Food as Grist for the Mill of Symbolization – A Meaty Read

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Finding a vocabulary for meaning, within the subject of food, is not as easy as making a souffle. Food as food as food is one thing – the collection of words for the physical sensation of eating is a wide one (and a wonderfully extravagant one at its best!). If there is doubt in anyone’s mind as to this fact, a quick roll through MFK Fisher should dull the edges of disbelief.

But there is more than eating, there is more than taste. There is more than texture and color and science and heat and there is even more than the finest meal one ever ate. There is also (believe it or not!) more than the finest meal one ever cooked.

What on earth is this thing?

Meaning.

Food has meaning, and that is where mystery comes in the door.

‘Meaning’ is a flitty thing, a thing that soars and moans, grinds and bites, soothes and delineates. ‘Meaning’ stands real over time. It is rarely erasable. It is the proverbial worm in the apple while remaining as the private port in a storm.

How to take the meaning out of the box to look at it, is the question.

Trying to do this can feel like having numbed fingers and blind eyes while trying to open an ostrich egg with the slightest crack on its rough hardened shell. Fumbling away, pulling at the edges, no tools to use but knowing that if only it could be opened then voila! You are on your way to making your own sort of ostrich egg souffle. This souffle might not be to everyone’s taste when done but it would certainly be a wonderfully messy experiment – a fine way to pass the day.

Symbols represent meaning, though they do not pin it down exactly. They do, however, shape it into a slightly more manageable form.

The downside is that writing about symbols occurs mostly in academia and the reading of it feels as if one is becoming immured in some horrid deadly musty place where your eyes become heavy, a place where a nap is quickly required if you want to live even a moment longer, a place where if you don’t escape quickly enough you might be subject to having a conniption which would leave you febrile, weak and unintelligible for the rest of all time co-mingling and stuck forever in the Land of Academic Writing.

Here is an essay on Food and Meaning for those curious to read about it – it is academic but one can still emerge unscathed if you go in with a cautious eye and a nose ready for trouble. It actually is amazingly good.

Food Choice, Symbolism, and Identity by Michael Owen Jones

Sadly, there are only fifteen pages here of the entirety of the piece. I’m not sure how long the whole thing is – but even as a single mouthful the piece is quite meaty. It’s a good start to a vocabulary of  meaning (and the symbols which represent it) within Food.

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