Recipes for understanding taste – new title in ‘Law and the Senses’ series

Recipes for understanding taste – new title in ‘Law and the Senses’ series

The second title in an ambitious new interdisciplinary series from the University of Westminster’s Law and Theory Lab has been published. Called TASTE it is one of five volumes that will explore the terrain of law and each of the five senses with SEE  already published and both titles available open access. In an extract from a wide-ranging analysis of what taste means in terms of theory and law in the book’s introduction, Andrea Pavoni considers the medium of the ‘recipe’. Uniquely TASTE includes seven considerations of the ingredients of the recipe via specific examples touching upon themes from Veblen’s conspicuous consumption and ‘foodstagramming’ to abjection and disgust to the ambiguous rituals of food hospitality. The featured image illustrates the range of this unique feature of the title. To sample the recipes download the full title which is also available in paperback.

What is a recipe if not the gastro-normative artefact par excellence? A set of how-to instructions meant to adapt the contingency of cooking to the standard of a normative knowledge. Recipe, in Latin, is the imperative form: take, and was the introductory formula of medical prescriptions. As Flandrin explains, it was only in the seventeenth century that gastronomy proper supplanted dietetics, cooking began to be assumed as an art rather than a medical science, and the hedonism of the ‘gourmet’ was liberated.†  Yet, the early, normative power of recipes remained in place. This had ossifying effects, Haden † †  argues, vis-à-vis the parameters of taste, and often resulted in communicating a rationalised and standardised gastro-normativity, exemplified by the ideology of measurability and repeatability expressed in recipe cookbooks and, we may add, repeated and magnified in today’s TV cooking shows. Camporese †††  has emphasised the crucial role played by a 1891 recipe book by Pellegrino Artusi, The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, in producing a national consciousness in an Italy as, 30 years after the unification, the country was still culturally and linguistically split among regional enclaves. A unification that, however, occurred in heavily asymmetric form. Artusi, a bourgeois from central Italy, crafted a series of recipes in which ‘the politico-economical system, the social structure of his society, and the myth of bourgeois order’ were carefully and paternalistically translated, along marked geographical, socio-economic and gender cleavages. The seven speculative recipes gathered in the second part of this volume aims towards an opposite direction. They seek to disentangle taste, first, from its parochial entrapment into bourgeois enjoyment and, second, from their normatively atrophying ideology. No longer a mechanism that preventively defuses contingency, the recipe is thus reconfigured as a tool aimed at detecting and unfolding the contingent frictions between the experience (of taste) and the culinary continuum of bodies and structures that shape it.

 †  Jean-Louis Flandrin, ‘From Dietetics to Gastronomy: The Liberation of the Gourmet’, in Food: A Culinary History, ed. Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).

 †† Haden, ‘Lionizing Taste’.

 ††† Piero Camporese, Alimentazione, Folclore, Società (Parma: Pratiche Editrice, 1980), 117 [my translation].

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