- Gastro-Modernism: Food, Literature, and Culture ed. by Derek Gladwin
Gastro-Modernism: Food, Literature, and Culture joins a recent burst of book-length studies of food and modernist literature—so recent that several companions and edited collections have come out in a relative pile-up within the last three years and are not yet in dialogue with one another.1 The eagerness of scholarly presses to expand these offerings, editor Derek Gladwin writes, "[affirms] an increasing demand for contemporary researchers, students, and educated readers of modernism and food studies" (9), a coherent subfield that underscores the centrality of food to any account of modernist cultures and the arts.
As Gastro-Modernism attests, the momentum shows no sign of slowing. These chapters are varied and intriguing, providing global coverage in line with the geographical expansions of modernist studies more broadly. Like my co-editors and I did in Modernism and Food Studies, Gladwin's volume arranges its chapters into thematic sections like "Decadence and Absence" and "Taste and Disgust" (69-132, 134-79). Such an approach balances coverage with accessibility, since each chapter presents a self-contained argument without demanding a longer [End Page 386] reader commitment, and the whole assemblage provides through-lines for readers who seek a more substantive engagement.
Also like our collection, Gladwin groups canonical modernists (James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot) with lesser-known figures (like Midori Osaki and Marguerite Duras), another choice with important benefits. Revisiting the high-modernist canon using food as a lens invites new discoveries and reinvigorates modernism for new scholars. It also subtly expands that canon. Readers who come for Joyce or Ernest Hemingway may stay to read Alys Moody's analysis of feminist starving artists in Mina Loy's work,2 or Kelly Sullivan's summoning of Elizabeth David in the context of late modernism.3 Joyce scholars may find new territory when considering his oeuvre alongside the jazz-age sensations of Louis Armstrong's dietary life-writing and Noël Coward's dramatically staged cocktails, in essays by Vivian Halloran and Gregory Mackie, respectively. Peter Childs's essay on food separation and Clint Burnham's account of food in Canada's Indian Residential Schools will interest anyone in the Joyce community who works on food refusal and anticolonial resistance.
But Gastro-Modernism has a central oversight worth addressing, and that is the unresolved tension between its embrace of the genealogy of gastronomic writing, and the chapters I have just previewed, which seem like attempts to broaden that tradition. One challenge of interdisciplinary work, and any work that brings subfields together, is translating each to the other succinctly and yet without short-changing complex conversations. This book arranges an "unlikely fusion of gastronomy and modernism" (10) in order to highlight its focus on aesthetics, a choice that defines its unique contribution and has since been taken up by others.4 In selecting gastronomy as its particular approach to food studies, however, the editor should have done due diligence to contextualize that choice for the reader who is not familiar with the subject. In short, gastronomy has its own baggage that food studies does not. Although the two communities increasingly share concerns, their relationship is an active, sometimes contentious negotiation—they are not "interchangeab[le]," nor do they constitute a continuous "tradition" (10, 11).5 Gastronomy has tended to focus on consumption over production and is still most legible (and Googleable) as "the art and science of delicate eating."6 Gladwin's introduction provides this genealogy but only "briefly acknowledge[s]" gastronomy's unpleasant associations with enlightenment values, colonial conquest, and elitist distinction (10-11). It is misleading to imply that gastronomy has been redeemed from that problematic past in food-studies communities (11).
Gastronomy as a term remains power-laden, a Eurocentric tradition [End Page 387] that echoes in every "great man theory of food," from cultural biographies to episodes of Chef's Table.7 There is much more work to do to rectify its historic exclusion of women and...