Chapter Two: Food, Art, & Philosophy
The question that necessarily accompanies a consideration of the aesthetic sense of taste is whether or not food is an art. In order to answer this question, we must ask ourselves how food compares to other activities and experiences that we consider artistic. As with all of the arts compared with one another, there are similarities and differences. The similarities have tempted few brave souls to claim artistic status for food, while the significant differences, making food so unique among the arts, has been used to cast out food from the realm of art, and in some cases to support a lack of aesthetic capability of taste. In the first Section I will point out ways that food is similar to art in human culture, highlighting that some of the most important features are shared by both, namely, the ability to distinguish, experience, and integrate varying cultures.
Many who reach similar conclusions about important shared features remain apprehensive about denominating food an art, including Korsmeyer. Despite the fact that she is one of the forerunners of incorporating taste and food among philosophical interest, she states directly that she does not think food should be labeled an art. Important reasons lurk behind this claim of hers. A standard accepted idea of what art is, does not accommodate food as well as music or theatre, perhaps because the ideals that the philosophy of art was constructed upon embodied assumptions to contradict this. Korsmeyer’s worry is that by concentrating primarily on how an aspect of food conforms to our concept of art, we neglect a lot of what is philosophically important and interesting about the world of food. To force the rich, and largely philosophically unexplored world of food into the category of art, would be detrimental to a thorough treatment of food. Rather than answering the question of whether or not food is an art, she sees more value in examining the relation between them, to better understand what food is, “in it’s own right.” This is exactly right. I agree with her that labels are not the point of interest within this study. However, beginning with questions of comparisons to other art forms is a great way to gain perspective. In the second Section I will suggest that the interconnectedness of the senses dealing with taste is an asset rather than a shortcoming, as well as offer wine tasting as a practice that appeals exclusively to taste. We will see how the sensual experience of food differs from that of other arts, ultimately indicating a gap between an aesthetic use of taste and artistic food.
If our currently accepted definitions of art do not accommodate food comfortably, this should not deter us from investigating food philosophically. Through the combined efforts of food and taste advocates, and the inescapable social role that food and taste play in modern culture, philosophical investigation is invited whether or not one concludes “art”. As Korsmeyer reminds us: “[A]rts do not arise out of philosophical insistence.” With that said, we must still recognize the practical problem at hand. Food is making its entrance into the ballroom of philosophy through the door that all of the other arts came through. Food is different than the other arts, therefore does not fit through their door. To paraphrase an idea of Einstein’s, we cannot solve today’s problems with the same level of mind that created them. In other words, rather than refusing admittance, we need to build a new frame. Conceptions of men constantly change shape, and indeed, one of the goals of philosophy is to strive for a more sophisticated understanding of human life. Not only does food require an expanded and more sophisticated approach to thinking about art, but it also helps us to break down old barriers and establish a more inclusive frame of mind.
No longer discussing or searching for an essentialist definition of works of art, we must examine the entire artistic experience, including the energy that flows between artist and artwork, which is important not only for the study of food, but for aesthetics as a discipline. Considering the art of food preparation allows us to get beyond a focus on the elusive ‘work of art’ and consider the whole picture. Culinary arts in particular are a good example of the richness and importance of artistic process. In the final Section of this chapter, we will continue to make comparisons in order to deepen our understanding of the food and taste artistry, and will see some of the ways in which the process of food preparation can contribute to and further a philosophical understanding of art.
1: Food and Art In Culture
We all need to eat, every day. Food is a big part of all of our lives. As humans, we are artistically inclined, and food has become more than a mere necessity of life. The role of food in human culture is vast and deep, and likewise, the culture that has sprung up around food is a growing infatuation of humans. One could have easily written an entire multi-volume series about food and culture, though I hope the few interrelations I point to will help clarify how food relates to art.
One of the greatest similarities between food and art is the ability to inform us about other cultures, diachronically and synchronically. When we wish to understand better a culture foreign to us, whether in the past or a distant part of our world, two of the things we turn to are the art and food featured in that particular society. One of the reasons we are so fascinated with museums and their contents is because it gives us a glimpse into the lives of those existing before us and far away from us. Likewise, by examining what people eat, we gain insight into their way of life. In fact, much of what is featured in museums are artifacts that have to do with food preparation, presentation, and consuming. What people eat has so much to do with the rhythms of cultures, traditions, and the way societies are built. By looking at the art and food of a culture we get an idea of what is sacred to them, the world around them and the way they interact with it.
A perfect example of this is the importance of corn to the Mayans, heavily featured in their art and their food. In the Popul Vuh, the mythological text of the Mayans that contains their creation myth, corn plays a huge role. In addition to being crafted from cornmeal, the lives of the hero twins are represented by corn stalks in their mother’s garden when they go to play a sacred ballgame with the gods. As long as the corn stalk was alive in the ground, their mother knew they were alive. Similarly, fruits from trees along with squashes were used to symbolize heads, an important part of humans.
Thus, corn, and other natural foods, were symbolic of life for them. Their life depended on corn, it was the basis of their diet and absolutely necessary to their survival as a culture. Their art reflects this; in the sacred art of their culture there is corn imagery, and trees bearing fruit meant to symbolize the heads of those who won life for humankind, as a focal point.
We can use the information gleaned from artworks and diets of cultures to make distinctions. These days, people can use ingredients from all different parts of the world, but people have been eating long before modern technology allowed for massive international trade. The foods and flavors of places rely on what natural ingredients are available to them. Some things, like cane sugar and black pepper, have been traded among civilizations for so long that they have become staples even in foreign cuisines. However, certain observable combinations and ‘flavor principles’, as termed by Elizabeth Rozin, are clearly at play among the varied human societies. This is part of her list of observable flavor principles:
Soy sauce—rice wine—gingerroot (China)
+ miso and/or garlic and/or sesame (Peking, China)
+ sweet—sour—hot (Szechuan, China)
+ black bean—garlic (Canton, China)…
Cumin—ginger—garlic + variations (Northern India)
Mustard seed—coconut—tamarind—chili + variations (Southern India)…
Olive oil—lemon—oregano (Greece)…
Sour orange—garlic—achiote (Yucatan, Mexico)
These flavor principles are what allow us to make cultural distinctions based on taste. If we are presented with a list of countries: China, Italy, Mexico, Greece; and an equal number of dishes: Tamale with salsa, Spinach pie, Fettuccini, Pork and cabbage dumplings, we would easily be able to match up the items from both sets. Flavor principles are what give food its meaning.
We are able to differentiate these flavor principles because they are meaningful exemplifications of cultures. To an Englishman, eggs, beans, and toast means breakfast, but for many Latin Americans, an arepa, a corn-flour bun, filled with cheese, meat, and chilies means breakfast, which to an American means lunch or late-night snack. Traditions and flavor principles embody aspects of, as well as signify their cultures, just as a portrait embodies properties of and signifies it’s subject.
Just as different cultures use particular ingredients, techniques, and tools in their cuisine, so do different schools of art. There are principles of cubism which distinguish it from surrealism, just as there are principles of jazz that distinguish it from classical music. Like art, food has its different schools that require the study and practice of particular things, and elements that are apparent in the art work that allow us to distinguish and classify them. There is, however, a major difference.
The principles that determine the categories of cuisines rely heavily on geographical location, whereas the elements of visual and auditory arts are determined more conceptually. This is not to say that one must be in China to cook in the Chinese way, but rather one must use tools, methods, and ingredients specific to China to some degree and in some combination. The governing principles of Surrealism, for example, are determined by a more metaphysical concept of the unreal, which is available to someone regardless of their location.
Because of the physical limitations of the chef, they are more limited in what they can represent with taste than what the painter can represent with visual experience.
Flavor principles bear resemblance to architecture in the heavy reliance on physical materials. Still, an architect with imagination and only wood can represent the structures of many different cultures visually, while the chef with only soy sauce is limited in what they can represent with taste. This aspect of food is unlike the other arts. Imagination gives more freedom to artists than it does to chefs. If the artist has only a paint-brush and one color of paint, he can represent infinite things of many different kinds. If the chef has but one cooking vessel and even two ingredients and an active imagination, he still is only able to represent one or very few flavor principles. The contrast is most severe when food is compared with visual art, and perhaps less so when compared with music.
Just as certain flavors are particular to certain areas of the world, so are musical scales. The specificity of flavors is more complex than food, with smaller regions having certain flavors that define their cuisine, though, just as a gourmet could match a dish with its country with relative ease, so a musician could match the music of India, China, and Germany given listening samples of each. It is interesting to notice a parallel between the style of cuisine and music of Indian culture compared to European; just as they use many more spices and flavors in dishes, they also use many more musical tones, what to European ears are microtones. This means that where we would have 5 more or less equidistant tones, Indian music would have 8 or 9, not necessarily equally spaced tones. African music, for example, may be easily distinguished by its comparatively heavy reliance on rhythmic patterns, just as Mexican food may be distinguished by its comparatively heavy reliance on corn. When we see that music as well as food has defining features associated with specific geographical locations, this feature of food does not stand out quite so much.
Both art and food have cultural meaning and significance. Both can signify and reference the culture they are products of. The fact that there are observable properties of food that allow us to differentiate and categorize, creates another similarity between food and art: through both, we can experience and integrate diverse cultures.
Through eating the meals of another country, we experience a significant aspect of it, one that has emotive and intellectual implications. Perhaps more important is the way in which we integrate cultures through taste. When two cultures come together there are always considerable advancements and expansions of artistry. For example, when the musical traditions of Africans combined with American language and instruments, the results were the building blocks of blues and jazz. Similarly, when the Spanish and South American cultures began to integrate, new taste sensations were born. Perhaps the most important culinary advancement was the birth of chocolate as we know it. The Spanish took the chocolate from South America and brought it back to Europe where it was mixed with sugar, giving it an entirely new dimension, one much appreciated by many humans. This aspect that food has in common with art is a very significant one. Art and food are media through which people connect, and through mutual contribution exercise the most admirable human quality, that of innovative creation.
Despite the fact that philosophical attention to food has been unfair in its brevity, food remains an important part of human culture. I have tried to highlight some of the most important points at which food functions artistically in human lives, such as cultural integration. While the representational capacity of taste is severely limited in comparison with that of the other arts, food exemplifies culture. It is true that the categorization relies on geographical location also in a way that is limiting, because the others arts have categories both specific to geography but also that transcend it. However, the fact that food is so symbolic of cultures allows us to experience and integrate various cultures, which is one of the most admired qualities of art.
2: Sensual Experience of Food and Art
Kant recognizes that taste is heavily intertwined with our other external senses, though chooses it as a point to criticize, saying of taste that it cannot “lead by itself to the cognition of the object without the help of one of the other senses.” I suggest that this is not so much of a shortcoming of the sense of taste, but rather a unique and praiseworthy aspect of it. It is not that taste uses the other senses as a crutch because of its own deficiency, it is simply that taste may be so readily enhanced by the other senses.
Taste is unique among the senses because of the way it interacts with all of the other ones. Smell and touch, the two other bodily senses, are inextricably linked to it. Smell contributes significantly to the apprehension of flavors, which is the main function of taste, and because taste occurs in the mouth, there is necessarily an element of touch involved. Smell and touch are not only linked to taste, but have to do with the value of the experience, since a pleasant odor can enhance the taste sensation that follows it, just as textures are used to bring out different aspects of flavor. But, it is not only the bodily senses that have camaraderie with taste, both hearing and sight play a part as well. Whether or not they truly alter the taste experience is debatable, but certainly they alter the experience of eating, which necessarily accompanies taste. The sounds of a sizzling plate of onions and meat can be just as alluring as the smell, and there are even foods that capitalize on the sounds of food to enhance the entire experience, such as the snap-crackle-pop of Rice Krispies. The visual component of food is one that has really gained popularity among humans. There is nothing so fascinating to us as representations, except perhaps for edible representations. Cakes and vegetable and fruit garnishes are perhaps the most familiar example of this decorative art. Though the visual importance of food need not manifest itself so ornately, it is simply the notion that the visual presentation of food is important.
This is an interesting aspect of food. Music we hear, paintings we see, but food, we hear, see, smell, touch, and taste. Food appeals to all of our senses to create one complete aesthetic experience. Amazing as this is, decorative food arts, such as garnishing and elaborate cakes and even ice sculptures are relatively minor in terms of artistic depth. Garnishes are much like musical ornaments, an art in themselves, but meant to accompany greater works. The audible and visual aspects of food that may enhance the experience of it do just that: enhance. So, what is the content that is being enhanced? It is the food itself, comprised of flavors experienced by taste. Because food is eaten, it is the sense of taste that it must seek to appeal to most directly, if food is to be comparable with the other arts.
We generally associate an aesthetic use of a sense with the particular art form that appeals to it; for example, when we hear music, we employ our hearing sense aesthetically, just as when we see a painting, we employ our sight sense aesthetically. When we eat food, do we employ our taste sense aesthetically? We have seen that taste can perceive aesthetically, on a level beyond subjective pleasure, but is this the case, or even possible every time we eat? When we examine some examples of artistic food, as well as examples of taste functioning aesthetically, we see that there is not the same continuity between aesthetic taste and artistic food as there is with the other senses and the art they perceive.
We must proceed with caution, being very clear about which sense, or which combination of senses food appeals to and in what context. We recall that taste is used symbolically, for example, apples and honey are eaten at the Jewish New Year to symbolize forthcoming sweetness, and salted water and bitter herbs are used in a different ceremony to remember the tears and hardships endured by ancestors. Even though taste is used symbolically in these examples, it is not an artistic use of food. When taste itself is used symbolically, the food is not artistic; the salted water that references the tears of ancestors is not a work of art, nor is the honey that encodes a sweet new year. Ironically, when food is used artistically, it is not usually directed at taste. Food is often presented artistically, both by representation and abstract use of color and arrangement in harmonious ways. However, this artistry is not via taste. A decorative use of food, then, such as a duck-shaped radish garnish, or a cake that resembles a temple, appeals to an aesthetic use of sight, not the taste. While this type of art happens to be made of food and is capable of appealing to our sense of taste, its artistic status is of visual origin.
Does food ever appeal artistically to an aesthetic use of taste? The answer is yes. Food that combines flavors and textures in a harmonious way, that inspires pleasure and admiration, is meant as art to be beheld by taste. In this way, food is similar to the other arts, achieving its status based on the harmony of its taste and flavors, just as painting may achieve its status based on the harmony of its shapes and colors. Where it diverges once again, is in the fact that artistic food is appreciated with aesthetic taste only under highly specialized circumstances and contexts.
Sight and hearing do not always perceive aesthetically, but when they come into contact with art objects, that capacity of the senses is activated without much effort. For example, if one goes to a museum or a concert, there is very little preparation required beyond a functioning sense of sight and hearing. While one may need practice and experience in order to judge particular types of art, as Hume suggests, they only need to see and hear to be able to appreciate it aesthetically. Even though taste can function aesthetically, it requires much more effort. If one were attending a tasting, it would behoove them not to go on a full stomach. It is also very often the case that one’s sense of taste must be refined in order to aesthetically appreciate food, as well as judge it.
Because of this, judging almost always accompanies formalized artistic taste experiences such as food critiques, and food contests which have become a very popular form of modern entertainment. That said, even in the scoring of a contest or in writing the remarks in a review place, there is a significant value on aspects appealing to the other senses. For example, in the popular television show, Iron Chef, the contestants are awarded points for taste, presentation, and originality. Other contests feature categories such as theme, which may be expressed through taste and/or presentation. The way food looks and is presented is no doubt a big part of the artistry of food, attesting to the weak ability of taste to perceive an art form of its own.
There are other opportunities to experience artistic food with one’s taste that do not necessarily involve judging. In fact, anyone with a refined palate and the intention to approach food artistically can achieve this. Fine dining often carries connotations of financial expense and refined atmosphere, but these are just traditions that accompany artistic food in Western culture. Even surrounded by well-dressed waiters and fine linens, all of which comes with a high price, one may enjoy their food, yet lack a heightened experience involving imagination. One could have the same type of experience at the most expensive restaurant in London as in a side-of-the-road shack in Jamaica, be it one of untamed gluttony or one of refined artistic appreciation. Again, the fact that people often seek a particular service and atmosphere to accompany their fine food shows that the taste experience alone is incomplete for most. But, in an aesthetic experience of flavor properties of food objects themselves, the surrounding environment is incidental, as long as it does not interfere with ones taste, such as eating where a rancid smell pervades. Even though one may seemingly have an artistic taste experience at whim, given they have access to a reasonable food source, it remains a comparatively limited artistic experience. The harmonies of flavor are more difficult than those of sound and vision, and while experience and familiarity with painting and music may significantly enhance ones artistic experience, it is a requirement for taste. Without a refined palate, many things go unnoticed and the complexities that elevate food to an aesthetic level are missed, resulting in a merely pleasurable experience.
In this way, tasting resembles a sport. One must first be sufficiently endowed physiologically with a well-functioning palate. Whereas this is enough for eyes and ears to appreciate art, one must cultivate their palate by deliberate training, exposing it to a range of flavors and textures and combinations. A benefit of this aspect of our taste-sensing organ is that ones palate is predisposed to mature with age. This is not the case with everyone, but for many if not most, and the pleasures that one experiences through the palate is often a great comfort as one ages. It is almost as if the ability to eat artistically is a reward of growing old.
Based on all of this, food apprehended by taste seems to be an art of minor importance, almost always sharing the stage with the visually artistic aspects of food. Either highly contrived contexts such as contests or reviews/critiques, or very specific circumstances such as physiological state and refinement limit the ability to experience art with taste. However, I would like to suggest at least one sphere that appeals to an aesthetic taste appreciation: wine.
Wine tasting does not escape these limitations, as it is absolutely necessary for ones palate to be refined in tasting wine. Because one must be sensitive to the balance of variables such as acidity, sweetness, bouquets, etc., the experience of wine tasting calls upon an aesthetically refined sense of taste. Once a palate is educated, it senses aesthetically, making an artistic experience possible every time one encounters wine. Once one has worked to acquire the appropriate level of sense organ refinement, it remains in place. Just as eyes will respond automatically when beholding Picasso, or ears beholding Beethoven, once refined, a palate responds automatically to a Chateaneuf-du-Pape, or Amarone. Wine tasting, then, stands out as an aesthetic experience appealing exclusively to taste. Our other senses perceive wine, which may enhance our experience, but the beauty of wine is directed at taste. This is valuable in demonstrating the aesthetic and artistic capabilities of taste. However, even the refined aesthetic enjoyment of wine does not compare to the emotional and intellectual depth of other fine arts such as painting and music.
Based on our comparisons of how objects of food and art are sensually experienced, we can see that if food is to be considered an art, it must be carefully qualified because of its unique sensual properties. Whereas most arts appeal aesthetically to the sense they most directly affect, it is more often the case that food is experienced aesthetically through the other senses, particularly vision. When food is symbolic, and the aesthetic use of taste is invoked, the food itself is not meant as an art object, as is the case with culturally significant foods such as the previously mentioned bitter herbs. The opportunity for artistic food to be complimented by aesthetic taste is limited, and even when this is achieved, with wine for example, the artistic experience lacks depth compared with the other fine arts. The strongest way food is an art is as a decorative art, appealing to the visual sense. This is a frustrating conclusion to arrive at, because it does not seem to do the world of food justice in terms of its complexity and intrigue. It is not satisfying to label artistic tasting a minor art, it is too much of a simplification. We have just begun to scratch the surface of comparisons that will further our understanding. The complexity of the artistry surrounding food and taste do not conform to the standards set by the other arts, and we must keep in mind that it is not of utmost importance to label food an art by these standards, but rather build a new standard based on the artistry of food.
3: Artistic Process and The Philosophical Importance of Cooking
Philosophical understanding constantly seeks to evolve and further itself. This is achieved with open-mindedness, allowing ones thoughts to expand and take new shape. Aesthetics in particular has an interesting history, splitting into different schools that sought to define art. Perhaps one of the most accommodating and open-minded views on aesthetics is Wittgenstein’s notion of Family Resemblance. This idea uses comparisons to establish similarities between different arts, much like one could discern similar physical traits of siblings. This method is in opposition to what many other branches of aesthetics attempt, which is to define necessary and sufficient conditions of what constitutes a work of art. One of the most limiting aspects of the latter approach is the neglect of the rest of the art world. The world of art is full of philosophical relevance, extending far beyond supposed parameters of the elusive work of art.
Nietzsche’s philosophical views on art are also more inclusive than many traditional schools, recognizing the importance and relevance of art beyond final products. His philosophy is a great example, in both style and content, of encouraging ideas that expand beyond what is traditional. Through many of his comments it is clear that there are many aspects of art to consider, one of which is the process. Beginning with some of his insights, we will examine the process of food preparation, still using comparisons to other arts when helpful, which will allow us to see in what ways a consideration of food fits in with and expands aesthetic ideas.
Nietzsche calls attention to the “deceptions that dispose the soul of the viewer or listener to believe in the sudden emergence of perfection” to highlight the importance and focus placed on final works of art. Certainly, products are an important aspect of the artistic world; however, as we will see, the virtuosity that aestheticism and artistry offer are perhaps not to be found in the work itself. Another observation of his is the vanity often involved in admiring great works:
Because we think well of ourselves, but in no way expect that we ever make the sketch to a painting by Raphael or a scene like one in a play by Shakespeare, we convince ourselves that the ability to do so is quite excessively wonderful, a quite uncommon accident, or, if we still have a religious sensibility, a grace from above. Thus our vanity, our self-love, furthers the worship of genius…
This recalls the idea of divine inspiration that the ancients attributed artistic process to, particularly the poetic arts. Short of psychotic-divine rapture, which has lost favor among more modern philosophers, the fact of the matter is that practice makes perfect. There are occasionally those naturally gifted, but if they are to go far, they also invest much time and energy into practicing. For example, both Beethoven and Charlie Parker were naturally gifted, both also devoted most of their time and energy to music. Even those who are not so graced with natural ability can train themselves with hard work, which is the case with most artists these days, and is the reason there are so many. There are many self-taught musicians who have trained themselves to make and perform music from studying scores and listening to music. This is also the case for many chefs, or people who cook. Just as one can hear, and potentially learn, music from the score and listening to music, so can one learn to taste, and cook, from reading recipes and from eating food. In light of this comparison, we see how it is possible to learn music and food in much the same way, through recipes which are similar to musical scores.
Food, because it is such a big part of human daily life, gives us so many opportunities to practice preparing food. Being able to practice so much allows anyone who wants to, to succeed. With many arts, the vanity that Nietzsche pointes out is a big part of the admiration; if I (the subject viewing the art) could have done it, I am not as impressed with the artwork.
This is not the case with food; let us continue comparing the chef to the musician for insight. The musician can always go further with their practicing even after they can play through all keys in multiple ranges, they can strive to go faster and smoother etc. The technical mastery of cooking is at some point established, and a chef constantly strives for innovation, being creative with ingredients, rather than furthering technical abilities. Secondly, the musician goes to a concert and looks for, or notices, when the performer does something he himself cannot do, most of which is technical, such as a very high pitch or very fast phrase. The chef dines out and looks for, or notices, something that they themselves did not do, but could in the future. Lastly, the musician who can play as well as the one he sees in concert, does not enjoy the performance as much as if he couldn’t do it just as well. The chef enjoys a good meal whether or not they could do it, or even if they could exceed it. One can think of cuisine as a very human art, one that everyone is allowed to practice and master and enjoy. What is ironic is that because food is such a necessary part of human life, the very reason Plato and Kant rejected it, it can be enjoyed even if a sense of miracle-ness is not about it, whereas the other arts are the ones more likely to be judged based on ones own sense of ability and vanity, clearly not a disinterested approach.
To reminisce among the ancients a bit more, we will turn now to the ways in which food preparation in particular encourages a cultivation of virtue and temperance. In the process of creating any work of art, one exercises their aesthetic sense, making fine distinctions and using subtle proportions. As Nietzsche notes: “[A]ll great men were great workers, untiring not only in invention but also in rejecting, sifting, reforming, arranging.” What makes food preparation different from painting or composing, for example, is the temptation associated with the pleasures of flavor. How can one resist putting in as many chocolate chips as possible when they love chocolate? The answer is, only with a strong intellect governing the emotions and sensual desires. This behavior can be seen among children, who will use only one color crayon to color in an elaborate scene because they are partial to that color. Once matured, however, they are able to use their favorite color in more creative and expressive ways, giving it a more important feature when supported by a background of other colors. It is similar with the art of cookery: one quickly learns that too much chocolate will ruin even the most chocolaty dessert. This process teaches one to use their intellect to preside over sensual desires, and serves as excellent practice for this process of maturity. Cooks themselves are often more temperate eaters than those who have a love only of eating, and not cooking as well. By using the aesthetic sense to keep desires in check, we refine our passionate appetites and cultivate intellectual strength.
To conclude, I will point out one last aspect that cooking bears to other artistic processes, and that is its therapeutic value. This is an area of extreme interest and philosophical relevance, and perhaps through examining food preparation as well as other artistic processes, we can expand our aesthetic agendas. Nietzsche acknowledges not only that there is value in the process, but that it is at times more valuable than the product. For those who delight in creating, regardless of if or how their products are received, there is for them “more pleasure in creating than other men have in all other kinds of activity.”
Cooking is a form of release, as are the practices of many arts. It is a way of directing the energetic focus onto outside objects in a productive way, giving your self the opportunity for expression or to expend surplus energy. By filtering erratic energy one may quench other more violent tendencies. The process of creation may be applied as a form therapy to calm the passions, functioning as an alternative to extreme actions which produce similar feelings. Cooking in particular is a great way to dissolve internal stress, projecting that energy onto objects of incredible beauty and freshness, resulting in a satisfying product.
One of the most valuable aspects of the arts is the correcting and soothing effect it has on humans. Something about the harmonies of form resonates with our soul, coaxing it into a state of acceptance and transcendence of earthly plight. Perhaps Plato puts it best, when describing how musical harmonies resonate with the human soul:
And harmony, which has motions akin to the revolutions of our souls, is not regarded by the intelligent votary of the Muses as given by them with a view to irrational pleasure, which is deemed to be the purpose of it in our day, but meant to correct any discord which may have arisen in the courses of the soul, and to be our ally in bringing her into harmony and agreement with herself…on account of the irregular and graceless ways which prevail among mankind generally, and to help us against them.
After getting to know the perspective of the ancients, it is easy to see why they strayed from a serious study of taste and food. To them, taste’s relationship with the body was too close for comfort, and they were unable to see it as something of comparative value with the other senses. While it may be more of a challenge to use ones sense of taste aesthetically, its closeness to the body does not totally inhibit aesthetic capability as the ancients hypothesized. In fact, when we fast forward and examine the argument against an aesthetic use of taste made by Kant, we see that taste can function disinterestedly, and apprehend great beauty both with the body and imagination. Gustatory taste need not always be an entirely subjective experience; it is capable to being refined and perceiving objective qualities of external objects, and as Hume shows, such information can even be used to judge objects of food.
The question then arises about the artistry of food. We saw that the only food that comfortably qualifies as art by standards set by other arts is food that appeals to senses other than taste. Decorative and representational uses of food are artistic, but appeal to our sense of sight, not our taste. The fact that food relies on other senses to convey its artistry suggests that food as art that appeals to taste is a minor or weak art. However, by following the lead of more modern philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, we are encouraged not to judge the philosophical importance of art by its products alone. The process of food preparation, cookery, is a fascinating practice, bearing more resemblance to the process of other arts than ways in which food is experienced. A brief examination of the artistic process of cooking is enough to show the depth of philosophical relevance. Cooking turns out to be not only a unique form of virtuous cultivation of the intellect, but also contributes to philosophical expansion. Because food is so unique among the arts, yet has essential qualities in common, it forces us to redefine the way we think about art, specifically encouraging interest in the process rather than product. This has been just an introduction, something to whet the palate, so to speak, meant to inspire many new thoughts and avenues of interest, so that the philosophical investigations of taste and food may fruitfully continue.