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.
I came across the following in the letters section of the most recent issue of the Nation:
Ah, the all-American supermarket dumpster: our greatest symbol of plenty. Feelings of nostalgia well up whenever I overhear youths bragging about their latest haul. Genuine recyclers, dumpster-divers are rewarded with a cornucopia that is all the more enjoyable because of its illicit origins.
I can remember dumpster diving only once in my life, and that was with my parents at a liquor store to get packing boxes for a move. The whole experience was humiliating and slightly traumatic, so I’ve never had any desire to repeat it.
While returning from New York recently on the Chinatown bus, I sat by a producer from NPR who told me that his roommates frequently dumpster dove, and that he had even made requests for certain items. He must have noticed the disgust on my face because he defensively added, “you know, expiration dates are only an indication of when foods should be sold. Most food will stay good well past their date of expiration.”
Yikes. Am I totally naive in thinking that this is not a widespread practice? And am I a priss for thinking that rummaging around in rotten food is revolting, not to mention imprudent?
Speaking of dumpster diving, did anyone hear this news?:
[Northwest Airlines] gave pink-slipped employees a tip sheet on how to cut living expenses. Among the suggestions: Rummage through other people’s garbage (Tip# 46: “Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash”).
Yeesh. Tip# 47: ward against potential food-borne bacteria by taking nips of scotch (but not single-malt, too pricey) after eating rummaged items.