Food in books, ep.7: All quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. Food in times of war.

This novel, as well as its author, has a fascinating story. While some literary critics have praised All quiet on the Western Front as one of the most relevant and enticing war novels, others have denied its literary value and simply looked at it as a war reportage. Published in 1929, the novel had immediate, incredible success, selling over a million copies within a year after publication. Four years later, the German authorities banned the book, viewed as detrimental to the German nation. Piles of books were burned, the author being marked as a traitor.
Erich Maria Remarque was enrolled in the Great War in 1917, at the age of 18, as part of the Second Company. He was soon transferred to the Western Front. One month later he was wounded and sent back to a military hospital, in Germany, where he spent the rest of the war. After the Nazi regime banned the book, he fled to Switzerland, later becoming an American citizen. His remaining family faced horrid persecution back in Germany, one of his sisters being murdered by the authorities. As of 1948 he set for Switzerland again and spent the rest of his life there. What happened to Remarque during the war, but also what happened afterwards is nothing but a tragic, dreadful story. I will not attempt to present the storyline, as there is no way to capture it. I will, however, allow myself to advise the esteemed reader to pick up the novel, if there was no opportunity to do so yet.
While my interest in the connection between food and various cultural products is fairly wide, the Food in Books series is particularly close to my heart. Over the previous six episodes, I have explored a variety of literary works where food served as an instrument for constructing or at least supporting the story. Food has acquired different attributes and was portrayed in various capacities: as a means of control, as a marker for national identity or as comforter in troubled times. And yes, food is all these, and much more. Yet, I believe that in Remarque’s shattering novel food is simply food: a means of subsistence, sustainer of life and, ultimately, bringer of joy. Read More

Food in Books, ep.4: The crossword puzzle

This time I decided to put my love of words and crossword puzzles to good work. This puzzle is far from perfect, so please be kind: I didn’t use any online tools creating it, just old-fashioned pencil and paper. You can download and print the entire puzzle: Food in Books, ep.4. I’d love to receive pictures with your solution; hope you enjoy!

Food in books, ep.3: Food symbolism in Kafka’s Metamorphosis

Food symbols

From silly brand logos, to catchy metaphors, to the original archetypes in our collective unconscious described by C.J. Jung, symbols are shared codes that orient our lives and behaviors. We can understand and share unique symbols with our peers, symbols becoming thus, defining for the group; in the most banal form this is what we would call an “inside joke”. At the most deepest and transversal level, regardless of cultural background or other social factors, all of us humans share the same symbols: the mother, the father, the child, the god, the devil, the wise old man, the wise old woman, the hero, the trickster. Jung does not, as far as my knowledge goes, investigate symbols related to food. I think the most straight forward one would be the preservation of life. Sharing food with others could very well be an archetypal motif of the group inter-relativeness, the quintessential, core group being one’s closest kinship, the family. I will not, dear reader, go further in the analysis of what sharing food means, suffice to say I see it as one of the closest, strongest bounds that unite us. Sharing food unites us in preserving life and in generating pleasure, two of the fundamental traits of all living beings.
Most distinct food symbols are culturally driven and not necessarily stable in time. For example, fish used to be considered lesser food in medieval times. It looked a bit like a snake, rather than a beast and the elites were not enjoying it. Today, fish is considered a prized, fancy meal. It is a strong symbol in Christianity, however, it doesn’t bare much significance in Islamic culture. Still, some food symbols are shared by us all: think of the mother’s milk.
I don’t know if Kafka has relied on food symbols throughout his story, but I chose to find and analyze them. In this article I will, however, try to expose the symbolism of of food in the metamorphosis, as well as the connection between food and one’s humanity. This is my investigation. Read More

Food in Books, ep.2: Food in two dystopian worlds. A comparison.


Literature has always been my biggest pleasure and passion; ever since I can remember, I was reading something. Most people think that literature opens doors to different worlds, I simply think literature is, at all times, a reflection of our world: the most fascinating matter to analyze. This is how I decided to start this series called “Food in books” and explore food-related topics in literature.

Today, we look at G. Orwell’s “1984“, written in 1949 and A. Huxley’s “Brave new world“, written in 1932…otherwise said, an overview of food in the dystopian universe. I’ll start with an introduction about the authors and the worlds they describe, touch upon the forever-old debate that places them in opposition, bring in the food and conclude with a humble set of hypothesis. Let’s go! Read More

Food in Books, ep.1: One-storied America (1937), by Ilf & Petrov


Reading Ilf & Petrovs One-storied America (1937) I started realizing that years pass, some things become obsolete and are scrapped, others are simply given a new shine or shape, but most things stay, fundamentally, the same. So here it is, an excerpt of the American experience, seen through Eastern Europeans eyes and stomachs.

“Serving a meal is a process as perfectly organized as the automobiles’ or the typewriters’ production.
In the same street, a bit farther away from the cafeterias, were the self-service restaurants. Seemingly similar with the cafeterias on the outside, they were transforming the process of pushing food into the American stomachs into a true virtuosity. The walls of these establishments are fully covered with glass cabinets. Next to each cabinet, there’s a small slit for introducing a nickel (a five cents coin). Behind the glass, sits a sad plate with soup or meat, a glass of juice or a pie. Despite the shining of the glass and the metal, the freedom-less meatballs or hot-dogs leave you with a wired feeling. You pity them, as you pity cats in a show. The client introduces the coin which gives him the possibility to open the cabinet door, take out the soup, carry it to a small table and eat it there, while hanging his hat under the table, on a special bar. Then, the client approaches a tap, introduces the nickel and the glass gets filled with the exact, appropriate quantity of coffee or milk . In this whole process, one can feel something offending and humiliating to the people.
For a long time, we didn’t understand why American food, so deliciously looking, doesn’t really have any taste. In the beginning, we thought that Americans simply don’t know how to cook. But then we found out that it’s not only about this, but also about the organization, about the essence of the American economy itself. The Americans are eating a terribly white bread, absolutely lacking any taste, frozen meat, salty butter, cans and partially-ripped tomatoes. How is it possible that the richest country in the world, the country of farmers and of cattle herders, of gold and of an amazing industry, a country with enough resources to create heaven on Earth, is not able to offer its own people flavorful bread, fresh meat and butter and ripen tomatoes?
We saw, close to New York (City), empty spaces, covered in weeds, parcels totally abandoned. No one was planting wheat or raising cattle. We saw neither hens with small chickens, nor vegetable gardens.”