The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation XI.

On Gourmandise.

I HAVE looked through various dictionaries for the word gourmandise and have found no translation that suited me. It is described as a sort of confusion of gluttony and voracity. Whence I have concluded that lexicographers, though very pleasant people in other respects, are not the sort of men to swallow a partridge wing gracefully with one hand, with a glass of Laffitte or clos de Vougeot in the other.

They were completely oblivious of social gourmandise, which unites Athenian elegance, Roman luxury and French delicacy; which arranges wisely, flavors energetically, and judges profoundly. This is a precious quality which might be a virtue and which is certainly the source of many pure enjoyments.


Let us understand each other.

Gourmandise is a passionate preference, well determined and satisfied, for objects which flatter our taste.

Gourmandise is hostile to all excesses: any man who becomes drunk or suffers from indigestion is likely to be expunged from the lists.

Gourmandise also comprehends, friandise (passion for light delicacies) for pastry, comfitures, etc. This is a modification introduced for the special benefit of women, and men like the other sex.

Look at gourmandise under any aspect you please, and it deserves praise.

Physically, it is a demonstration of the healthy state of the organs of nutrition.

Morally, it is implicit resignation to the orders of God, who made us eat to live, invites us to do so by appetite, sustains us by flavor, and rewards us by pleasure.

Advantages of Gourmandise.

Considered from the points of view of political economy, gourmandise is the common bond which unites the people in reciprocal exchanges of the articles needed for daily consumption.

This is the cause of voyages from one pole to the other, for brandy, spices, sugars, seasonings and provisions of every kind, even eggs and melons.

This it is which gives a proportional price to things, either mediocres, good or excellent, whether the articles derive them out of, or from nature.

This it is that sustains the emulation of the crowd of fishermen, huntsmen, gardeners and others, who every day fill the wealthiest kitchens with the result of their labours.

This it is which supports the multitude of cooks, pastry-cooks, confectioners, etc., who employ workmen of every kind, and who perpetually put in circulation, an amount of money which the shrewdest calculator cannot imagine.

Let us observe that the trades and occupations dependent on gourmandise have this great advantage, that on one hand it is sustained by great misfortunes and on the other by accidents which happen from day to day.

In the state of society we now have reached, it is difficult to conceive of a people subsisting merely on bread and vegetables. Such a nation if it existed would certainly be subjected by carnivorous enemies, as the Hindoos were, to all who ever chose to attack them. If not it would be converted by the cooks of its neighbors as the Beotiens were, after the battle of Leuctres.


Gourmandise offers great resources to fiscality, for it increases customs, imports, etc. All we consume pays tribute in one degree or another, and there is no source of public revenue to which gourmands do not contribute.

Let us speak for a moment of that crowd of preparers who every year leave France, to instruct foreign nations in gourmandise. The majority succeed and obedient to the unfasting instinct of a Frenchman’s fever, return to their country with the fruits of their economy. This return is greater than one would think.

Were nations grateful, to what rather than to gourmandise should France erect a monument.

Power of Gourmandise.

In 1815, the treaty of the month of November, imposed on France the necessity of paying the allies in three years, 750,000,000 francs.

Added to this was the necessity of meeting the demands of individuals of various nations, for whom the allied sovereigns had stipulated, to the amount of more than 300,000,000.

To this must be added requisitions of all kinds by the generals of the enemies who loaded whole wagons, which they sent towards the frontier, and which the treasury ultimately had to pay for. The total was more than 1,500,000,000 francs.

One might, one almost should have feared, that such large payments, collected from day to day, would have produced want in the treasury, a deprecation of all fictitious values, and consequently all the evils which befall a country that has no money, while it owes much.

“Alas,” said the rich, as they saw the wagon going to the Rue Vivienne for its load; “all our money is emigrating, next year we will bow down to a crown: we are utterly ruined; all our undertakings will fail, and we will not be able to borrow. There will be nothing but ruin and civil death.”

The result contradicted all these fears; the payments, to the amazement of financiers, were made without trouble, public credit increased, and all hurried after loans. During the period of this superpurgation, the course of exchange, an infallible measure of the circulating of money, was in our favor. This was an arithmetical proof that more money came into France than left it.

What power came to our aid? What divinity operated this miracle? Gourmandise.

When the Britons, Germans, Teutons, Cimmerians, and Scythes, made an irruption into France, they came with extreme voracity and with stomachs of uncommon capacity.

They were not long contented with the cheer furnished them by a forced hospitality, but aspired to more delicate enjoyments. The Queen City, ere long, became one immense refectory. The new comers ate in shops, cafes, restaurants, and even in the streets.

They gorged themselves with meat, fish, game, truffles, pastry and fruit.

They drank with an avidity quite equal to their appetite, and always called for the most costly wine, expecting in those unknown enjoyments, pleasures they did not meet with.

Superficial observers could not account for this eating, without hunger, which seemed limitless. All true Frenchmen, however, rubbed their hands, and said, “they are under the charm; they have spent this evening more money than they took from the treasury in the morning.”

This epoch was favorable to all those who contributed to the gratification of the taste. Very made his fortune, Achard laid the foundation of his, and Madame Sullot, the shop of whom, in the Palais Royal, was not twenty feet square, sold twelve thousand petits pates a day.

The effect yet lasts, for strangers crowd to Paris from all parts of Europe, to rest from the fatigues of war. Our public monuments, it may be, are not so attractive as the pleasures of gourmandise, everywhere elaborated in Paris, a city essentially gourmand.

A Lady Gourmand.

Gourmandise is not unbecoming to women: it suits the delicacy of their organs and recompenses them for some pleasures they cannot enjoy, and for some evils to which they are doomed.

Nothing is more pleasant than to see a pretty woman, her napkin well placed under her arms, one of her hands on the table, while the other carries to her mouth, the choice piece so elegantly carved. Her eyes become brilliant, her lips glow, her conversation is agreeable and all her motions become graceful. With so many advantages she is irresistible, and even Cato, the censor, would feel himself moved.


I will here record what to me is a bitter reflection.

I was one day most commodiously fixed at table, by the side of the pretty Madame M——d, and was inwardly rejoicing at having obtained such an advantageous position, when she said “your health.” I immediately began a complimentary phrase, which however, I did not finish, for turning to her neighbor on the right, she said “Trinquons,” they touched each others glasses. This quick transition seemed a perfidy, and the passage of many years have not made me forget it.

Are Women Gourmands?

The penchant of the fair sex for gourmandise is not unlike instinct; for gourmandise is favorable to beauty.

A series of exact and rigorous examinations, has shown that a succulent and delicate person on careful diet, keeps the appearance of old age long absent.

It makes the eyes more brilliant, and the color more fresh. It makes the muscles stronger, and as the depression of the muscles causes wrinkles, those terrible enemies of beauty, it is true that other things being equal, those who know how to eat, are ten years younger than those ignorant of that science.

Painters and sculptors are well aware of this, for they never represent those to whom abstinence is a matter of duty, such as anchorites and misers, except as pale, thin, and wrinkled.

The Effects of Gourmandise on Sociability.

Gourmandise is one of the principle bonds of society. It gradually extends that spirit of conviviality, which every day unites different professions, mingles them together, and diminishes the angles of conviviality.

This it is, which induces every amphitryon to receive his guests well, and also excites the gratitude of the latter when they see themselves well taken care of: here is the place to reprobate those stupid masticators, who with the most guilty indifference to the greatest luxuries, and who with sacrilegious indifference inhale the odorous perfume of nectar.

GENERAL LAW. — Every display of high intelligence, makes explicit praise necessary. Delicate praise is necessary, wherever a wish to please is evident.

Influence of Gourmandise on Conjugal Happiness.

When gourmandise is shared with another, it has the greatest influence on conjugal happiness.

A gourmand couple have at least once a day a pleasant occasion to meet, for even those who sleep apart (and there are many) dine together. They talk of what they have eaten, of what they have seen elsewhere, of fashionable dishes and of new inventions, etc., etc. We all know how full of charms this CHIT CHAT is.

Music, doubtless, has many charms for those who love it; but to succeed, one must make a business of it.

Besides, sometimes one has a cold, misplaces the score, has the sick headache or feels inert.

One necessity calls each of the couple to the table, where the same feeling retains them. They exhibit naturally slight attentions to each other, which evinces a desire to please, and the manner in which they act to each other speaks loudly of the manner of their lives.

This observation, though new in France, has not escaped the attention of the English novelist, Fielding, who in Pamela gives the well-known instance of the manner in which the heroine and her husband lived on the one hand, and the more magnificent but unhappy life of the elder brother and his wife.

Honour then to gourmandise as we present it to our readers, inasmuch as it diverts man neither from occupation nor from duty; for as the dissoluteness of Sardanapulus did not cause the world to look on woman with horror, neither did Vitellius’ excesses induce the world to turn aside from a well-ordered entertainment.

When gourmandise becomes gluttony, voracity or debauchery, it loses its name and attributes, falling into the hands of the moralist who will treat it by advice, or the medical man who will treat it by remedy. Gourmandise, as the professor has described it, has a name only in French; neither the Latin gula, English “gluttony” nor German lusternheit, expresses it, and we recommend all who attempt a translation of this instructive book to preserve the word, changing the article which produces it only. Thus they did with coquetterie.

Note of a Patriot Gastronomer.

“I observe with pride, that gourmandise and coquettery, the two great modifications which society has effected in our imperious wants, are both of French origin.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51