YOU MIGHT NOT expect to read a scholarly tome about economics for pleasure. But this is gastronomic economics. As the Weekend Australian reviewer announces:
Revelling in the history, preparation and philosophy of food, he weaves its poetry into the text. Along with mesmerising descriptions of food …
For gastronomic works, such as Meals Matter, hedonism is not only a topic, but also a method, which is one reason why I open each chapter not with a graph or financial table, but with a meal description.
Another reason is that the book challenges orthodoxies across economic theory, legal theory, political philosophy, food studies, and more. In the face of such transgressions, the hope is that the opening meals start out from a shared need to eat.
Hearteningly, academic readers for successive publishers gave strong support. The back-cover endorsements come from professors in disciplines as varied as politics, economics, anthropology, and European history.
In the 1980s, the “gastronomy” label put off academics, but that has plainly changed.
Eating and drinking brings in everyone, or almost everyone, and so what about the general or “trade” audience? At least in the book’s first extended review, Antonella Gambotto-Burke finds it enjoyable, with “mesmerising descriptions” (Weekend Australian Review, 8-9 August 2020, pp. 14-15).
Unlike the usual, more scholarly review, Gambotto-Burke does not attempt to set out the argument. Rather, she picks out key points, and joins the radical celebration, recommending:
Meals Matter is a passionate and inspiring proposal for change.
Antonella @gambottoburke is a seasoned reviewer and author (her next book is Apple: Sex, Motherhood and the Recovery of the Feminine). Inevitably, in close to 1300 words, she gets a couple of things wrong. I’m no “naive” idealist (that’s the self-proclaimed economists); I have thought of myself as a restaurateur but never as a chef – that was Jennifer Hillier (maybe I should?); and life generally improved after Dickensian England, because that was an unusually low point, whose miserable conditions and food adulterations were brought on by laissez-faire capitalism.
For the full review, try clicking on Gambotto-Burke’s twitter link.
But since the Murdochs keep their gems behind a paywall, I’d better give some more, fairly random snippets, firstly, about present disasters:
Meals are now dismissed as “privileged leisure, self-indulgence, refueling, women’s work, or fattening”.
He is disturbed by how the stock market and money (“bread, dough, bacon, gravy, lettuce, or lolly”) have replaced organic food and its markets in human consciousness. Value, he observes, is now equated with finance.
He accuses mainstream economists of belittling “life-giving systems” and supporting “a Midas fantasy”, in which the “sounds, sights, and smells of actual markets” is ignored in favour of an arbitrary pricing system.
Neoliberalism, he writes, corrupted liberalism. Nineteenth-century economists reframed healthy impulses as greed.
And, secondly, about doing better:
He sees it as a “radical restoration of political philosophy and economics”, and he puts his case with the fervor of an idealist who addresses life as a pleasure founded on love and respect for his fellow man and, in that, for the planet itself.
This resplendent vision features a wealth that “might consist of forests, streams, farms, clever artisans, feasting townsfolk, wise elders, and grand city dining halls”: a utopia that makes no allowance for human fallibility or life-saving corporate homogenisation.
Meals Matter is a passionate and inspiring proposal for change. Symons’s suggestion that the “festal core” of democracy needs to be resurrected is certainly correct. Pleasure, in our culture, has come to be synonymous with stress relief rather than passion or joy.
Similarly, there is no question that sustainability and compensatory materialism must be addressed on a global level. We desperately need more love and idealism, if tempered by the recognition that the future cannot be found in the past.