Monday, March 24, 2008

Rhetoric and Food

Food, cooking and rhetoric.

In a most unusual theme for a professional English education journal, a college English educational journal especially, the entire issue of the March issue of the NCTE’s (National Council of Teachers of English’s) College English is devoted to the art of writing about food and cooking and it is simply delightful.

Below, I am reproducing a very lengthy paragraph that will give you a taste of the writing in this issue of the journal. The article is entitled, “Consuming Prose: The Delectable Rhetoric of Food Writing” by Lynn Z. Bloom who has written many articles on English education, but I think this is one of her best. Enjoy! (You can purchase copies of the issue at RayS.

“Organization depends on the food writer’s aim, mood, and mode. In the 1950s and 60s editions of The Joy of Cooking Rombauer was an early organizer of the syntax of recipes, providing a step-by-step organization; Julia Child followed suit in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, grouping ingredients and utensils on the left, ‘as they were to be used; the directions were on the right’ (McFeely 121). Sentence syntax, however complex, must be a pleasure to follow. Lists likewise have to march along in parallel alignment, yet with variation…. Logic dictates layout. In food writing, the narrative structure often combines other plot elements with a process of harvesting, preparing, and eating food, as in Fisher’s pea-picking and Jaffrey’s and Twain’s watermelon-gathering. Or it follows the course of the meal, as in Morano’s introduction to the Queimada.

(Note: I’m breaking up the paragraph because its length is just too intimidating to read. RayS.)

“Inserts: Novelists, travel writers, and natural historians sometimes insert food scenes into a difficult matrix for contrast, like plums in a pudding. In Ulysses Leopold Bloom cooks his breakfast kidney; in Nothing to Declare, demoralized autobiographer Mary Morris and Lupe, her slum neighbor, pragmatic and pregnant, often cook together to keep depression and poverty at bay. Psycho/logical organization wends its own way to the heart of the matter. Amanda Hesser’s love affair with ‘Mr. Latte’ takes thirty-seven chapters and ‘more than one hundred tempting recipes’ (jacket flap) to move from ‘First Date’ to the preordained conclusion—the wedding.

“The ending: Food writing is full of happy endings. Food prepared from scratch emerges, delicious, from the oven—even amateur cooks, such as you, dear reader, can create your heart’s desire. Friendships are cemented; reconciliations effected; not only weddings but funerals are celebrated by feasts—Jaffrey’s grandfather’s is ‘nothing short of spectacular’ (236). Indeed, the concluding paragraph of Climbing the Mango Trees makes explicit the quintessence of food writing anywhere, any time, incorporating the entire life span, the bitter and the sweet, into an unforgettable mixture:

The innocent Indian honey of my infancy was now mixed with the pungencies of Indian spices, the sour and bitter, the nutty, and the tinglingly aromatic. Births, deaths, illnesses, caste, and creed had woven their way through the flavors like tenacious creepers and yet, somewhere in my depths, each bite, each taste of all I had eaten, lay catalogued in some pristine file, ready to be drawn up when the moment was ripe. (243)

Bon appetite!”

(Note: Why did I not think of writing about food in literature? RayS.)

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