In Gastronomy you will find some writings that go to the history of cuisines, dishes and ingredients. You will also find some analysis that links to cuisine this century. I’ve included a ‘controversial’ section because i know some of my ideas do not align with established opinions and thoughts on some subjects relating to gastronomy.
While we are discussing it .......
The birth and rise of gastronomy in nineteenth century France was driven by the combined writings of journalists, cooks, sociologists, philosophers and even novelists: the media of that age, if you will. In post revolution France a new world emerged: one of increasing wealth, and changing ideas and beliefs.
The economic growth, the elimination of economic constraints and the political stability in the early nineteenth century allowed for the increased production and availability of foodstuffs. Moreover, this was further influenced by a rise in affluence, in addition to the more varied range of foods available from a greater distance. At the time, good eating was still perceived as the privilege of the rich, based on their status and breeding, and so the newly wealthy of the population went looking for somewhere to eat. Concurrently, the rise of the restaurant provided this medium for virtual nobility, providing the opportunity for anyone who could afford it. The restaurant, having brought culinary opulence from the private home into the public domain, became the main catalyst for gastronomy, as a social and cultural pursuit, thus marking diners as part of an elite class.
SOCIAL / CULTURAL
This apparent change in culture was in part influenced by changes in the medical and religious beliefs of the time. Aside from the subordination of humoral beliefs in relation to food, the religious beliefs were also influenced by new definitions of gastronomy that removed it from connotations of gluttony. Glutton retained the negative ‘seven deadly sins’ association, whilst gastronomy gained a positive definition that associated it with taste, intellect and credibility. The subsequent rise in gastronomy and culinary discourse changed French culture through the emerging genres of gastronomic writing.
Facilitating this new social and cultural change, and striving to provide tradition based guidance aligned to the new democratic culture, Grimod de la Reyniere became the first gastronomic journalist. As a man of breeding he set out to educate the new society of wealth by establishing an order and a series of rules that demonstrated ‘Taste’. Furthermore, he sought to provide guidance on the etiquette of dining well. Grimod’s influence spanned a number of genres in that he was effectively responsible for the gastronomic guidebook, formal gastronomic discourse and the gastronomic periodical. Grimod’s style was very autocratic, critical and rules based, whereas his contemporary Brillat-Savarin provided a more witty and conversational approach to the subject, thus his area of influence differed, both in audience and popularity.
Brillat-Savarin’s writing was essentially for the reader, appealing to the intellect of the reader by making the prose the main focus of his work. For Brillat-Savarin, gastronomy was social and modern; he perceived it as a contemporary and intellectual pursuit. He approached gastronomy from a social perspective, how it applied to class and taste, without concentrating on any specific class or social condition. Notwithstanding this approach, his opinion was such that there were indicators of a natural gastronomic trait: in comparing a doctor to a blacksmith, the former would be the likelier gastronome than the latter. Moreover, because of Brillat-Savarin’s writing style, he reached the wider reader and consumer, eventually turning gastronomy into a ‘science of society’. In many ways, the conditions that influenced nineteenth century gastronomy have recurred in western societies in recent years.
Taking these influences from nineteenth century France, and extrapolating them into the modern age highlights some similarities, and some interesting differences. Modern dietetics is now increasingly influencing cooks to limit certain ingredients. Economically, whilst general affluence may be on the rise, the range of restaurants both in number and price, has now reached a point where they are not necessarily available to everyone. Conversely, the range of media now dedicated to food seems to be increasing exponentially, with the range of cookbooks, food and cooking shows, and celebrity chefs. Furthermore, comparing the amiable longevity of Brillat-Savarin’s writing to Grimod’s relatively short-lived fame, the more popular and enduring styles of modern food media seem to be the ones that are more unilaterally appealing: viz, the well written book (Jeffrey Steingarten), or the more charismatic chef (Jamie Oliver).
In nineteenth century France, after a long period of unrest, a new society was born. They had more money, more food, and fewer cultural and medical restrictions. Able to enjoy the food based on its taste, and encouraged by the rise of a new location to eat, society embraced the change. Add to this the emergence of the food journalist, the guidebook and the restaurant review, and gastronomy and the associated discourse flourished. Similarly, in today’s western societies, the popularity and interest in food, gastronomy, and the general food media seems to be increasingly on the rise.