Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Keen Taste Memory and the Printed Word

For an art as transitory as gastronomy there can be no record except for a keen taste memory and the printed word.  -James Beard 

Developing and combining these two skills is an earnest ambition, only because I love to eat and I love to write, but I think that Beard is a bit fatalistic here. The act of eating is fleeting. The art of eating is not.

It is true that the memory of a meal can live forever. Rituals around the table anchor. Time does not fly. It stands still in moments of heightened pleasure. It waits for our recollections.

Yes, written words are one way to tie down time and reign it in, but so are my mother's adamant instructions on how to make the perfect sweet potato pie. Her mother said the same words to her. These kinds of memories are only spoken. They are tradition.

Tradition's greater name is culture and in it, the same memories held in high regard yesterday make  time and space inconsequential when they are actively bound by the shared experience of strangers today. Our modern culture's attempts to digitize this inherent desire for connection, it's prompts to "post" and to "like" and to "share", are flat and disconnected.

There is a record of the art the eating, the art of living, the real connections, that transcend the printed word and our own limited attempts to hold them to ourselves. That record can be gleaned in the unspoken and unwritten rules of your own rituals, in the actions that you perform over and over again around your own table: the time that you set it, what you set it with, who sits before it, what is eaten, how the meal ends. Your records are your traditions, not a result of an intellectual exercise. Your records are the guides that you leave your children to follow and the the expectations that your parents have left to you.

Beard's ideas here are noble. They are only limited by how much importance he places on our finite minds.  The art of gastronomy, the art of life, lives on and on.

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