The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity

Norton. 2014. 448p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393067651. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393244038. COOKING
It's no revelation that modern society is fascinated by food. Food writing is an increasingly popular genre, and food is a common theme in novels, art, movies, and on television. In this intensive social history, Gilbert (coauthor, The Madwoman in the Attic) questions why we meditate on food—its stories, history, and preparation. While the author doesn't provide a clear answer to this question, she traces the evolution of culinary imagination through history by examining myths, literature, memoirs, poems, children's books, art, and television. Going back to antiquity, the first section of the book examines the philosophical meanings of food and its lore, taboos, and practices. The second section demonstrates ways the invention of the "foodoir" or food memoir turned the act of thinking about food into a way of thinking about life. The final part of the volume examines related issues such as hunger, diets, and eating disorders. Gilbert's research is interspersed with bits of her own personal "foodoir," which makes for an uneven read but lightens the scholarly tone somewhat.
VERDICT Extensively researched with a profusion of references, this work is appropriate for academic readers or the serious student of food literature.
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