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November 14, 2019 / Congau

Philosophy of Food?

No, I’m sorry, you gourmets, you people of sophisticated palates and you who just enjoy your pepper steak. There is no such thing.

Much as one would like to grant the honorific label of philosophy to one’s favorite activity and maybe condone a slight weakness, an appetizing lunch is not a separate domain of philosophy.

Neither is there a philosophy of business, of race cars or of stamp collection. Sorry again.

But since no human activity can escape from human thought, and since food is rather essential for existence, it can’t hardly escape our conscious reflections. Moreover, the craft of cooking may indeed reach high levels of finesse, so much so that it could be elevated to a form of art, and in that case, we are approaching an area of philosophy known as aesthetics.

Food, like art, satisfies the senses, or at least it stimulates an emotional reaction from a sensual impulse. A delicious meal is pleasing to the sense of taste (and also to the sense of smell). Most other forms of art address the sense of vision (or hearing) and food, if it is an art, is quite lonely in appealing to the organ of taste.

Now, art endeavors to search for the truth in its own particular way and that’s how it finds its way into the field of philosophy. A beautiful painting or a sublime piece of music may give us some sense of higher understanding. But can we get anything from food except the comfortable drowsiness of a full stomach? Sure, we can. We don’t have to limit our diet to chicken sandwiches and the language of praise that are showered on recipients of Michelin stars, bear witness to the kind of elevated feelings a connoisseur seems to be able to reach.

But still, the sense of taste is more limited than the sense of vision, and if cooking is an art, it can only cover a small corner of artistic possibility. It can’t be a branch of philosophy in its own right.

But never mind: Bon appétit!

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