20 May 2002

Following on from an issue (26) given over to butchery, the latest number of Slow (29) looks at the distress food may cause and ways of eating ‘on the job’.
The two sections Distress, Shame and Pleasure and Eating At The Workplace explore two of the least obvious aspects of everyday life and reveal some of the tensions that may take the fun out of gastronomy. The fact is that the table can generate two counterpoised sensations – disgust and pleasure. For us westerners, the smell of an apple pie baking in the oven is redolent of homeliness. It makes us think about the way granny used to bake. But for a Japanese granny, the same fragrance isn’t a fragrance at all, but rather a disgusting stink. Naturally enough, a French woman – albeit a cheese lover – who has lived in Tokyo for years, nourishing herself on light Japanese cookery (S. Guichard-Anguis, Extremes of Taste), can’t manage more than a mouthful of Camembert.

It all boils down to habit and geography and availability of raw materials and religion and morals (however false or quirky) – and of weight. You name it! So many variables impinge upon the formation of our taste, yet just as many are capable of mortifying it, from the bowl of rice pudding inflicted on the young Luigi Wanner to hygienist paranoias that ultimately prove unfounded, often only after they’ve provoked serious damage to the bodies and minds of unwitting adolescents (Daring To Eat). Yet the taste and pleasure of food are also imperiled by fat (From Gueule To Guilt: US women, fat and sex) and the alienation triggered by factory and school canteens, a subject which we’ll be touching on again in the next number of Slow. Even the desayuno al pulso (the snack farmers eat in the fields in southern Andalusia) and the meals of on-duty working cooks, recounted respectively by D. Fournier and B. Beaugé, prove less poetic than you may at first imagine.
Still on the subject of taste, why is it that the French don’t like Coca-Cola? Why is it that the sweet bubbles that have conquered the world – even in the light, low-sugar version – just can’t catch on in France? In his article Wine, Sodas and Coke, Maurice Bensussan maybe doesn’t answer those questions, but the story he has to tell is an encouraging one. One way of withstanding the multinationals, he says, is by sipping a glass of good red wine.
Emigrants, on the other hand, just can’t live without ‘essences from home’. Fabio Caffarena explains how, using the letters of Ligurian emigrants to Uruguay, Argentina and Ecuador at the turn of the last century to document the ‘food chains which help link New World and Old’ – and cause massive consignments of oil, mushrooms and pesto to cross the ocean. It’s a different ocean that provides the backdrop for the minor dispute triggered by P. Affre’s article on salmon, The Ignoble Savage, in Slow 23. A fisherwoman from Oregon has written in to ‘protest’ against what she sees as an apology for farmed fish; here Affre replies. The debate is open and, as always, the pages of our journal are at the disposal of any readers who want to have their say in the debate.
An item worthy of mention in the SloWorld section of the journal is the ‘revenge’ of the real San Marzano tomato, saved by a Slow Food Presidium with the support of far-sighted, ecocompatibly-minded institutions. Luckily, an alternative to genetic engineering still does exist!

Simona Luparia is an editorial secretary at Slow Food Editore

Adapted by John Irving

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