Reading Gastronomica: Economy, Gastronomy, and the Guilt of a Fancy Meal

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After our discussion last week on the merits of cooking complicated meals, we read Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft's article in the latest issue of Gastronomica with a particularly keen eye.

His article, "Economy, Gastronomy, and the Guilt of a Fancy Meal," deals primarily with that slippery phrase we've often used ourselves, "Was it worth it?"

Although Wurgaft assesses the idea of worth in relation to a meal at the French Laundry, we feel that his arguments apply equally to times when we put budget concerns on the back burner and splurge on a expensive ingredients.

To be honest, we've often found it difficult to truly enjoy these moments of luxury. In the back of our mind, there is always the knowledge of how much we paid for certain ingredients or how much time we spent preparing them.

We usually feel the need to justify expenses after the fact as a way of making ourselves feel less guilty. We say, "That was worth it," meaning the experience was worth the cost. Everyone enjoyed themselves. It was a memorable evening that we'll talk about for months to come. The value will extend beyond our credit card bill.

Wurgaft feels that there is something fundamentally strange about this experience of breaking down subjective experience into economic value, which we all do whether consciously or unconsciously. He says:

It holds something very real, for example the taste of a bluefish fillet, up to the standard of something only relatively real, let's say the value of fourteen dollars, and pretends that the latter rather than the former value is the 'real one, the fixed point against which 'ineffables' are to be measured.

In these hard economic times with our budget squarely front and center, we find ourselves struggling with these ideas of value and worth even more. It seems impossible to get away from assigning monetary value to everything we cook, and even harder to enjoy the experience.

Is this something that you struggle with too? What do you think?