What if Foucault wrote A HIstory of Gastronomy?

What if Foucault wrote about the history of gastronomy, rather than a history of sexuality? After all, what he was interested in was the ways in which the practices of sexuality, including the discourses about sexuality—public, private, as well as the dialogue within one’s head—exert a power over how we experience ourselves as a subject. What are we subject to? How is our sense of self? How is our sense of self under these powers that explicitly and implicitly influence our sensibilities, our values, the everyday practices due to the apparatuses of administration that form our lives, including the electronic communications media, including the mass media? Foucault’s critical counter-practices can be stimulated by asking “what are the regimes of practices” that have informed gastronomy and also flavor our sense of self and possibly diminish our potential for wellbeing? These regimes include both practices and how we describe and evaluate these practices, and such regimes have been normalized to the degree that they are not simply explicit, but have become a normalized sensibility, part of our collective common sense.
In the face of the sometimes-subtle dominance of these forces, Foucault’s “project,” he claims, is “

to give some assistance in wearing away certain self-evidences and commonplaces . . . to contribute to changing certain things in people’s ways of perceiving and doing things; to participate in this difficult displacement of forms of sensibility and thresholds of tolerance.

“My project,” he proclaims,

is precisely to bring about that they ‘no longer know what to do’, so that the acts, gestures, discourses that up until then had seemed to go without saying become problematic, difficult, dangerous.

In taking up this invitation,  it might be juicy to consider the subjectivity of the Nineteenth century gastronome in comparison to the contemporary California foodie, the Midwesterner visiting Napa valley wineries, an ardent consumer of fast food, and the laborer (as defined by Bourdieu in Distinctions) who considers food to be fuel. Alternatively, how is one experiencing themselves when eating comfort food, or food for one who has an “eating disorder,” or one who eats at the most popular, though gastronomically mediocre restaurants? How would such experiences differ from that of one who humbly appreciates cuisine—one who takes the time to shop without the checklist that arose from the ideal recipe, one who even cooks without a recipe, and those who enjoy despite the quantitative pedigree of the food and wine?

Other juicy juxtapositions of styles of subjectivity would be the sports enthusiast who is fond of sports statistics trivia and the wine connoisseur who is replete with micro-climate information on grand cru vineyards of Burgundy or the family tree defining the hybrid pedigree of an heirloom tomato. Yet another would be to compare the sensibilities of foodies with cars and those without, or, those who watch a lot of television (including the requisite food network) and those who don’t own one and seldom watch television.

While we will not indulge specific comparisons here, now, they are indicative of differences in sensibilities that result from differing sensory profiles—the degrees to which these different gastronomic personas live via and find meaning, satisfaction, and vitality by means of the different sensory modalities. I am sure that you feel a sense of how these different gastronomical personas suggest different styles of experiencing flavors. Implicit in these questions is an interest to determine, via what can only be a qualitative, non-normative interpretive analysis of the ‘sensory profile’ of the people who indulge these different combinations of practices and the degree to which they are capable of greater wellbeing. Within the cultural anthropology has arisen a sub-discipline that considers the degrees to which we live in—and, importantly, speak of—our experiences of the different sensory domains. And the speaking lends to metaphorical and allegorical invocations of the sense modality into a sensibility. Which leads us to consider taste.

In Taste: A literary history, Denise Gigante explains that,

by the eighteenth century, physicality provided access to cognitive dimensions of human experience, such as epistemology, morality, aesthetic pleasures and pains; the umbrella term for this new mode of embodied cognition was taste.

Come the turn of the nineteenth century,” Gigante describes how

the dialectical counterpart to taste was not only bodily appetite but also the wider sphere of material desires fed by consumer culture. . . . All of the major Enlightenment philosophers of taste were involved in the civilizing process of sublimating the tasteful essence of selfhood from its own matter and motions, appetites and aversions, passions and physical sensibilities. . . .

[C]onsumption is considered a matter of individual choice, and the so-called man of taste had to navigate an increasing tide of consumables, seeking distinction through the exercise of discrimination

Yet are we consumers in the style of the duck whose liver becomes foie gras? Arguably, we are all but force fed, and yet, to a significant degree, we willing to indulge. We are offered so much that we insatiably consume—like a kid in a candy store or a toy store. Yet there is a subtlety to this. I am reminded of a sales training seminar I attended when I was young. The man suggested “Don’t ask if they want to buy the car— ask them if they want to buy a red one or a green one.” As Foucault reminded us, the apparatuses of power are not simply restrictive, they offer us something stimulating, and thus we willingly comply, to a degree.

For some, the sensitive ones who become discontent in the face of technoculture and who are not overcome by such phenomena as boredom, the sex appeal of the inorganic (Benjamin and Perniola) and the subsequent wild hunger (Wilshire), a change of taste ensues. This visceral stirring we call a change of taste is the sense that vitalizes Juicy philosophy.


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