Mouthfeel

Vox populi often talks about “weaknesses” when it comes to food, and suggests that we all have (at least) one; that evil thing that will break our Resolve. This language is in tune with gluttony as public enemy no.1, and also perfectly demonstrates the simple power of discourse; how a word, in this case weakness, can lace every pleasure with guilt (isn’t “indulgence” itself an evil to be avoided?).

But, as Sidney Mintz points out, ‘Gluttony is the least interesting and the most obvious of the seven deadly sins’. So, exit vox populi, enter common sense, and then surely we should describe what we like in terms of strengths. I, for instance, was born with the proverbial sweet tooth, and I can almost guarantee that it’s stronger than yours (in other words, don’t bother challenging me to the chocolate chow-down: I will be victorious). I also like deep-fried calamari tentacles. A lot. I don’t think I can eat a bucket of them, but so what? From strength to strength, I say.

More than chocolate and calamari, though, I think my strongest taste (VP translation: my “biggest weakness”) is for a particular mouthfeel. It’s not the mouthfeel of oysters, which I enjoy on occasion, but would not mind forsaking for the rest of my life. What I really love is bread. Glorious bread. The loaf I baked this weekend had the perfect mouthfeel: kind of spongy, but chewy, with a touch of crunch from a bit of polenta in the mix, and a crust that requires molars. It was righteous when it was fresh, and just as good toasted this morning.

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Naturally I also have strength for a good piece of cake once in a while, and I satisfied my craving with an age-old secret family recipe (which I tweaked, of course, to add fresh ginger and walnuts, although a different brand of cocoa powder unfortunately mostly masked the exotica). But no one’s complaining (including the philosophe, who just texted me to say that he stole a piece from the consignment I sent with him to distribute at work, and that it was “very nice!”). I’m not surprised: good cakes improve after a day or two.

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So I got my bread, and I had my cake and ate it too, and it was a strong weekend which I’ll look forward to replicating in some other flavour before long.

Apropos the culture of “weakness”, it really is a shame that we are, so often, made to feel so guiltful about how and what we eat. I don’t this is the result of a simplistic cause and effect as much as a complex historical process, and I’m not sure whether it’s most usefully framed as a cultural, sociological, or epistemological problem, but I was recently struck by another formulation by Mintz, who argues that there is something strongly “cultural” behind America’s relationship to food: ‘I find it difficult to imagine a French equivalent to the lonely nighttime battles waged at the refrigerator door by so many Americans’.

What a very sad image. But I guess we can’t all be Nigella Lawson in satin pyjamas dipping into chocolate pots at “midnight” while the world looks on, and pays her for it…

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