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Sandra Gilbert on Culinary Imagination

Sandra M. Gilbert wrote on how we think, imagine, write about food. Her book itself is such a gorgeous feast! Delivered straight form history, deliciously packed, allowing you to the best words and thoughts on food, the best phrases, the best images. Reading it fast would be like gulping down an exquisite meal: a pure waste. It is a book to read slowly. To stop, after each sentence or two, and taste, that is - contemplate.

“Medieval monks dreamed of the land of Cockayne, where houses were made of cakes and roasted fowls fell from the sky demanding to be eaten”, she writes. And here they are, the monks, in front of you: their arms stretched up, towards the creamy clouds above them, in expectation.

“The galaxy is in the shape of an eating mouth”, she quotes William Dickey – a perfect way to introduce the primeval dilemma of all living beings : eat or be eaten. And from today on there could be no night, in which you search the dark sky for the galactic mouth, in which you are a particle far tinier than a speckle.

Hemingway, the macho writer with the short sentences, short life and sudden death, so very masculine all through as Ursula Le Guine has noted, is an unexpected character in a book, dedicated to humanity’s food ruminations. But there he is, boasting of his dining prowess: “I have eaten Chinese sea slugs, muskrat, porcupine, beaver tail, birds’ nests, octopus and horse meat… mule meat, bear meat, moose meat,… hundred-year-old eggs and snails”. You read and laugh – imagining the time when snails, octopus or horse meat, hundred-year-old eggs or sea slugs were exotic. And then you read on and admire the beauty and depth of his wisdom: “There is romance in food when romance has disappeared from everywhere else”. Another, striking, short sentence.

Sandra M. Gilbert, The Culinary Imagination, 2014, W. W. Norton & Company

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