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Pleasure at the heart of our love affair with food


Dr Roger Haden shares some notes from his presentation at Words to Go 2016

Dr Roger Haden shares some notes from his presentation at Words to Go 2016, a culinary and travel bloggers forum that runs as part of Tasting Australia.

Through the relatively recent (since the 1990s) and now relentless commercial appeal to sensory pleasures and effects that we call ‘the aesthetization of daily life,’ products and associated ‘experiences’ attract us in droves as never before. The tactile, the tasty and the well packaged lure us in and we love it. It’s as if pleasure has been at last unleashed and uncensored on the (Western) world. In a word – released, from the moral guilt that for centuries has been associated with both eating and sex, the most sensual pleasures. But sex is old news. The 60s, 70s and 80s pretty much dealt with that (guilt and recrimination). Now it’s food’s turn. That’s why we now ‘inhale’ dishes that take our fancy -because we unashamedly can. The cultural trappings of dining have been subsumed thanks in part to aesthetization, a product of the consumerist ethos and driven by its commercial imperative.

Theorists have noted that after the age of colonization comes endo-colonisation: the colonising of the body. We are thus, all of a sudden, completely comfortable with the notion of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Perfect, says industry, tongue in cheek. As a consequence of aesthetization, our relationship with our own senses has changed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we have taken to describing the foods we eat and the wines we drink using descriptors that regularly allude to particular sensory experiences. Whether olfactory, tactile, gustatory, visual or audible, the love affair with pleasure has spawned a greater interest in expressing this from the corporeal (sensory) and individual perspective (e.g., the blog).

Does this obvious enthusiasm, ‘passion’ and devotion applied in the food writer’s art today border on religious zeal? After religion and morality comes food: is the latter the new religion? Is foodie-ism the cause mobilising to make more honest the consumer culture that contributes most to the decline of our environment? Is there salvation in understanding the world by comprehensively considering food and eating? Or is the game of aestheticizing and of vicariously enjoying the pleasures of dining via word and image its own reward?

How do we write (best) about food today? Does the foodie-writer have any responsibility to educate, to marshal their skills and underpin the gastronomic gush with challenging questions and critical exposés? This session explores aestheticization (the appeal to the senses) in food writing and maps the challenges that confront food writers today. 

Dr. Roger Haden’s presentation is available upon request.

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