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Gourmandise or Gluttony?

I just read "The Gourmand" by Mark Gimein, illustrated and with a strong contribution by artist Charlotta Westergren. The author and illustrator link several main themes. First, they ask whether the concept of a gourmand in Brillat Savarin and other historic sources applies to modern times. In the past, straightfoward love of food was often held in contrast to self-advertising through luxurious and ostentatious meals at rich people's tables. In particular, the two authors explore the question in the context of the new book Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold. What I find most interesting is their discussion of classic still-life painting as a critique of gluttony, display of wealth, and excess.

Gimein writes:
"Brillat-Savarin’s grand meals are supposed to test the ability to experience the sublime, but they are also grievously expensive. Even the guest who can’t tell truffles from Cocoa Puffs notices that. The promise of the banquet is transcendence, but its subject is the patron’s wealth."

"In this, Charlotta offers, the Brillat-Savarin banquet is like the classic still life. It’s not for nothing that the Flemish still lifes of masters ... are filled with lemons—the priciest exotic fruit of the time. With the still life the patron shows off his possessions. Or, more subtly, he shows off the richness of his material life while also alleging his indifference to it... . Either way, the invitation of the still life is to transcend luxury by contemplating a luxuriously painted canvas."

And about Myrvold, whose books themselves are unusually expensive? The author's view:
"In the many interviews that have been published with Nathan Myhrvold, my favorite quote is one that he gave to Time magazine: 'I want to empower people to make a better roast chicken.' While Modernist Cuisine does have instructions on how to cook a chicken (with a sous vide machine), this seems to me roughly like a Northern Renaissance burgher insisting that he is just commissioning an illustration of how to polish a goblet or slice an orange. Does anyone believe this?"

The illustrations are especially well-suited to the points made about modern taste. From the article, here is a still life by Charlotta Westergren, illustrating the idea that "the pig is a symbol of gluttony, butterflies mark the transcendence of the soul."

Still Life
-- Charlotta Westergren, La Nature Morte au Cochon, 2008, oil and car paint on aluminum, 24 in. x 54 in.

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