Monday, March 26, 2012
Why is taste historically stunted?
I have a serious question. This weekend I spoke before the Renaissance Society of America about food, of course. It occured to me that no one present would have the slightest qualms about watching a play of this era, looking at a 500 year old painting, or hearing Renaissance music. They do it all the time. It's their profession! Then at the reception, with marvellous food mind you, it occured to me: what would happen if you served them Renaissance food? I mean sweet chicken blancmanger, peacocks resewn into their feathers spewing flames, sweet sour perfumed sauces. Sugar and cinnamon on everything. They would run in terror. They might be amused for a few minutes, but no one in their right mind would take it seriously and honestly eat it with enjoyment. Why are our historic sensibilities completely and utterly stunted when it comes to gastronomy, but so highly refined for the other arts? Is there something inherently different about taste, because we ingest it? So it becomes more closely bound to our own time than any other kind of taste? Or is it because historians set the canons of taste for the past in the other arts but have never done it for food? Everyone recognizes the Mona Lisa but would be very hard pressed to identify a signature Renaissance dish.