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Reviewed by:
  • Consuming Culture: The Arts of the French Table
  • Keith Reader
Consuming Culture: The Arts of the French Table. Edited by John West-Sooby . Cranbury, University of Delaware Press. 2004. iv + 172 pp. Pb £20.50.

The discourses of food and gastronomy in France have recently begun to receive a degree of critical attention, particularly in the United States. Schehr and Weiss's French Food: On the Table, On the Page, and in French Culture and Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson's Accounting for Taste (see FS, LX (2006), 166–67) are two noteworthy recent examples. West-Sooby's anthology roams over a variety of areas, dealing with the 'usual suspects'—Grimod de la Reynière, Brillat-Savarin, the inappositely-named Carême—but encompassing also political philosophy (Thomas Bouchet on Fourier), literature canonical (Karin Becker on food in the nineteenth-century novel) and not so canonical (Timothy Unwin on Verne), and, in Anne Freadman's concluding essay, the whole question of what it means for a nation to represent itself culturally. There is also, stretching the definition of gastronomy somewhat, a harrowing piece by Michelle Royer on Marguerite Duras's alcoholism. The focus stretches back to the Renaissance (Pollie Bromilow on food and punishment in novellas of the period), and the book is a valuable indicator of the reach and intellectual possibilities of what might by some be thought a slightly frivolous area of study. Michael D. Garval's analysis of the frontispieces for Grimod's Almanach des gourmands is a particularly toothsome instance of what might be called an 'emblem studies' approach; it is a shame that visual representations of gastronomy were not further explored by way of a chapter or two on cinema. The culture that gave us Renoir and Chabrol surely deserves as much. Food as what Barthes called, apropos Brillat-Savarin, an 'opérateur universel du discours' is an important area for the cultural historian, for obvious reasons nowhere more so than in France, and this collection suggests a cornucopia of ways and areas in which it might be deployed. Alas, and following French publishing practice at its worst, there is no index. West-Sooby's efforts surely deserved to be racontés par le menu.

Keith Reader
Glasgow University


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