content note: food, consumption*
As a new addition to the SPOONFEED editorial team, and the editor of New Interpretations, a blog for political essays, I was looking forward to bringing a critical approach to bear on the editing process. This was, however, complicated by the outstanding quality of not just the work selected for publication, but of all the writing submitted for consideration. The authors whose work was eventually chosen to feature in this issue all show an ability to understand and represent the value and beauty of food – something that is often lost via its relegation to the realms of necessity.
Inspired by the perceptiveness of the food writing in this issue, I began to consider how we might come to better appreciate the aesthetic value of our food – and put this into words. It is not until this aesthetic value is translated into language that it is truly appreciated; prior to this, the value is trapped within the individual. The ability to verbalise or write about this value does, however, rest on an ability to appreciate it in the first place.
I looked to Howard S. Becker’s 1974 discussion of how to read a photograph. Becker argues that – unlike photographers – ‘[l]aymen learn to read photographs the way they do headlines, skipping over them quickly to get the gist of what is being said.’ This inattentiveness to detail should not be attributed to a lack of ability, but rather to the role that media plays in our society. The oversaturation of media in daily life has meant that its consumption has ultimately become symptomatic of its dailiness – something that is done absentmindedly. In this sense, the “consumption” of media parallels the consumption of food. We so often fail to grasp the value of food outside of chemical sustenance, by eating it quickly, and – rather aptly – eating it whilst consuming media. It should of course be acknowledged that rapid and/or inattentive consumption of food is not necessarily a choice, but rather a symptom of time poverty. Ultimately, what this means is that we frequently miss the beauty of food.
Becker implores us to read photographs with care, as ‘[e]very part of the photographic image carries some information that contributes to its total statement’. Becker cites a method taught to him by Philip Perkis:
‘Using a watch with a second hand, look at the photograph intently for two minutes. Don't stare and thus stop looking; look actively. It will be hard to do, and you 'II find it useful to take up the time by naming everything in the picture to yourself: this is a man, this is his arm, this is the finger on his hand, this is the shadow his hand makes, this is the cloth of his sleeve, and so on. Once you have done this for two minutes, build it up to five, following the naming of things with a period of fantasy, telling yourself a story about the people and things in the picture. The story needn't be true; it's just a device for externalizing and making clear to yourself the emotion and mood the picture has evoked, both part of its statement.’
Given the similarities between the consumption of food and of media, Becker’s call to pay attention to photographs could likewise be applied to our food. By using this method, Becker hopes that we can unpack what a photograph evokes, and through the application of this method to our food, both visually and to its taste, we can hope to achieve something similar. Of course, this approach cannot be utilised word for word – staring at your food for five minutes before touching it may leave it rather tepid.
For Perkis and Becker, appreciating the value of a photograph hinges upon an appreciation of the value of time. Wherever possible, when eating food, we might set time aside without distraction to consider its flavours and thus practice a sort of mindful eating. On a fundamental, analytic level, it may be useful to bear in mind the five ‘basic tastes’ (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami): to identify them in the same way Perkis asks us to identify the elements of a photograph, so as to build up a complete and complex idea of the meal being consumed. This could be termed the ‘reading’ of food.
The writers in this issue take Perkis’ method further: they follow the naming of things with the ‘period of fantasy’. They tell themselves – and us, the readers – a story about the food. This storytelling functions as a means to examine its resonance: by telling stories, borders shiver and dissolve; the world shrinks and holds itself, prone, at the end of a fork.
By spending time with food, as these writers have, it is rescued from the depths of necessity. Hopefully, the writing in this issue can serve as testament not only to the aesthetic beauty of food, but to its power. This issue is free to access; it costs you only the most valuable of currency.
* Please be aware that due to the focus of the magazine, this note applies to the whole issue
Copyright for all work remains with the author thereof and any requests to reprint should be made directly.
Issue 1 © SPOONFEED Magazine
SPOONFEED x New Writing © Caitlin Allen
Issue 2 © Louise Crosby