Chopsticks (Roland Barthes, from Empire of Signs, 1970, translated into English in 1982)
At the Floating Market in Bangkok, each vendor sits in a tiny motionless canoe, selling minuscule quantities of food: seeds, a few eggs, bananas, coconuts, mangoes, pimentos (not to speak of the Unnamable). From himself to his merchandise, including his vessel, everything is small. Occidental food, heaped up, dignified, swollen to the majestic, linked to a certain oepration of prestige, always tends toward the heavy, the grand, the abundant, the copious; the Oriental follows the converse moement, and tends toward the infinitesimal: the cucumber’s future is not its accumulation or its thickening, but its division, its tenuous dispersal, as this haiku puts it:
The juice runs
Drawing spider legs
Fresh Figs (Walter Benjamin, from “Food”. Published in the Frankfurter Zeitung, May 1930.)
No one who has never eaten a food to excess has ever really experienced it, or fully exposed himself to it. Unless you do this, you at best enjoy it, but never come to lust after it, or make the acquaintance of that diversion from the straight and narrow road of the appetite which leads to the primeval forest of greed. For in gluttony two things coincide: the boundlessness of desire and the uniformity of the food that sates it.
A Nice Cup of Tea
by George Orwell
Evening Standard, 12 January 1946
IF YOU look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than 11 outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own 11 rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
AFTER years of carving up tuna carcasses in my bathtub, catching cod in the dead of winter and cooking fish and chips for crowds of 50-plus I have come to be known among my friends as the fish guy.
Until recently I’ve enjoyed being the fish guy and my ability to correctly answer questions about fish has felt like a game of “Jeopardy” rigged for my benefit. How do you tell a flounder from a fluke? Easy, fluke have prominent teeth, flounder don’t. Should bluefish and striped bass be cooked differently? Definitely: broil the bluefish, bake the bass.
But lately being the fish guy has become complicated. With every new warning about a species being overfished into extinction, friends have started asking if they should eat fish at all. The Pew Oceans Commission report “America’s Living Oceans” first alerted the public to the desperate state of the seas in 2003 when it declared them to be “in crisis.” That year a study in the journal Nature reported that up to 90 percent of the stocks of the ocean’s major predators (Atlantic cod and bluefin tuna to name two) have been wiped out. In the next few weeks, Congress will debate what to do about the dire state of the nation’s fisheries when it takes up the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens fisheries management act.