cover image The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity

The Culinary Imagination: From Myth to Modernity

Sandra M. Gilbert. Norton, $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-393-06765-1

A rich stew of associations are served up in this rambling, flavorful survey of the cultural and literary meanings of food. Poet and critic Gilbert (Death’s Door) noshes from a vast buffet of eras and genres: scriptural eating, from Eve’s bite of the apple to the Last Supper; “food memoirs” that tell a life’s story through meals; abundant modernist fare, from Proust’s luscious madeleine to a Hemingway campfire cookout; kitchen-themed poems, mysteries, and movies, including the Pixar animated epic Ratatouille, which turns restaurant hygiene on its head; contemporary diet primers and bulimia confessionals. Sprinkled throughout are recipes, menus, and the author’s spicy recollection of her Sicilian-American family’s socio-gastronomic rites. Gilbert presents no particular thesis, but does tease out a theme: food’s role as the sine qua non of bodily reality, and thus intertwined with carnality, female eroticism, bourgeois pleasure, and, in Sartre’s Nausea, existentialist revulsion at virtually everything. The topics she covers are so many and wide-ranging that they sometimes feel shallow. But when Gilbert sinks her teeth into a subject—a vivid evocation of Julia Child’s magnetic personality, a skeptical take on slow-food romanticism—her evocative prose and shrewd analyses make for an intellectual feast. Photos. (July)