Food, like sex, is mostly in the head. Or, if that seems exaggerated, what about the thought that thinking about food is the modern growth industry? Restaurants, supermarkets, the media – all encourage display, which like the old underwear advertisements in the tube might seem pornographic if we were not so used to them. The Greens should make us sensitive on this issue, no doubt, as feminists did on the other one. The food in the head industry may be an insult to the Third World, but it also encourages contribution to aid programmes. No longer guilty about sex, we are uneasy about anorexia and bulimia, slimness and fatness, soft foodie dreaming ...
Vol. 15 No. 5 · 11 March 1993
From Dorothy Bell
Proust’s amazing hymn of praise to the asparagus at Combray is misquoted, either by the author or by the reviewer, in the last issue of the London Review. The passage, almost half-way through Du Côté de chez Swann, comprises a good dozen lines of complex and florid prose.
It begins with a detailed description of the appearance of the asparagus and ends with reference to cette essence précieuse que je reconnaissais encore quand, toute la nuit qui suivait un dîner où j’en avais mangé, elles jouaient, dans leurs farces poétiques et grossières comme une féerie de Shakespeare, à changer mon pot de chambre en un vase de parfum. Admire it or not, this is essentially Proustian. The words qui parfumait mon pot de chambre are not.
Vol. 15 No. 6 · 25 March 1993
From John Bayley
Concerning Proust’s rhapsody on asparagusscented urine (Letters, 11 March), it was the reviewer who was guilty of misquotation, not the author of A History of Food, who did not herself refer to Proust. At least the error produced from Dorothy Bell, to whom I am most grateful, the magnificent original passage from Du côté de chez Swann. Having misquoted a phrase from memory, I was intrigued to find that the true version confirmed yet again the close bond between food and books. Asparagus chemistry reminded Proust of Shakespeare’s dramatic essence – at once ‘poétique et grossière’.
Vol. 15 No. 8 · 22 April 1993
From Barry Mitchell
May I add a footnote to the great asparagus correspondence (Letters, 11 March and Letters, 25 March)? It turns out that sensitivity to the aroma of asparagus in urine is determined by a single gene, and that, as with so much else in life, one has it or not. The ability to roll the tongue is also genetic. The jury is out on whether or not one can learn to wiggle one’s ears.