E. C. SparyFeb 18, 2013
Eating the Enlightenment
Food and the Sciences in Paris, 1670-1760
University of Chicago Press 2012
By focusing on food and eating from the dinner table to the laboratory, E. C. Spary's new book shows how an increasingly public culture of knowledge shaped the daily lives of literate Parisians in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Spary's work is at the same time a rich and embodied history of food, diet, and digestion in French Enlightenment science, and an account of how social and epistemological authority were produced amid the emergence of new Enlightenment publics. In Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences in Paris, 1670-1760 (University of Chicago Press, 2012), controversies over digestion provided a space for the working out of power struggles between political, religious, medical, and culinary thinkers. Faced with a cuisine bursting with new materials and flavors, French society debated various ways of negotiating the opposing poles of indulgence and sobriety, luxury and reform. This is illustrated in several detailed case studies that include coffee and its implication in networks of expertise; cafes as social leveling-grounds, performance spaces, and chemical laboratories; and the production of new liqueurs. Spary's work urges us to reconsider the way we write commodity histories, and is well worth reading. Enjoy!