I love a good anthology. And, I have enjoyed much of Sandra Gilbert's work, including both Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve and, more relevant to this blog, The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity published in 2014. Of course, she is most famous for The Madwoman in the Attic which I have never read, though I ought to pretend I did if I am going to continue to try to legitimize my feminist past and present and future. So, of course, the second I saw Eating Words: A Norton Anthology of Food Writing (edited by Gilbert and Roger J. Porter), what did I do? I bought it. And, I let it "bake," browsing it now and then to see what caught my fancy.
Some of what is contained in this anthology is. . . predictable . . . for anyone who thinks about and reads about food. For example, who has not heard about Proust and madelines? Who does not know that Leviticus involves food in many many (quite restrictive) ways? (Yes, it is frequently cited as though only homosexuality was taboo -- but so too are shrimp, pork, and much else). Who does not know that Jonathan Swift once made a modest proposal to (SPOILER ALERT) eat Catholic children?
If you do not know, this anthology (with its 96 entries) will be very educational. If you do, do not despair. Even for those of us who do know these things, there are new possibilities, transformative things, things that make the reader think and, on occasion, make the reader hungry. I did not know Frederick Douglass's bit on ash cakes and am the better for having read it. Nor did I know Chekhov on oysters, though this one did not change my mind about being someone who . . . well, is not a huge fan of eating oysters. Nor shall I be persuaded, later in the collection, by Seamus Heaney on oysters when I eventually read it. I remember Sinclair Lewis' The Jungle from my youthful reading, and no, I am not going to read it again, just in case I then revert to a long lifetime of not liking sausage. I like sausage and, for this purpose, prefer to remain ignorant or forgetful. Muckraking -- whether then or now -- is important. But not all important literature or muckraking . . . .turns my stomach.
I look forward to re-encountering Barthes on chopsticks and Visser on the rituals associated with dining and the piece by Adam Gopnick, with whom I once dined, listening to my partner eviscerate him on his not very smart or very feminist talk we had just heard. Even so, I usually like what I read of his efforts.
This anthology is both a collection of "classics" and an attempt to create a canon. I assume that is the role of Norton Anthologies and Norton Anthology editors. In this case, of course, two english professors are hard at work pursuing their vocations and avocations simultaneously. Indeed, they are so successful at canon creation (or validation?) that the anthology is already required reading for a course in one Masters Program in Food Studies Having edited an anthology almost 20 years ago (on what we have now come to call LGBTQ studies, bringing together a very disparate set of texts on religion and related matters), I know how much is left on the proverbial cutting room floor (i.e., left out) and how the struggle to categorize can be frustrating. I sit here and imagine that I can overhear the two editors thinking together about all this. And am grateful. A little jealous, but grateful.
For a review from Oregon, where Roger Porter is an english professor (at Reed College), click here.