November 8th, 2011 | Magazine

Gopnik brings warmth, prose

Adam Gopnik theorized that the popularity of sustainable food may be simply a fad during his lecture hosted by the Yale Sustainable Food Project.
Adam Gopnik theorized that the popularity of sustainable food may be simply a fad during his lecture hosted by the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Photo by Vivienne Jiao Zhang.

Adam Gopnik is a Renaissance man, a prolific essayist most famous for roughly 25 years of service at the The New Yorker magazine and for penning books that cover myriad topics from the connection between Darwin and Lincoln to reflections on his years in Paris. On Monday evening, Gopnik entertained a crowd of approximately 150 students and adults in Linsly-Chittenden Hall as he discussed the newest addition to his diverse oeuvre, a book on food called “The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.”

Even this title did not escape Gopnik’s keen feel for the ironic and witty — he thinks his subtitle turned out a little “Sarah Palin-esque,” noting the parallels with her 2010 book’s title, “America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag.” Throughout the talk, Gopnik mixed his accessible, dry humor with remarkable fluency in everything from enlightenment philosophy to economics — a rare talent. The highpoint of the evening incorporated excerpts of his work that showcased the remarkable prose of a creative mind. A favorite line: “[Taste] is a daily negotiation among practices, prices, promises and possibilities.”

For over an hour, Gopnik delivered this warm prose while gesticulating with everything but his hands, his body pivoting behind the lectern as if rooted to an invisible lazy boy and his otherwise taut cheeks jumping up and down during moments of excitement. His face wriggled most when discussing how local food-advocates can manipulate societal tastes (The Yale Sustainable Food Project sponsored the talk). Tastes, Gopnik said, help us decide whether fluctuating social fashion are in line with personal values. Consequently, making the movement a “cool fashion” is one of the most effective ways of changing tastes. The ever-changing nature of collective tastes also gives hope for the proliferation of the local food movement, Gopnik said. Below are some of the notable quotes from the evening:

“The one thing we do naturally is dispute taste. Disputing taste is one of the things people do all the time, and not least with food. We also see that mouth tastes and moral tastes change all the time, it seems sometimes instantaneously.”

“How are we going to resolve the reality that tastes changes all the time and that tastes doesn’t seem to be just a figment or a fiction, but it seems to us something terribly central to the definition of our own lives?”

“There is no privileged space from which we can look down now in 2011 and say ‘Well, your tastes in the past have always been trends, and our tastes are truths.’ All tastes effects depend on contexts.”

“Those of us who want to remake the tastes of America have to go about it not simply by insisting on one narrow monolithic set of unchanging principles about right and wrongs ways to eat, but by becoming fully engaged by the play of fashion, taste and values that distinguishes all of human conversation.”

  • River_Tam_Lover

    +1 to whoever wrote the headline.