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Food As Art

Food As Art – Can Food Be Art?

I recently heard an art critic say that cooking food is not creating art. “Art is personal,” he said. “Art evokes passionate emotions, be they of revelry or revulsion…and food doesn’t do this.” (But could he have remained dispassionate if he’d eaten The Perfect Peach Pie That Pleases Picky People And Precious Pets or had the misfortune to taste my faux-squirrel stew?)

“Art,” he insists, “transports the participant to a deep place within”. (This shouldn’t be confused with transporting the food itself to that deep place within. But if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then I’d say that a whole lot of transporting something or other is going on.)

“Considering food as art,” the critic continued, “is to consider the fervor of the chef in the act of creation. The chef may be expressing soulful passions in the heat of the kitchen, but the diner’s moment of consumption is the defining criterion for judging the food as art. And while the resulting food on a plate is attractive, it’s hardly a masterpiece the caliber of the Mona Lisa”. True, Da Vinci’s works are feasts for the eyes, but are feasts for the tongue categorically inferior?

Aesthetics aside, simply in economic terms, no single gourmet meal ever demands the dear price of millions of dollars. But biologically-speaking, which is more valuable on a winter’s eve? – a good chicken soup or a stylized rendition of a Campbell’s soup can?

I find the question of food as art as murky as industrial dishwater. Perhaps I’m all mixed up like a roux, or not. Keep reading for more thoughts on food as art.

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Never Alone When Cooking for the United Nations

I am alone in the kitchen. At least I think I’m alone. And I have to make something.

My life demands that I make something, – NOW! But I don’t know how. I admit panic. It’s as if the entire United Nations will soon arrive at my house to feed, and they expect Crayfish Mousseline, a dish I once saw a picture of. And if I fail to feed these hungry United Nations delegates, their grumbling stomachs will derail negotiations, condemning all I love to violent chaos. The future of World Peace totters in my kitchen. It is up to me, and I stand alone.

I look up at cookbooks stacked in a messy pile on a high shelf. I take them down. The authors are absent, but their recorded experience fills pages, which I comb for direction. I fail to find specific, step-by-step instructions. These cooks offer only related recipes. But as I read, I understand that they have done a similar task and succeeded. My task ahead loses some of its omminence.

Reassured I can create something, I take out the mixing bowl and set it on the counter. Now here is a help, I muse. I have a bowl. Someone took the time to make a bowl; I have it, and now my ingredients will not spill all over the floor. I look down, and I have a floor too. Combined with the luxury of my counter, I will not be squatting in the dirt with my bowl.  

Yes, other people, different people, people who didn’t know each other, made my floor, my counter, my bowl, – my entire kitchen, where I stand. I marvel and take up a wooden spoon, perhaps the oldest form of tool in my kitchen. Thousands of years ago, someone had carved the first wooden spoon. Last month someone’s machine manufactured this one, the one in my hand. A spoon, a bowl, a counter, and a floor and all those people who built them stand ready in my kitchen.

I walk to the ‘fridge. I take out eggs, milk, and butter. Who made these? How many ‘who’s’ made them? How many ‘who’s’ does it take to get butter from grass via cows? How many ‘who’s’ does it take to build and work in a milk factory, in a store, on a car that drives down a road others poured and smoothed, and into a machine I call my refrigerator? How many people’s lives are present in these things, here now in my kitchen, with me?

I feel surrounded by people. My kitchen is so packed with people, I cannot walk without bumping into someone. I man the mixer and  realize that someone outside my kitchen, in a building far away, is right now supervising the electricity that powers it. Other people, in other buildings, are overseeing the gas that flows into my stove. I am not the only one creating this mousseline.

And at this point, comparing it to all the important inventions I use to form my mousseline, this previously daunting task feels tiny and overwhelmingly trivial. But I can’t think about this for long.

The United Nations delegates arrive. They are so hungry they are irritable. I bring the mousseline to the table. We share it; we feast. We sit with one another. Then we reassure each other that we can do it. We change our world in peril to our world possible.

The delegates return to their work. And I do the dishes, knowing that no important work is ever done alone. 

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