August 19, 2016
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.
Harvest time is a bittersweet time for me. With the wonderful fruit, comes long hours of picking, canning and packaging. The weather also changes, days get shorter and the winter schedule is much tighter than summer’s. Change can be difficult to deal with, mostly because we live in moments that make us think of permanence. And, as many artists, philosophers and authors demonstrate, permanence is not for nature. Without change, there would be no life. So, we relish these indemonstrable and unidentifiable moments of change. In the Syntopicon, Moritimer Adler writes, “that which changes persists throughout the change as the same kind of substance”. This makes me wonder what is the same and what is new? Are we new because of the newness of each season, or because of an additional experience? Where are we the same, what place within us remains unaffected by the new and the fresh? How and where does new merge with old?
Currently, I am up to my elbows in peaches. The juice wrinkles my hands and darkens my nails. I am lucky. I love harvest time. I am fortunate to love growing and harvesting and cooking. This is not always the case. Picking peaches always reminds me of the Joads in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, who struggle to learn something so foreign to them. Not knowing how fragile peaches are, they bruise them and lose money. Then, the kids eat a bunch of peaches at once and get sick. And picking in an orchard is backbreaking, laborious work to which Ma straightens her back and says, “Gets you, the first time, don’t it?” Their education in harvesting food is difficult, to say the least. And all of this reminds me that, once again, I am lucky to love the fruit and the season and my own stability. Yet it is this idea of stability that I question. Each season depends upon fertilization and frost, water and heat. Therefore, some years offer no harvest at all. And some, like this year, show the signs of age and insects. There is nothing but change in my experience with harvests. And each year I am taught to love food in a new and special way.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote The Physiology of Taste (translated by M. F. K. Fisher). A lawyer by trade, Brillat-Savarin devoted much time to the sensory experiences surrounding food. It offers meditations (much like Pascal’s Pensées) regarding all sorts of gastronomical experiences. Compiled over thirty years, and self-published, the book is full of the wisdom and curiosity from one who dearly loved life. Of particular interest is the section on the “Philosophical History of Cooking” (Meditation XXVII). He begins this section with the introduction of fire as a resource for cooking and moves through to feasts thrown by Louis XVI. He pays particular attention to descriptions of feasts and the ways in which they have changed. He writes that “The most important Romans prided themselves on their beautiful gardens, where they not only raised the fruits that had always been known, like pears, apples, figs, and grapes, but those which had been brought in from other lands: the apricot from Armenia, the peach from one of Lucullus’ spoils from the kingdom of Pontus. These importations, which necessarily came about in a variety of ways, at least prove that the interest in them was general, and that every Roman felt it a glory and a duty to contribute to the pleasures of the people-sovereign”. Brillat-Savarin notes, however, that it is very unlikely that a single man (or family) from contemporary society could create such a feast of food and entertainment as in the ancient days. Our traditions regarding food have always changed, as demonstrated by the Romans’ ability to integrate new foods with theirs. We continue to see changes in the way that we eat and package food and yet, food is also a significant cultural indicator. People associate specific types of foods for specific events.
Both danger and comfort accompany the idea of permanence. Often we approach change with both fear and excitement. Regardless of how we approach change, it is a fact of life. As peaches ripen and fall, I watch the approaching moon rise above the mountains. During this harvest time, even the moon changes. It appears larger than usual, brighter and fuller, falling in the early morning sky. This bright light used to aid harvesters as they picked late into the night. It is recognized in many traditions as a sign of change and is often a very powerful symbol in mythology. Typically, deified as a female, the moon demonstrates the passage of time and the importance of cycles. The phases of the moon demonstrate both eternity and its opposite. The unity of symbolism reinforces this idea that change is of great importance to many cultures. And so, as I pick peaches, and distribute them, I wonder what in me is changed or the same? What in our earth is changing as my peach tree grows, flowers and fruits? What is changed as a result of the dialogue of change?
In the upcoming weeks, we will share more from The Physiology of Taste – in particular how it relates to Kant’s idea of taste, and the great idea of Art.
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