Sense & Sensibilities
10 July 2020
How do we make aesthetic judgements about food that disgusts?
Can there be pleasure and enjoyment in knowing our food sources intimately?
Senses and Sensibilities, Pride and Prejudices of a Culinary Persuasion.
Dinner with Jane Austen or any one of her romantic heroes could well have brought you face to face with a calf’s head, eye to eye with a pig’s face, and slipping a few slices of ox tongue down your throat. 18th and 19th century cookbooks remind us that these were once prestigious dishes which delighted gustatory senses, appealed to culinary sensibilities and were displayed with pride in all their glory on the table, adding to the dining aesthetic.
These foods would scarcely be tolerated on most Australian tables today – particularly those of Anglo-Celtic persuasion – and are likely to elicit responses of horror and disgust from diners. And as cooks, can we imagine ourselves preparing them, or other dishes derived from these cuts of meat in our domestic kitchens – dismembering a pig’s head for brawn or a calf’s head for mock turtle soup, peeling tongues, rendering down calves’ feet to make jelly. These processes were a sensorial reality for generations of domestic cooks and created an intimacy between cooks and beasts that extended well beyond the palate.
What does the absence of these products as food in our current culinary repertoire tell us about modern senses and sensibilities? What part does sensory intimacy play in defining a sense of good taste, on the palate, aesthetically, and in a socio-moral sense? Is there pleasure and enjoyment in knowing our food sources so intimately?
This paper presentation* or pecha kucha is intended to provoke thought and open discussion about sensory reality and knowledge denial – physiological and emotional – and how they intersect with and influence moral and ethical sensibilities, prejudices and taste.
(*It could have a hands-on sensorial component if I can work out interstate logistics)
‘Pleasure that knows, knowledge that enjoys’- Giorgio Agamben
Aesthetics as a tool: the power of aesthetics to influence perception and change
The ‘aesthetics of deliciousness’ (citing Daniel Harris  Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism)
Environmental aesthetics: e.g., Slow Food approaches, community well-being, education, the ethical connection of paddock to plate to palate
Jacqui Newling has a Le Cordon Bleu masters' degree in gastronomy and specializes in early Australian foodways. As Sydney Living Museums' resident gastronomer, Jacqui investigates the range of foods that have been served throughout Australian history. She co-curated the Eat Your History: A Shared Table exhibition at the Museum of Sydney and co-writes The Cook and the Curator blog for Sydney Living Museums.
“Aww yuck but thanks”: Embracing the aesthetics of the kombucha symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY)
In this document I am proposing a short presentation of original research on kombucha and the people who make it in a domestic setting. Kombucha is made through the fermentation of sweetened tea with a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) and this starter is passed between friends and individuals. The appearance of the kombucha SCOBY has obtained many unattractive descriptions over the years, this aesthetic judgement and active recoiling by many people on first encounter is a fascinating phenomenon. In my research many participants either described their horrified first encounters with the kombucha SCOBY or spoke with relish of the horror of their friends and family when they show them how kombucha is made. Either way, for domestic kombucha producers embracing the aesthetic of having jars of the alien looking SCOBY living in one’s kitchen or in some cases bedroom is declaring themselves part of the relatively newly emerged discourse of eco-dietetics, encompassing movements like local, organic, and slow foods. My presentation will be an exploration of this, and other themes found in my research relating to kombucha as an example of how changing dietetic discourses and the increased popularity of fermented food are shifting the aesthetic experience of food in and Australian context.
Jacqulyn Evans is a masters by research candidate in the interdisciplinary space between anthropology and microbiology at La Trobe University. She trained as a chef at William Angliss Institute and worked in the hospitality industry for seven years before completing an arts/science double degree at La Trobe. Jacqulyn’s research focuses on fermented foods, in particular kombucha, the social aspects of domestic production and starter culture sharing and investigating what impact these practices have on the microbial cultures present within the kombucha symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY).
The aesthetics of insects: Staring down my disgust
As a writer and researcher who focuses on food and sustainability, I appreciate the benefits of accepting insects as a standard part of the western diet. In one sense, they represent a neat solution to several of the big problems in the food system. They are, after all, nutrient-filled whole foods that can be grown using comparatively little land and water, fed by food waste alone.
But still I have a problem. I am born of a food culture that has actively eschewed insects for thousands of years. When I look at a dish garnished with mealworms, ants or crickets, I simply can’t escape my disgust. Not because these insects can’t be delicious - their long history as a part of a wide range of cuisines across the world shows how appetising they can be - but because I bring with me the Western cultural revulsion to eating insects. Given the huge number of benefits edible insects may provide us, it’s worth examining the history of this abhorrence and how this might change in the future.
Based on research and interviews with insect producers conducted for a recent article, as well as additional qualitative interviews with eaters, this six minute PechaKucha presentation examines the disgust many people feel when presented with a bowlful insects, as well as looking at ways that might change in the future.
Jen Richards is a freelance writer and researcher in the space where gastronomy meets sustainability, as well as a copywriter for sustainable food businesses. She has a Masters in Sustainability from Sydney University.
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