The lengthy descriptions of cooking that we find in modern literature are a way of artfully representing, rather than actually reproducing, our mental life—a modelled illusion, rather than a snapshot of the thing.
Cooking, consciousness, McEwan, Proust, and Grass. From a back issue of The New Yorker, here's a good essay to round out Hungry Reader month. Is cooking in contemporary novels the latest version of an old literary device, once employed by sending characters on walks, horseback rides, and car drives - a background activity to let authors explore the contents of their characters's minds while they are otherwise engaged.
The problem with this is that cooking isn't really a background activity, as the author points out when he tries to reproduce several recipes from favorite novels.
Food and cooking demand intimate attention on the here and now; they are not necessarily ruminative activities.
We could go either way on this - we find that some repetitive daily kitchen tasks let our minds wander free, and let us be blessedly free of overthinking and analysis. Cooking is physical, first and foremost, and it lets the mind go free while the body is so engaged. So we do have good thinking happening when we cook, sometimes.
But it also requires intense engagement, especially when constructing some of the baroque recipes the author tries out (complicated fish and mussel stew).
What do you think - is cooking a meditative activity for you, or are you very mentally engaged with your food as you cook?
Don't forget - we have a food and books challenge going on - get your entries in quick for a free book giveaway.
• Cooked Books by Adam Gopnik
(Image: Thierry Guitard for The New Yorker)