomas Urquhart

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Art of Gluttony and Temperance

Gluttony - Medieval Woodcut
One of the most famous images in the West, and the foundation of Christian theology was the story of the Fall of Man. In terms of the English literary tradition the most celebrated retelling of the story, derived from the Book of Genesis, was John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667)

If we look closely at Milton's works we can discern that there was a close correlation between the excesses of curiosity and the precarious results of attempting to over-reach our human limits. The notion of gluttony, and the need to balance it with temperance, played a key role in Milton's theology, and in the literary presentation of his theme. The balance between these ideas suggests the notion of a need for discipline and regulation - what we might in modern terms think of as a healthy diet.

But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with Surfeit, and soon turns
Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Wind.
(Paradise Lost 7.126-30) 

In a poem that is often celebrated for its classical eloquence, decorum and decency, there is a hint of absurd humour in the momentary images of digestive excess, and of a discordant and grotesque flatulence. But such images are not infrequent. They form an unpleasant cluster. In the most grotesque of these images Death is depicted as a Glutton who is unable to satisfy his appetite.

The theme of Gluttony is a favourite one in English Literature, and it was often placed first in the Seven Deadly Sins (even before Pride). In Chaucer's classic Canterbury Tales, it was the Pardoner who outlined the case against Gluttony in a vivid rhetorical outburst:

O glotonye, ful of cursednesse!
O cause first of our confusioun!
O original of oure dampnacioun,
Til Crist hadde boght us with his blood agayn!
Lo, how deere, shortly for to sayn,
Aboght was thilke cursed vileynye!
Corrupt was al this world for glotonye. (498-504)

But John Milton shows us the other side too; for post-lapsarian gluttony is balanced with pre-lapsarian temperance and dietary and culinary harmoniousness.  The poet persistently represents harmony in terms of balanced bodily constitution. In fact, the Garden of Eden is, in part, presented as female Nature. Before the Fall there is a pure balance of its constituent elements, even if that is difficult for our post-lapsarian consciousness to grasp. The temptation for the reader is to find a garden that is turning already to wildness and over-ripeness; a garden that tempts by virtue of its delightfully cunning sense of ominous fruition.

Logically, we find that after the Fall, the Garden must expel what has polluted it

Those pure immortal Elements that know
No gross, no unharmonious mixture foul,
Eject him tainted now, and purge him off
As a distemper, gross to air as gross,
And mortal food, as may dispose him best
For dissolution wrought by Sin, that first
Distemper’d all things, and of incorrupt
Corrupted. (11.50-57)

As we move from the medieval to the renaissance period, the theme of Temperance and gluttony persists. Briefly, one might consider Edmund Spenser's allegorical poem The Faerie Queene, which draws on many traditional elements. In Book 1 of the poem, which explores the theology and theme of Holiness, the Red Crosse Knight visits the House of Pride, where Lucifera’s procession includes Idleness, followed by Gluttony on a swine. In line with common iconographic representations, he is displayed gorging himself and he is drunk. He is traditionally presented as a version of Bacchus or Silenus, suffering from dropsy:

Such one was Idlenesse, first of this company.

And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,
   Deformed creature, on a filthie swyne,
   His belly was vp-blowne with luxury,
   And eke with fatnesse swollen were his eyne,
   And like a Crane his necke was long and fyne,
   With which he swallowd vp excessiue feast,
   For want whereof poore people oft did pyne;
   And all the way, most like a brutish beast,
   He spued vp his gorge, that all did him deteast.

In greene vine leaues he was right fitly clad;
   For other clothes he could not weare for heat,
   And on his head an yuie girland had,
   From vnder which fast trickled downe the sweat:
   Still as he rode, he somewhat still did eat,
   And in his hand did beare a bouzing can,
   Of which he supt so oft, that on his seat
   His dronken corse he scarse vpholden can,
In shape and life more like a monster, then a man.

Vnfit he was for any worldy thing,
   And eke vnhable once to stirre or go,
   Not meet to be of counsell to a king,
   Whose mind in meat and drinke was drowned so,
   That from his friend he seldome knew his fo:
   Full of diseases was his carcas blew,
   And a dry dropsie through his flesh did flow:
   Which by misdiet daily greater grew:
Such one was Gluttony, the second of that crew.

And next to him rode lustfull Lechery,

(Book 1 Canto 4.20-24).

It is also significant that Milton represents an idealised notion of food in contrast to the vile excesses of gluttony. In this case, the culinary elements are life-affirming, balanced, and perfectly presented by Eve who is the unblemished Mother of a line of idealised female Hostesses

She turns, on hospitable thoughts intent
What choice to choose for delicacy best,
What order, so contriv’d as not to mix
Tastes, not well join’d, inelegant, but bring
Taste after taste upheld with kindliest change. (5.332-36)

And in the case of Spenser, the Second Book of his chivalrous romance dealt with the notion of the golden mean, avoiding extremity, and the virtue embodied in Temperance.

As we have been outlining, real food is always the product of a complex consumption of cultural codes; and these can serve to evaluate, in lurid or pleasing allegorical terms, the very foundations of good and evil. Food serves as an effective means to explore the moral universe. It is both corporeal sensation and a means to critical thinking, and furthermore serves to evaluate the moral universe.

Discussing the “paradise within” Michael Schoenfeldt's study of Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England has proposed that this concept “is not a geographical place but rather a series of social and dietary practices that cultivate the inner spaces of the postlapsarian subject.” (53)

His outline of the thematics associated with the “alimental vision” in Paradise Lost, based on the mutual mapping of physiology and psychology surely deserves to be better understood.

Further Reading

Allen, Stewart Lee, In the Devil's Garden: a Sinful History of Forbidden Food. Canongate, 2002.

Scodel, Joshua. Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature. Princeton. Princeton University Press, 2002.

Schoenfeldt, Michael, Bodies and Selves in Early Modern England: Physiology and Inwardness in Spenser, Shakespeare, Herbert and Milton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999

Yeager, R. F. “Aspects of Gluttony in Chaucer and Gower,” Studies in Philology 81 (1984): 42-55.

Cooks and Authors compared.

The Sutler - Peter von Hess

The world of the cook and that of the writer overlap more than we may think. In the satirical sketch (1735) quoted below, the author compares the irritablity and sauciness of writers and cooks, before proceeding to deploy the different categories of cooks as a way of satirising political and society  figures. 

Furthermore, types of cookery serve to illustrate social boundaries and divisions. Dr King's Art of Cookery was a culinary satire, based on grotesque imitation of the ancient Latin poet, Horace, whose Art of Poetry was celebrated as a witty manual of what to imitate and what to avoid, if you wanted to achieve the classical aesthetic as a writer.

The Resemblance between Authors and Cooks, probably gave Dr King the Hint of turning Horace's Art of Poetry into the Art of Cookery; and indeed a direct Comparison may be made between the 2 Professions. As, 1. Cooks are generally cholerick, or saucy, and are apt to lay Hands on any Body that comes in their Way. Horace calls Authors- Genus irritabile vatum; which may be applied to Prose Writers, as well as Poets; for to speak the Truth, there is not a more waspish Race of Animals upon Earth than most of our modern Authors.
   Of Cooks there are various Kinds, as well as of Authors. L—d Fanny, for Instance, is a Pastry-Cook, who deals altogether in Puff-paste, and pretty Crinkum Crankums—— Dame Osborne is one of those Women Cooks, who pretend to nothing more than plain Roasting and Boiling ; nay, she does this so sluttishly, that it's surprising to see her continued so long in a Gentleman's Service, but being an Old Stander, and let into the Secrets of the Family, her Master may be afraid to turn her off. Mr Walsingham gives himself the Air of a Cook of Quality, tho' he can only toss up a few Kickshaws without Taste or Substance. -  The Courantiers are a sort of Suttlers, who follow the Camp, and keep a dirty Cook's Shop for the worst of Company. We have besides a set of anniversary Writers, kept as a Corps de Reserve, to maintain the Post of Honour, and justify all the remarkable Blunders of the Year. These resemble those extraordinary Cooks, who assist at great Entertainments, for Kings and Personages of high Rank. I, says D'Anvers, must likewise own myself a political Cook, who keep a two penny Ordinary every Saturday for all Comers, and I hope I dress nothing but what is wholesome and agreeable to an English Stomach.
 An Author, like a Cook, ought to have a regular Education, before he sets up for himself; yet as Scullions sometimes profess themselves Cooks, so some commence Authors without learning to spell, or understanding Grammar. -  But this is so tender a Point, that I can't explain, myself without drawing the whole Posse of ministerial Writers on my Back.
A good Cook does not always serve up the fame Things, like Mother Osborne, without Variation, or Propriety. In Summer, Things of light Digestion, and even Whipt Syllabubs and Ice Creams are agreeable; but towards the End of the Year People expect something more substantial, to warm their Blood and keep up their Spirits; and I always endeavour’d to imitate this Rule of Cookery. Pickles and Sauces are allow'd to sharpen the Appetite, and give a Relish to the Meat. But what does that Cook deserve, who uses Jalop, or Assa foetida, and gives the Company a Vomit, instead of quickening their Stomachs, or pleasing their Palates? Such Cooks are like those Authors, who for want of Wit or Humour to season their Writings, endeavour to give a false Gusto, by throwing in Billingsgate and personal Scurrility.
 It's the Privilege of Cooks to lick their own Fingers ; i. e. to get by their Business; Authors have the fame Right: but as a Cook would be hang'd if  he took Money to poison the People; so an Author deserves the same Fate, who endeavours to raise himself out of his Rags and Obscurity, by scribbling away the Liberties of his Country. So, when I see our ministerial Advocates writing about our Constitution, I think of the Old Saying, God sends us Meat, but the Devil sends us Cooks.


4 January 1735
The Gentleman’s Magazine Vol 5: p.7
The Craftsman 444.
Title: "Cooks and Authors compar'd."

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Broth with Snails and Frogs, against a dry Cough.

Take a dozen of Vine or Garden Snails, and the hind legs of two dozen of Frogs; let them have two or three boils, to take off the skim, then pound them in a marble Mortar; take also the white of four Leeks, or half a dozen good turnips, which you must scrape and cut small, with a small handful of peel’d Barley.

Let the whole boil in two pints of Water till boiled to one:

Then let it run through a Sieve without straining it, and make it serve twice:

Before you give it to a Patient, put ten or twelve grains of pounded Saffron in the Porringer.

This sort of Broth is taken fasting in the morning, and three or four hours after supper, for a month or six weeks, taking some Purge when requisite.


Texts from Vincent la Chappelle's

The Modern Cook: Containing Instructions for preparing and ordering Publick Entertainment for the Tables of Princes, Ambassadors, Noblemen, and Magistrates. As also the least Expenditure Methods of providing for private Families, in a very elegant Manner.

3 vols, 2nd ed. (1736)

Vincent la Chappelle was chief Cook to the Right Honourable the Earl of Chesterfield and later Chief Cook to his Highness the Prince of Orange.

Is Shakespeare on the Menu ?

Food in Shakespeare: Early Modern Dietaries and the Plays (Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity)

Dr Joan Fitzpatrick was one of my colleagues in Renaissance Studies several years ago, at the time when we were working in the English Studies Department at the University of Northampton. She has recently published two books on Shakespeare and food that deserve as wider readership.

[Let me know if you have any other recommendations on food and litearture, please!]

The first academic book is Food in Shakespeare: Early Modern Dietaries and the Plays. The interest in this book appears to be symptomatic of the rediscovery of an interest in food and literature that has been taking place in the last decade.

Here's the summary from Amazon.

"A study of common and exotic food in Shakespeare's plays, this is the first book to explore early modern English dietary literature to better understand the significance of food in Shakespearean drama. "Food in Shakespeare" provides for modern readers and audiences an historically accurate account of the range of, and conflicts between, contemporary ideas that informed the representations of food in the plays. It also focuses on the social and moral implications of familiar and strange foodstuff in Shakespeare's works.This new approach provides substantial fresh readings of "Hamlet", "Macbeth", "As you Like It", "The Winter's Tale", "Henry IV - Parts 1 and 2", "Henry V", "Titus Andronicus", "Coriolanus", "Pericles", "Timon of Athens", and the co-authored "Sir Thomas More".Among the dietaries explored are Andrew Boorde's "A Compendyous Regyment or a Dyetary of Healthe" (1547), William Bullein's "The Gouernement of Healthe" (1595), Thomas Elyot's "The Castle of Helthe" (1595) and Thomas Cogan's "The Hauen of Health" (1636). These dieteries were republished several times in the early modern period; together they typify the genre's condemnation of surfeit and the tendency to blame human disease on feeding practices.This study directs scholarly attention to the importance of early modern dietaries, analyzing their role in wider culture as well as their intersection with dramatic art. In the dietaries food and drink are indices of one's position in relation to complex ideas about rank, nationality, and spiritual well-being; careful consumption might correct moral as well as physical shortcomings. The dietaries are an eclectic genre: some contain recipes for the reader to try, others give tips on more general lifestyle choices, but all offer advice on how to maintain good health via diet. Although some are more stern and humourless than others, the overwhelming impression is that of food as an ally in the battle against disease and ill-health as well as a potential enemy." Available here.

Her other book is ...

Shakespeare and the Language of Food: A Dictionary (Continuum Shakespeare Dictionaries)

Shakespeare and the Language of Food: A Dictionary (Continuum Shakespeare Dictionaries)

 "This is a detailed historical analysis of Shakespeare and food that provides fascinating insights into early modern attitudes to the body and domestic life. This dictionary is the first to analyze Shakespeare's language of food. It provides an historically accurate account of the role of food in early modern culture and the way this intersected with Shakespeare's writings and introduces contemporary ideas that informed the representations of food and feeding in his plays and poems. Drawing on early modern dietaries as well as other sources including religious sermons and tracts, legal documents, recipe books and conduct manuals, it provides the historical and cultural context to Shakespeare's depictions of food and feeding. This comprehensive analysis of Shakespeare and food also offers fascinating insights into early modern attitudes to food, drink, the body and domestic life. "The Continuum Shakespeare Dictionary" series provides authoritative guides to major subject-areas covered by the poetry and plays. The dictionaries provide readers with a comprehensive guide to the topic under discussion, especially its contemporary meanings, and to its occurrence and significance in Shakespeare's works. Comprehensive bibliographies accompany many of the items. Entries range from a few lines in length to mini-essays, providing the opportunity to explore an important literary or historical concept or idea in depth."- Amazon.

Dr Ian McCormick.

The really coded cultural food

The notion of real food as natural food, pure and organic, is rather delusional. But we cannot separate ourselves from the idea of a return to nature, to an original simplicity, a mythically displaced time when plants and animals have not been tampered with in some way. This is no less true of what we might want to call tribal or savage, pre-literate societies, where one would still encounter highly evolved rituals from gathering herbal remedies to the hunting and cooking of food

Undoubtedly there is far more that could be outlined at this point by touching on the work of the celebrated Claude Lévi-Strauss who analysed brilliantly the structural and sociological oppositions between life/death and agriculture/hunting; further equating these with the opposition between herbivores and birds of prey; and the ambiguous middle category of the raven or coyote, which is also the form assumed by the trickster. Lévi-Strauss, you may recall, also wrote a book about Le Cru et le cuit (1964), translated as The Raw and the Cooked (1969).

Indeed, food does not lack its psychoanalytic analysts, nor its cultural critics. Roland Barthes' Mythologies (1957) included essay on 'Operation Margarine', Wine and Milk', 'Steak and Chips', and 'Ornamental Cookery' (translated in 1972).

Human history and evolution is intertwined with an array of artificial processes. Indeed, the notion of hunting and gathering represents a primary gateway into the cultural domain. To think, and to think food, are two sides of the same coin. The notion of prohibition, expressed in the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, ushers in the knowledge of good and evil, and the emergence of food as the link to moral conflict. From the excesses of the aristocratic banquet to the modest conviviality of the middle classes, and on to authoritarian attempts to regulate of the diet of the poor (Charles Dickens's orphan Oliver Twist) food regimes have fascinating stories to tell about the organisation of social life and the management of class boundaries.

At another extreme we come up against the complex myths and realities of cannibalism, and the biting satire of Jonathan Swift's ironic 'Modest Proposal' that the starving Irish should consume their babies as a nutritious and plentiful source of food.

I suspect that the 'real' truth about most of our food is actually quite horrific; that it is perhaps the worst and least discussed forms of human cruelty, exploitation and industrialised processing. (I'd recommend Richard W. Lacey's third chapter of his book Hard to Swallow: A Brief History of Food, which deals with the intensive rearing of animals and birds.)

Food occupies a central position in what we mean by culture and civilisation. Long ago in human pre-history food ceased to be natural. For animal life in general, many aspects of the quest for food pre-suppose that there is a capacity for some degree of social organisation involved. Tactical approaches and a hunting strategy suggest that complex and learned activities are at work. Beyond the search for, and capture of food, we must next consider the organised planting, seeding, growing, nurturing and harvesting of plants and animals. Each of these steps moves us beyond really natural food to really unnatural. Food is the cultural domain.

As I write this blog, Celebrity Masterchef has just reach its final. The latest news is that filming has started for a new Simon Cowell entertainment cookery series to be called Food Glorious Food. The bestseller books lists are dominated by cookery books and the AQA A-level exam board in the UK launched last year a new anthology for language and literature, also called ... Food Glorious Food.

Having spent some time researching the history of recipes in the Enlightenment during a period working at the British Library (1997-2003), it struck me that some of that scholarship might be shared on this blog. 

So, in the coming weeks, why not watch out for my grotesque recipes , as well as some cynical reflections of the hype that is currently being attached to the glorification of food in the media.