Restaurant Reviews-I can hear something rumbling

Why do restaurant reviews never talk about how food makes you feel after you eat it? This was a question I was left pondering as I stared at the ceiling with my stomach rumbling last night.

The first food writers were extremely preoccupied with digestion and how food altered the humours (bile and mood, equally). In Physiologie du goût (1825), Brillat-Savarin devotes an entire chapter to digestion and realises its central importance in the act of eating. How did we loose touch with our stomachs in the act of eating? Why does taste only refer to our mouths and less frequently our noses?

Isn’t a large part of how food makes us feel about what happens after it enters our bodies? The instance of incorporation (in the true sense of the word) does not really occur in our mouths. Why then does modern food writing lack a language and vocabulary to address how food makes us feel, or at least something beyond romantic and poetic notions of how we feel when we see, taste and smell food. What about the culinary contentment of sated hunger or the lovely feeling of  a full belly? What about the wretched physical feelings after eating a rotten oyster or the regretful pains of over indulging in a second helping? Dare I go so far as to mention the unmentionable? Yes, we all know the primal pleasures of defecation, the ultimate output of all eating experiences.

Strong cultural taboos now keep us from associating eating with pooping. However, this was not always the case. It is interesting to note that North American culture is deeply obsessed with the pleasure and healthfulness of eating but we dare not speak about its physiological functioning. What happens in our bodies has been covered over, sanitized and banished from popular discourse. During the eighteenth century, the term restaurant was used to describe the dishes that were given to the ill and weak–often a rich meat dish to restore health and energy to the convalescent eater. Eventually, venues opened in Paris where pale and weak patrons could come and restore their health. Restaurants were initially all about how food made you feel, in a very physiological sense.

Surely, I have pushed this discussion to an extreme, but I am still left wondering how we ended up so disconnected from the act of eating. Perhaps its time to overcome our prudishness and really talk about how food makes us feel.

Further reading:

Brillat-Savarin, Jean Anthelme. The Physiology of Taste. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/brillat/savarin/b85p/

Spang, Rebecca. The Invention of the Restaurant. Harvard UP, 2001.

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2 Responses to Restaurant Reviews-I can hear something rumbling

  1. I was talking to folks recently at the wine writers symposium in Napa and several people were talking about how the day after they ate at El Bulli, they were nauseated and “spent”.

    Not that the food was prepared to make them sick, but that the richness and the volume of food did them in. I thought that was interesting.

  2. admin says:

    but did anyone write about that aspect of their meal at El Bulli? At the American Anthropological Association meeting this year, I heard a paper about negative food memories. The author noted that it is interesting that our most forceful and often memorable experiences with food are bad ones. We are biologically hardwired to remember food that makes us sick. I guess restaurant reviews have somehow moved beyond the instincts that help us evolve.

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