I’ve found an extraordinary passage in MFK Fisher’s An Alphabet for Gourmets – this is under G for Gluttony: “It is a curious fact that no man likes to call himself a glutton, and yet each of us has in him a trace of gluttony, potential or actual. I cannot believe that there exists a single coherent human being who will not confess, at least to himself, that once or twice he has stuffed himself to bursting point on anything from quail financiere to flapjacks, for no other reason than the beastlike satisfaction of his belly. In fact I pity anyone who has not permitted himself this sensuous experience, if only to determine what his private limits are, and where for himself alone gourmandism ends and gluttony begins.”
It seems kind of interesting that she talks only about “him.” She was of course writing in 1949 when gender issues would have seemed less pressing, when the term “man” would have included women as well. And yet it does seem to suggest that it’s mostly men who are gluttons, or perhaps that gluttony is so much worse in a woman, which is an argument for another time.
In any case the line that really caught my attention was the one about determining private limits. This is a weird and interesting one, isn’t it? I mean obviously I, like everybody else, have eaten too much at one time or another, and arguably most people in the West eat too much everyday but that’s not quite the same as reaching your limit.
I’ve certainly been in a situation where I’ve been able to eat all the French fries I wanted, and then a few more, and I’ve certainly reached my limit on beer (which is now considerably lower than it used to be). But there are some things where I can’t even imagine a limit.
Cheese for instance – I never quite eat all the cheese I want. I always stop myself before I reach my limit, in the interest of – well, I don’t absolutely know what – maybe fear of cholesterol, maybe fear of being thought a glutton.
Cashew nuts too - I can’t quite imagine the size of the box of cashews that would actually defeat me.
And above all oysters – I don’t think I’ve ever got anywhere near my oyster limit. True I’ve never been in a situation where I had an absolutely limitless supply of oysters, but whenever I’ve eaten what seemed like a lot, I’ve always been left thinking I could eat a few more.
Of course price comes into it. Oysters in a restaurant are too expensive to make a complete pig of yourself. Champagne even more so. I’ve always fantasized about settling down with a Jeroboam of champagne or a Balthazar if I was with a friend or two and just drinking till I’d had enough. Of course, in one sense I’d definitely reach my limit because sooner or later I’d pass out, but passing out isn’t quite the same thing as having had enough.
And now I see some research from Reading University (that hotbed of “beastlike satisfaction”) suggesting that a glass champagne, three times a week could help prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This may well be true but it’s a very hard thing to investigate, I’d have thought. Is there really anybody in the world who could drink three glasses and only three glasses of champagne per week. After that first glass wouldn’t you want another, and another, and maybe a bag or cashew nuts and a cheese plate and a couple of dozen oysters …
The picture above and the one at the top are of Crystal Renn, photographed by Terry Richardson for French Vogue’s 90th anniversary issue. Yeah, scandal really ruined his career. The feature is called “Festin” (no relation).