Heroes (4/4) - Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 - 1826)
La Physiologie du Goût was not Brillat-Savarin’s first published work. He had already published works on law and political economy. He had even managed an erotic short story, called Voyage à Arras. (I’ve lived in Arras and, believe me, it’s about as erotic as St Helens!) The form La Physiologie… takes is a series of meditative essays. Although collected into thematic sections, they wander gently around the subject, swinging from observation to anecdote to philosophical discourse. It is written in fairly plain French and is simple enough to read in its original version for anyone with a good grasp of the language.
Brillat-Savarin’s basic premise in La Physiologie du Goût is that taste happens through all five of the senses, and that the nerves of the mouth are simply the last ones to be stimulated. The more each sense is excited, the better the body prepares to receive the food, and the more goodness it is able to extract from it. But the story does not end with digestion and the physical benefits of food: Brillat-Savarin does not distinguish between nutritive goodness and moral or spiritual goodness. Well prepared food, including homely or simple food if prepared well, not only stimulates the body but enlivens a person’s finer qualities. Around the table, our physical nourishment allows us to be better people: good food calls forth from our carefully awakened âme (soul) careful thought, openness of mind, peacefulness, gratitude and, ultimately, love.
Brillat-Savarin died a little less than a year after the publication of his master-work. He never married, and in that light the dedication of the book to his cousin seems a little melancholic: "Madam, receive kindly and read indulgently the work of an old man. It is a tribute of a friendship which dates from your childhood, and, perhaps, the homage of a more tender feeling...How can I tell? At my age, a man no longer dares interrogate his heart.”