The reviews of issue #1 are in, and mainly they’re wonderfully generous and excited. A few people are unhappy, having seen things (like the cover) that they didn’t want to see, or read things (like deconstruction) that they didn’t want to read. But that’s what we wanted, to offer something provocative for everyone. Responses came from surprising quarters. Inspired by Paul Russell’s essay, my ten-year-old daughter produced an unexpected memoir on the subject of mother and food.
I was especially gratified to learn about lively debates over the cover. Readers from such diverse quarters as Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Seattle found the image either marvelous or repulsive. What is that woman sucking, her hand? Or someone else’s? Or could she possibly (please!) be putting some bread into her mouth? For the record, the cover image is a still shot from Luis Buñuel’s revolutionary Surrealist film, L’Age d’Or (1930), which he wrote with Salvador Dali. The woman in question, Lya Lys, is sucking her lover’s hand (some readers will be relieved that I chose this shot over one where she sucks the toe of a statue; others will ask to see the statue). When L’Age d’Or was first screened in Paris, it actually caused riots. Right-wing activists threw ink at the screen and set off smoke bombs. Even the Pope got involved, threatening to excommunicate the film’s financial sponsor, the Vicomte de Noailles. The film was suppressed for many decades. Buñuel died in 1983, but he would be glad to know that even a still from this early film remains potent enough to stir up emotions.
And there’s more provocation in store in this issue! In her revealing analysis of Picasso’s painting El Bobo, after Murillo, art historian Deborah Rothschild presents this image as a “self-portrait of the artist as libidinous rogue.” She shows how Picasso defied rules and challenged convention in his art, often shocking his public in the process. And did you think vegetables are only for eating? The artist Michelle Ticknor finds another, more aesthetic use for them. In a complex and laborious process, she slices vegetables, then dries and presses the slices to make vegetable papyrus, a cellulose paper she illuminates to reveal the beautiful cross-sectioned patterns of different vegetables.
Provocations aren’t only visual, of course. Sidney W. Mintz and Daniela Schlettwein-Gsell present, from opposite perspectives, Mintz’s interesting hypothesis on the basic “core-fringe-legume” pattern that constitutes meals throughout the world. Can his hypothesis be proven? Possibly not, but the point in life is rarely to find a definitive answer. And certainly, their article stimulates us to consider not only how we eat, how we choose the foods on our plate, and how we combine them—but why. Is there, as Schlettwein-Gsell suggests, some sort of innate mechanism that causes us to favor balanced combinations? Or are our food choices more rationally based? Read the article and decide for yourself, then let us know what you think.
Another article sure to induce thought is biologist Adrianne Massey’s eloquent investigation of man’s history of crop tampering. We tend to forget that the stakes for food crops have always been high, that they’re not something new to our high-tech era. What some might deem unnatural science is not a modern phenomenon. As Massey shows, we have been playing with our food for a long, long time, and there’s no indication that we will stop any time soon. So rather than simply agreeing to “Just Say No” to the manipulation of the foods we eat, we need to find ways to do it safely and responsibly, with an eye to our increasingly fragile environment and the needs of future generations—not merely for the sake of the bottom line.
In this issue you’ll encounter the work of an art historian, an anthropologist, a nutritionist, a biologist, a French professor, a visual artist, a Renaissance scholar, a baker, even a culinary historian. Except for the culinary historian, none of these contributors is what we regard as a “foodie.” That, in fact, has been the greatest pleasure for me in working on Gastronomica. I’ve come to know people in their most interesting ways—through their passions—and my world has expanded exponentially. I never really thought of corkscrews as anything more than a useful tool for opening wine, for instance, but Stephen J. Gendzier’s passion for them has infected me. Nor would I have even suspected that an organic bakery in rural England was the creation of a former bbc correspondent to Russia, but indeed Andrew Whitley did leave behind the glamour of international journalism to produce extraordinary rye bread. These are people who follow their hearts. It is my privilege to get to know them, and to share them with you.