In this piece, Adam Gopnik makes an appeal to readers to look beyond the politics of food that have become so hotly contested of late, in order to reinvest the ‘ritual of the table’ with its proper social, emotional, and familial significance. He begins by quoting a frenchman’s last letter to his parents before being executed by the Nazis in 1942, in which this man humbly recalls the happy meals he’s shared with those he loves most and the richness these times added to his life. Beginning with such an example as this, Gopnik provokes an inward glance to be cast by the reader into personal recollections and meanings attached to food in its social context. Do we eat together or alone? Are meals opportunities for discussion or is there not enough time anymore for such a simple luxury? I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that within American mainstream culture, less and less importance has been invested in the ritual of shared meals over time, perhaps because our self-image (especially post-WWII) has been driven by ideals of efficiency, and ethics of capital profit.
Gopnik questions the use of our culture’s bourgeoning interest in food if all of the emphasis is placed on the pragmatics of sourcing, and preparation–rather than on the basic joy of sharing it with others. As he says, “Having made food a more fashionable subject, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject…Betrayed by its enlargement, food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is made to matter.”
He also addresses the split within the food movement into camps of what he calls ‘techno-emotional’ (molecular gastronomy) and slow food–which is centered around local, sustainable, earth-to-table practices. His personal leanings would appear to be more in the ‘slow food’ camp, as he shows disdain for trying to make food into an ‘art’ or an outlet for machismo (which the proliferation of shows like man vs. food have tried to sell audiences).
What seems to be the most important idea to take from this excerpt of Gopnik’s is the necessity of remembering the context of food within our humanity as a thinking, feeling, self-aware species. To separate food from eating from culture from life is all an exercise in alienation; from ourselves, each other, and our collective senses.