I recently watched Chocolat again, the endearingly mushy film that suggests if you give yourself up entirely to cocoa, everything will be alright. For those who haven’t seen it, Juliette Binoche’s ethereal beauty is eclipsed by poetic frames of exotic looking sweets and sensually stirred hot chocolate. It’s a lip smacker of a feel good movie and the fact that it’ll vanish from your head instantly after finishing doesn’t take away from it one bit
Like in Chocolat, every detail in modern living involves thunderous amounts of food. Someone I know had posted this menu on Facebook of their regular middle-of-the-week dinner. Just a toss up, nothing special. Amuse-bouche was a watermelon and feta salad. Starters, prawn bisque, mains, chicken a la kiev in quinoa and dessert, a raspberry mint sorbet. I know we’re living in the Age of Food but really, a four course meal on a weeknight? What do you eat on occasions, I asked. Heroin? Every meal, I was pointedly told with a resounding virtual smack, “is a celebration, cooked with passion”. A random check with three friends on what they were having for dinner was a revelation clearer than any ORG survey on how much our food habits have altered in the last decade. There was broccoli soup, a salmon quiche and a successful experiment of chocolate profiteroles with bitter orange and pistachio nuts.
Sometimes I feel I’m the only person left who still eats dal-chawal most nights. Alas, I am not a true blue sophisticate. Foodies, that aggravating term to describe wannabe gourmets who seek new experiences in dining have simply taken over the world. Cooking shows dominate TV schedules and celebrity chefs have the social capital of Hollywood A-listers. Not to say they’re not entertaining but personally, I watch Anthony Bourdain because I think he’s sexy not because I care about where I can find the best croissants in Paris. It turns out, the anti-foodies are an unnervingly small minority. My lack of interest in every meal transporting me into joyous delirium makes me something of a freak, viewed with sneering and contemptuous derision. Of course, I enjoy a good dinner as much as anybody else but I’m not going to keel over and die if it’s not up to scratch. But meals have become so sacrosanct. The last time I had a party I was peer pressured into hiring a caterer — my scintillating company notwithstanding, guests refused to come if I had anything to do with the cooking. Currently, food is so reverently glamorised, even fetishised, possibly because polite conversation doesn’t permit us to express the same interest in sex and drugs. So wild mushrooms in cheese sauce (not the magic ones) have become the new hedonism.
Throughout history, mankind has developed rituals and a culture around food. “Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are,” wrote the renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1825 in The Physiology of Taste. The highest respectability is of much less value than the possession of a good chef, observed Oscar Wilde in 1891, in The Picture of Dorian Gray. At the risk of sounding a little self righteous, there are more pressing questions plaguing the world than what’s for dinner. I can’t help but wonder shouldn’t we be more concerned about what we put into our minds rather than what we put into our stomachs? Assaulted as I am by painful epicures droning on rapturously about ingredients and flavours, I have taken to quoting the cardinal sins from the Bible to defend myself: “The glutton shall come to naught; and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” Eat my words.