Gastronomy and Everyday Aesthetics

everyday cookingThroughout much of the history of philosophical aesthetics, there has been a tendency to focus on examples from high culture: paintings endorsed by art schools, major galleries, and museums; classical and modern music taught in university music programs; and prize-winning literature studied in literature programs. Recently this exclusive focus on the fine arts has been challenged by philosophers writing about “everyday aesthetics” which has become a field of study in its own right.

Everyday aesthetics looks at our aesthetic responses to events, objects, and activities that make up the environments we live in, and it views these responses as central to our lives

I would argue that an adequate theory of gastronomy must emerge from or be in some sense rooted in everyday aesthetics.  Why?

Because the development of our basic food sensibilities are rooted in everyday experience.

We each have preferences for certain ingredients developed over our lifetimes that deeply influence what we can enjoy. Regardless of how finely prepared a tomato dish is, if you don’t like tomatoes you likely will not like the dish. Our tastes are malleable to some extent but not infinitely so. Food memories and cultural influences govern what what we find surprising, distinctive, or familiar. Of course these preferences change over time depending on what we’re exposed to, but these preferences are continuously being shaped by what we eat everyday.

Furthermore the kind of attention we devote to food also depends on everyday capacities. Decisions about what to cook and how it is prepared, as well as the kind and quality of attention we pay to food, depends on navigating a complex social context. Food consumption is almost always a social event even in contexts where the food is the star. Thus, our attention is always divided between conversation and hospitality on one hand and the subtleties of the food on the other. Our “everyday” ability to think about others and respond to their needs is implicated in our ability to create and enjoy food at an aesthetic level.

This is quite unlike our experience of paintings, music, or literature. Appreciation of the fine arts may sometimes take place within social events but the norms of these events are typically arranged to facilitate concentration on the work of art rather than social obligations.

Thus, the notions of “aesthetic experience” or “aesthetic attention” in the realm of gastronomy may have to be reworked to account for this dependence on everyday capacities and experiences.

Finally, there is a good deal of continuity between fine cuisine and home cooking. Even the complex, transformative, disruptive stylings of modernist cuisine depend on ingredients and ways of preparing them that originated in everyday contexts. Innovative dishes are often interpretations of traditional dishes.

This anchor in everyday food experiences does not preclude the importance of fine cuisine in developing a theory of gastronomy. Fine cuisine with its emphasis on innovation and originality is where cuisine becomes self-conscious. It provides the peak experiences that make cuisine accessible as an art form. But we cannot understand taste without taking into account our day-to-day encounters with food,

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