The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am


The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy
By Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The title of this book might seem arrogant - Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy creates expectations in the reader that any writer would find difficult to live up to. But Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) was not a run-of-the- mill foodie, as time has proven. A French lawyer, mayor and judge, the gourmet came up with many aphorisms that are still quoted: 'Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are', 'The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a star' and 'Animals feed themselves; men eat; but only wise men know the art of eating'. He also has a cheese named after him, as well as a pastry.

The Physiology of Taste was published in 1825; the late, great American food writer M.F.K. Fisher did a translation in 1949. Although Brillat-Savarin describes many dishes and ingredients, the book contains few recipes. There are musings on subjects such as the erotic properties of truffles; effects of gourmandism on sociability; the difference between the pleasure of eating and the pleasures of the table; preventative or curative treatment of obesity; the inevitable longevity of gourmets; and the influence of diet upon repose, sleep and dreams.

Women who don't live up to today's fashion of being a size zero can take heart in Brillat-Savarin's essay on the effects of thinness. He writes: 'Thinness is a horrible calamity for women: beauty to them is more than life itself, and it consists above all of the roundness of their forms and the graceful curvings of their outlines. It is a common saying that a scrawny woman, no matter how pretty she may look, loses something of her charm with every fastening she undoes.'