Character and relationships are often expressed in terms of food: Shakespeare spoke
of the charitable who were filled with the milk of human kindness. People who fit this description have been known as sweetie pies. The language of food also captures our human habits, as witness our world’s couch potatoes. Morsels of wisdom are often served up: If you’re in the soup, do your best not to stew. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. Our rhetorical engagement with food is hardly accidental. The elements of the meal
have always had sacred and secular meanings, symbolic and literal, that go to the
belly of what it means to be human.
So it is that authors since Homer, Plato, and Dante have used this language to explore
the human condition. Some have satirized the gluttony of the social elite; or articulated
the relationships between those who serve and prepare a meal and those who partake
of it; or to celebrate the triumphant human encounter with a hostile world, as in
the case of a Seder , Communion, or festival. While the cultivation, harvesting, and
preparing of food provide a syntax for customs and values that bind us as communities,
the power of food to call forth distant and deeply embedded memories has also made
it a natural vehicle for psychological narrative. This course will explore this theme
from aesthetic, historic, and cultural vantage points.