This morning I finished Adam Gopnik's, The Table Comes First. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very well researched and the writing was smart, witty and interesting. He carefully crafted a story of the importance of food, reflecting on both its history and its future with an emphasis on the future of French cuisine.
He tied a lot of philosophy into the piece, which I enjoyed. He questioned taste and preference. Movements of localism and sustainability. Did you know that a famous research team calculated the energy spent on raising lambs in New Zealand and transporting them to UK vs. raising them in the UK. Raising them locally in the UK consumed nearly 4x more energy because of the unfavorable conditions. Neither Gopnik nor myself is trying to say that the movement toward local food is a waste of time, or worse, but it was interesting to hear a different spin.
Gopnik very deliberately reminded readers that everything is a passing phase. A reminder that most things (with the possible exception of Ferran Adria's work at El Bulli) and a few other notable masters, has been seen before and will recycle through time to be seen yet again. A refreshing sentiment as we deal with trends of today - juicing, paleo, et al. and their hyper insistent, holier than thou, followers.
Though the book touches on rock n roll, antisemitism, French revolutionaries, sugar addiction and Padma Lakshmi and our most recent obsession with food on television, it circles back to man's relationship with the food we eat. Regardless of time or circumstance, food sustains us. It appeals to all of our senses - beyond just taste, the smell of bread baking, the sound of sizzling bacon, the sight of a perfectly arranged cheese plate.
In his recent piece regarding his terminal cancer diagnosis, Oliver Sacks writes, "I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure." I think Gopnik ends his book with a similar conclusion. Food, in its tradition, its range, its forward progress, helps us to live as sentient beings. Its existence and consumption engages our sensory experience and contributes to our feeling of being truly alive.