The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation III.

Gastronomy.

Origin of Sciences.

THE sciences are not like Minerva who started ready armed from the brain of Jupiter. They are children of time and are formed insensibly by the collection of the methods pointed out by experience, and at a later day by the principles deduced from the combination of these methods.

Thus old men, the prudence of whom caused them to be called to the bed-side of invalids, whose compassion taught to cure wounds, were the first physicians.

The shepherds of Egypt, who observed that certain stars after the lapse of a certain period of time met in the heavens, were the first astronomers.

The person who first uttered in simple language the truth, 2 + 2 = 4 created mathematics, that mighty science which really placed man on the throne of the universe.

In the course of the last sixty years, many new sciences have taken their place in the category of our knowledge, among which is stereotomy, descriptive geometry, and the chemistry of gas.

All sciences cultivated for a long time must advance, especially as the art of printing makes retrogression impossible. Who knows, for instance, if the chemistry of gases will not ultimately overcome those, as yet, rebellious substances, mingle and combine them in proportions not as yet tempted, and thence obtain substances and effects which would remove many restrictions in our powers.

Origin of Gastronomy.

Gastronomy has at last appeared, and all the sister sciences have made a way for it.

Well; what could be refused to that which sustains us, from the cradle to the grave, which increases the gratifications of love and the confidence of friendship which disarms hatred and offers us, in the short passage of our lives, the only pleasure which not being followed by fatigue makes us weary of all others.

Certainly, as long as it was confided to merely hired attendants, as long as the secret was kept in cellars, and where dispensaries were written, the results were but the products of an art.

At last, too late, perhaps, savants drew near.

They examined, analyzed, and classified alimentary substances, and reduced them to simple elements.

They measured the mysteries of assimilation, and following most matter in all its metamorphoses saw how it became vivified.

They watched diet in its temporary and permanent effects, for days, months and lives.

They even estimated its influence and thought to ascertain if the savor he impressed by the organs or if it acts without them. From all this they deduced a lofty theory which embraces all mankind, and all that portion of creation which may be animalized.

While all this was going on in the studies of savants, it was said in drawing-rooms that the science which fed man was at least as valuable as that which killed him. Poets sang the pleasures of the table and books, the object of which was good cheer, awakened the greatest and keenest interest in the profound views and maxims they presented.

Such were the circumstances which preceded the invention of gastronomy.

Definition of Gastronomy.

Gastronomy is a scientific definition of all that relates to man as a feeding animal.

Its object is to watch over the preservation of man by means of the best possible food.

It does so by directing, according to certain principles, all those who procure, search for, or prepare things which may be converted into food.

To tell the truth this is what moves cultivators, vine-dressers, fishermen, huntsmen, and the immense family of cooks, whatever title or qualification they bear, to the preparation of food.

Gastronomy is a chapter of natural history, for the fact that it makes a classification of alimentary substances.

Of physics, for it examines their properties and qualities.

Of chemistry, from the various analysis and decomposition to which it subjects them.

Of cookery, from the fact that it prepares food and makes it agreeable.

Of commerce, from the fact that it purchases at as low a rate as possible what it consumes, and displays to the greatest advantage what it offers for sale.

Lastly it is a chapter of political economy, from the resources it furnishes the taxing power, and the means of exchange it substitutes between nations.

Gastronomy rules all life, for the tears of the infant cry for the bosom of the nurse; the dying man receives with some degree of pleasure the last cooling drink, which, alas! he is unable to digest.

It has to do with all classes of society, for if it presides over the banquets of assembled kings, it calculates the number of minutes of ebullition which an egg requires.

The material of gastronomy is all that may be eaten; its object is direct, the preservation of individuals. Its means of execution are cultivation, which produces; commerce, which exchanges; industry, which prepares; and experience, which teaches us to put them to the best use.

Different Objects of Gastronomy.

Gastronomy considers taste in its pleasures and in its pains. It has discovered the gradual excitements of which it is susceptible; it regularizes its action, and has fixed limits, which a man who respects himself will never pass.

It also considers the action of food or aliments on the moral of man, on his imagination, his mind, his judgment, his courage, and his perceptions, whether he is awake, sleeps, acts, or reposes.

Gastronomy determines the degree of esculence of every alimentary subject; all are not presentable under the same circumstances.

Some can be eaten until they are entirely developed. Such like as capres, asparagus, sucking pigs, squabs, and other animals eaten only when they are young.

Others, as soon as they have reached all the perfection to which they are destined, like melons, fruit, mutton, beef, and grown animals. Others when they begin to decompose, such as snipe, wood– cock and pheasant. Others not until cooking has destroyed all their injurious properties, such as the potato, manioc, and other substances.

Gastronomy classifies all of these substances according to their qualities, and indicates those which will mingle, and measuring the quantity of nourishment they contain, distinguishes those which should make the basis of our repast, from those which are only accessories, and others which, though not necessary, are an agreeable relief, and become the obligato accompaniment of convivial gossip.

It takes no less interest in the beverages intended for us, according to time, place and climate. It teaches their preparation and preservation, and especially presents them in an order so exactly calculated, that the pleasure perpetually increases, until gratification ends and abuse begins.

Gastronomy examines men and things for the purpose of transporting, from one country to another, all that deserves to be known, and which causes a well arranged entertainment, to be an abridgement of the world in which each portion is represented.

Utility of Gastronomical Knowledge.

Gastronomical knowledge is necessary to all men, for it tends to augment the sum of happiness. This utility becomes the greater in proportion as it is used by the more comfortable classes of society; it is indispensable to those who have large incomes, and entertain a great deal, either because in this respect they discharge an obligation, follow their own inclination, or yield to fashion.

They have this special advantage, that they take personal pleasure in the manner their table is kept; they can, to a certain point, superintend the depositories of their confidence, and even on many occasions direct them.

The Prince de Soubise once intended to give an entertainment, and asked for the bill of fare.

The maitre d’hotel came with a list surrounded by vignettes, and the first article that met the Prince’s eye was FIFTY HAMS. “Bertrand,” said the Prince, “I think you must be extravagant; fifty hams! Do you intend to feast my whole regiment?”

“No, Prince, there will be but one on the table, and the surplus I need for my epagnole, my blonds, garnitures, etc.”

“Bertrand, you are robbing me. This article will not do.”

“Monsigneur,” said the artist, “you do not appreciate me! Give the order, and I will put those fifty hams in a chrystal flask no longer than my thumb.”

What could be said to such a positive operation? The Prince smiled, and the hams were passed.

Influence of Gastronomy in Business.

In men not far removed from a state of nature, it is well known that all important affairs are discussed at their feasts. Amid their festivals savages decide on war and peace; we need not go far to know that villages decide on all public affairs at the cabinet.

This observation has not escaped those to whom the weightiest affairs are often confided. They saw that a full stomached individual was very different from a fasting one; that the table established a kind of alliance between the parties, and made guests more apt to receive certain impressions and submit to certain influences. This was the origin of political gastronomy. Entertainments have become governmental measures, and the fate of nations is decided on in a banquet. This is neither a paradox nor a novelty but a simple observation of fact. Open every historian, from the time of Herodotus to our own days, and it will be seen that, not even excepting conspiracies, no great event ever took place, not conceived, prepared and arranged at a festival.

Gastronomical Academy.

Such, at the first glance, appears to be the domain of gastronomy, a realm fertile in results of every kind and which is aggrandized by the discoveries and inventions of those who cultivate it. It is certain that before the lapse of many years, gastronomy will have its academicians, courses, professors, and premiums.

At first some rich and zealous gastronomer will establish periodical assemblies, in which the most learned theorists will unite with artists, to discuss and measure the various branches of alimentation.

Soon (such is the history of all academies) the government will intervene, will regularise, protect, and institute; it will seize the opportunity to reward the people for all orphans made by war, for all the Arianas whose tears have been evoked by the drum.

Happy will be the depository of power who will attach his name to this necessary institution! His name will be repeated from age to age with that of Noah, Bacchus, Triptolemus, and other benefactors of humanity; he will be among ministers what Henri IV. was among kings; his eulogy will be in every mouth, though no regulation make it a necessity.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31