Educated Tastes: Food, Drink, and Connoisseur Culture

Image of Educated Tastes: Food, Drink, and Connoisseur Culture (At Table)
Release Date: 
November 1, 2011
University of Nebraska Press
Reviewed by: 

“This is a book that strives to be inclusive but comes off as solidly elitist.”

It seems that the subject of food has never enjoyed a more prominent place in our global culture. Judging from the number of articles, cookbooks, food memoirs, nonfiction books, and TV shows all having to do with food, it is no wonder that food scholarship has emerged as a growing field of study in universities both here and abroad.

Because we all have to eat, the need to grow and consume food is what unites every human on the planet. Yet while food is one of our common denominators it can also be what sets us apart: you may choose sweet over savory, eschew okra, have a passion for chocolate or any number of preferences. It all comes down to a matter of taste, the central subject of ten essays included in Educated Tastes.

The contributors to this book are scholars all, which makes Educated Tastes a bit of slog for the layperson used to lighter fare (as Elizabeth David, Ruth Reichl, and others know, humor is essential to good food writing). But this really isn’t food writing; it is dense, academic writing that is far from the mainstream and is unlikely to attract an audience beyond the ivy-covered walls of universities.

The aim of the book is to explore what it means to be a connoisseur in the truest sense of the word whose meaning is derived from the French verb connaître, “to know.”

In their long-winded, often obtuse way, these essays are ultimately a form of consciousness raising—they are about learning to eat with intention and attention so that we can truly understand what it is we are consuming. The more you know about your food, the more you will appreciate it and develop your own sense of taste.

With each of the contributors representing different fields of study from philosophy to architecture to music to food history and more we begin to understand that food culture lies at the intersection of (inter alia) parenting, economics, ethics, education, nationalism, agriculture, art, creativity, government, and sensory pleasure. Food, it seems, is at the center of everything, making the variables that influence our food tastes almost endless.

So how then do we come to define “good” taste versus “bad” taste and who gets to decide? As the title suggests, it is apparently the educated, academe-oriented class. This is a book that strives to be inclusive but comes off as solidly elitist.