Books

Various
New Philosopher, Issue 16

In the way of an amuse-bouche: the average Brit spends five hours a week watching television food programs but only four hours a week cooking; when noise exceeds 89 decibels, the brain has trouble discerning salty from sweet, but umami is unaffected by sound, which is why tomato juice tastes so good on planes and little else does.

“Eating,” Damon Young writes, “…is never just about one object putting another object inside it.” The latest edition of New Philosopher is devoted to food: how we ritualise it, waste it, obsess over it, turn it into virtue and vice. As always, the magazine itself is a feast of information, ideas, wit and good writing, designed to be devoured in a couple of sittings.

There’s plenty of spice in “Food”. Take this verbal eye-roll from Oliver Burkeman, for example: “There’s never been a better time in history to be the kind of person who enjoys not eating things.” Behind our “dietary obsessions”, he suggests, is “the ubiquitous desire to transcend death”. Burkeman is not the only one to question the trend to eschew rather than chew (gluten, wheat, cooked food etc). Patrick Stokes asks why we assign a moral value to abstinence. Unsurprisingly, Will Self contributes one of the most provocative essays in the issue, admitting to a “visceral repulsion” at “the whole-body fat-suit the majority of my contemporaries have now donned” and drily observing that “fat activists” appear to demand both admiration (“as if they were all latter-day Venuses of Willendorf”) and pity (“it’s glandular”). He is also repulsed by “the exaggerated foodie culture which is what we now have in lieu of a literary one”. Turn the page and you’ll find a quote from Molière: “I live on good soup, not on fine words.”

Each year, one half of the food on earth – two billion edible tonnes of it – is thrown away. One third of that would adequately feed all the chronically malnourished people in the world. Famines are not usually a question of there not being enough food, but of how it is distributed relative to “entitlement”.

Other items on the menu of New Philosopher’s “Food” issue are hedonics, or the pleasure (or displeasure) we derive from food; ethical dilemmas of abundance and scarcity; the deeper meanings of hospitality and table manners; and a map detailing the strange habits of omnivores – fried tarantulas in Cambodia, puffin hearts in Iceland and “leftover brewer’s yeast extract” in Australia.  CG

Poet Press, 132pp, $14.95

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 20, 2017 as "Various, New Philosopher, Issue 16". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: CG

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