When Adam Gopnik suggested that the current sustainable food trend might be just a temporary fad, some audience members at his Monday night talk may not have been pleased.
Gopnik spoke to an audience of over 120 people — including many workers from the Yale Farm — about the philosophy of food and dining at the Yale Sustainable Food Project-sponsored discussion. During the hour-long lecture, the author and New Yorker staff writer drew from his recently-released book, “The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.”
“There’s no privileged space from which we can look down [to past food preferences] from 2011 and say, ‘Well, your tastes in the past have always been trends, but our tastes are the true tastes,’” Gopnik said, taking a historical look at food philosophy.
Still, Gopnik soon redeemed himself in the eyes of local agriculture supporters by identifying himself as a believer in sustainable food and farming, like many in the audience, which included undergraduates and other community members.
“What we can say for certain is that there is particular joy in putting a face on our food,” Gopnik said, adding that customer familiarity with food sources is rewarding. “It’s about knowing where [your food is] from, knowing who grows it, seeing your children’s eyes when they realize for the first time in their lives that eggplants come from the ground in a farm, rather than wrapped in plastic in a supermarket.”
Gopnik also spoke about the relationship between what he called “mouth tastes” and “moral tastes,” or how the fads of food preference can change with people’s morals.
Gopnik spoke at length about the historical development of the meaning of food during his hour-long lecture. In what he called a “mad dash of 200 years of philosophy and economics,” Gopnik told the audience about how different philosophers, such as Montesquieu, David Hume, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thought about taste.
“Our tastes send very powerful and symbolic messages about our values,” Gopnik added.
Justine Cefalu ’15, who works at the Yale Farm and has been to other talks in the YSFP lecture series, said she enjoyed Gopnik’s application of “ethical and principled” philosophers to the concrete topic of food preferences.
Zan Romanoff ’09, coordinator for the YSFP, said the group brought Gopnik to campus after another member of the organization heard a different form of his lecture at a conference last spring.
Romanoff said she appreciated how Gopnik presented the sustainable food movement from a different perspective.
At times, Gopnik, whom The New York Times described as “possibly America’s most devoted public Francophile,” could not help letting his love of French cuisine show through. After mentioning that there are few fancy French restaurants — which he described as the kind that begin with ‘le’ and ‘la’ — left in New York, Gopnik said the Zagat restaurant survey does not understand French names.
“The Zagat [Survey] literally put them [alphabetically] under the L’s because they do not recognize that [the ‘le’] is the article,” he quipped. “Don’t get me started on Zagat.”