On Beauty and Eating: We eat the world we wish to make

This spring we gave Alice Waters some of our Dandelion Wine -- she had never tried a Dandelion wine; we presented at the Culinary Institute of America (a day-long conference on art and food), screened a couple of movies (The Gleaners and I, A Cook on the Wild Side), and most special of all was talking with the amazing chef and food philosopher Peter Hoffman. He is a critical figure in the farm to table movement and he was gracious enough to talk with us about "What comes after farm to table? Sidewalk to table?". There is a good video of the whole conversation here.  To prepare for these events we at SPURSE sat down to write out our current thoughts on Beauty and Eating. These were more just personal notes, but after talking with Peter, we felt we should share these. Just a word of caution and curiosity: they are notes, not fully worked out concepts, it is best to take them as such, and we would love to hear your thoughts.


  1.  Food does not exist. Food must be made -- this is the beginning of cooking.
    1. Food -- things like beans, corn, or pork do not simply exist as products. Food is the outcome of a complex and long collaboration between plants, animals, fungi, ecosystems, and humans. A carrot is not a product, it is a part of a developmental system.
    2. The transformation of living things into edible and ready to eat things (food) is cooking. (Food is a verb: fooding…)
    3. Cooking does not begin with food — the beginning of cooking is the collaborative transformation of a landscape into edibility. This is not just the beginning of cooking — it is the very heart of cooking: fooding = cooking
    4. Ultimately these transformations involve other species eating and transforming one thing into another. Fungi eat rocks making available minerals that are eaten by plants that are eaten by bacteria that are eaten by insects that are eaten animals etc. etc. At the beginning and end of cooking is eating. Fooding = cooking = eating.
    5. The focus needs to shift from food as a product ready to be cooked to eating and co-composing systems of eating via eating. Fermentation is a beautiful example of this.
    6. We should reserve the terms “great cooks”  and “great recipes” for those individuals/systems and practices that begin and remain in the realm of “making edible.” A great chef is not simply that person in the kitchen...
    7. An attention to the practices, concepts, and language of subsistence cultures is of great importance in this regard. The fermented walrus recipe that begins Eat Your Sidewalk is a good example of this.
  1. Art is (not) important, but Beauty is critical.
    1. Art is an interesting discreet activity, practiced in a wide but circumscribed variety of forms. Beauty — aesthetics — is something larger and far more important as it deals with the act of composition.
    2. Composing well is at the core of all life. The most general process of composing is eating. From microbes on up the scales of the world -- everything takes form via eating. Co-shaping landscapes into edibility (thesis #1) is a question of composition (thesis #2). When this is well composed (on its own terms) it is a great aesthetic achievement. Knotweed taking over a parking lot can be the beginning of this.
    3. Beauty is how we first sense the value and values of a world. Aesthetics is how things show up at all: “I wonder whether beauty cannot simply be confined to one particular part or fragment of a thing. Perhaps it exists as a living network of exchanges, in which a body is connected through a whole range of experiences to an abundance of meaning” Rachel Armstrong.
    4. Aesthetics is a becoming sensitive to phenomena. Becoming sensitive to phenomena involves developing a mode of being in which things can show up whatsoever. To develop such a mode requires entangling and co-composing with and of an emerging shared world. (It this way aesthetics is a form of first philosophy and fundamentally a form of engagement). We are all doing this all the time. It is a question of differing forms of this.
    5. Distinct practices offer very different ways of becoming sensitive to (very different) phenomena (who are also active agents becoming sensitive to us). Each of the sciences, for example, offer distinct ways to becoming sensitive to things. (Art(1) has, therefore, no monopoly on aesthetics).
    6. Thus we enter a field of pleasurable experiments towards new aesthetic possibilities — new ways of becoming sensitive to entirely different phenomena. These new aesthetics involve complex forms of entangled co-making of which we too will be the outcome. While we have little sense of where these will take us we do see the need to begin by redefining things as emergent agents of complex assemblages that have on clear or fixed boundaries. Perhaps this is what a new aesthetics might allow for—the sensitivity to such agents (including ourselves)?
    7. Where might we begin? Right under our feet. What could it mean to entangled with what is right under our feet: we wish to begin with an experiment: let us eat our sidewalks as a way of becoming sensitive to/with/of emergent agents of complex assemblages that have on clear or fixed boundaries.This is one way to begin/continue there are many others…
    8. We eat the world we wish to make (thesis #3 — see below). We aspire to the beautiful that exceeds us.
  1. Eating is not sustenance. Eating is worldmaking.
    1. We do not eat first to survive and then worry about eating well. Eating is from beginning to end an act of worldmaking. It is cosmological in significance.
    2. Eating is a qualitative practice before it is a quantitative act (needing x amount of this or that to survive). Surviving is not the most basic mode of living -- but the furthest from living.
    3. Composing a world is not the same as simply composing an ecosystem to benefit us. Composing is always cosmological — shaping a landscape is always also the co-shaping of fundamental and underlying values.
    4. Sustenance: calories, vitamins, etc. is a corrosive worldview that reduces all differences and all alternative ways of being alive to interchangeable data points: can’t get your vitamins and calories from seal because the ice is gone? Well, any number of other things will get you the same calories and vitamins = goodbye world.
    5. We eat the world that we wish to make:
  1. Foraging is not a trend. Foraging is the basis of life.
    1. Thankfully foraging is gotten to be quite popular (again). Today is often see as a trendy way to supplement a dish with something exotic -- approaches range from gourmand to survivalist. These trends will pass, but foraging is something more than this.
    2. Foraging, the direct eating from an ecosystem, is how ecosystems work and how life lives.
    3. That we modern humans turn to foraging again is a turn toward acknowledging/appreciating that we are part of life and not separate from it.
    4. To forage is to connect in a direct manner to the place we are in and of — it is an ethical act of solidarity and composition.
    5. We term this: Eating your sidewalk: what has happened to it now happens to you — you care for an environment that you are not separate from.  
    6. Your foraging — your eating makes the world starting directly underfoot.
    7. We eat the world we actually have to make the world we wish for.
  1. Novelty is not entertainment. Novelty shows that new worlds are possible.
    1. It is easy today to get caught up as a chef in ever more innovative and experimental dishes for the sake of needing to being different. Or perhaps it is as simple as believing in “art for art's sake.”
    2. Novelty — the search for the new -- is something far more important and necessary today — we innovate to develop new ways of living.
    3. Novelty — new forms, new sensations, new beauty matters more than ever. We need to cultivate new beauty — the beauty and wonder at tasting a dandelion picked directly from a crack in the sidewalk is the beginning of the making of a new world
    4. Novelty does not exist in a void. Of course, you can pick up anything and think you can do whatever you want with it -- and you probably can. But, and this is a big but -- everything is part of a world and to imagine that things have no world is to blindly destroy worlds. We have already done far too much of this flattening of cultural difference and autonomy. When novelty focuses on disclosing worlds and co-composing with them we move away from wilful and damaging ignorance as the basis of innovation.
  1. Food independence is an illusion. Eating well is dependency producing.
    1. The mindset of independence has given us a series of dangerous illusions that let us imagine we are at the center of reality and that things exist for us as “products”. Cooking and eating this way is a disaster on a planetary scale.
    2. We are all dependent on many others. There is no freedom separate from dependencies.
    3. Living well is developing mutually beneficial dependencies — intra-dependencies. Beauty is made this way.
    4. Intra-dependency -- is not the seeing ourselves as connected to others but as others: our bodies and all beings are ecosystems -- we are a swarm. What we swallow is then swallowed by many others. The spontaneous fermentation of sourdough is yeast from our body floating through the air and landing on the flour -- cooking as eating begins again.
  1. Fire is not the first and ultimate act of human cooking.
    1. Heat and fire are often proposed as what sets us apart from the rest of the world. The claim is that we mastered fire and cooking which gave us the energy for big brains and much else that makes us unique. No doubt fire did play a role in this -- but Kites and falcons use fire to hunt -- many species use fire in all sorts of ways to eat and thrive. We are not separate in our use of fire or heat.
    2. Heat -- the sun's energy dissipates into the cool. Life captures heat and slows the cooling down. Touch the fur of a freshly killed deer and feel the warmth. Watch the temperature rise as soya ferments into miso. Heating and cooling permeates life.
    3. Cooking is not what separates us from other beings but what makes all things live.
    4. Now great cooking is so often defined as mastering heat. But is this true? Should we always dream of kitchens composed of burners? Should cooking be defined as “heating things up”? We propose cooking is best defined as “mainly multi-species eating.” (fermentation could be a paradigmatic example of this).
  1. Killing is not murder. Killing well is ecological flourishing.
    1. There is no eating without death. All life involves the perishing and transforming of beings.
    2. The more we learn about other beings the more we find that all are sentient in some manner and the less certain we can be of any divide between humans and non-humans -- sentient beings and non-sentient beings.
    3. In addition to animals. plants and fungi are certainly sentient. Panpsychism leads us further.
    4. Not eating fellow sentient beings is impossible. Eating sentient beings in a manner of mutual dependency leads to flourishing (beauty). If we depend on things directly (foraging) we need to eat them in a way that leads to their well being.
    5. To eat well is to care for the worlds of other beings. This could be the beginning of all future recipes.
    6. Thus, all killing is not ethically problematic (aka murder). It is not so much a question of what we eat (the basis of omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan diets) -- but how we eat. Thus we are not opposed to being vegan or omnivore -- it is all the same to us -- for us the critical question is “how do you practice this?” Know whatever your choice is you will be involved in the killing of other beings, and in all of our living and dying we ask: How are you co-composing worlds with other creatures and systems? How are you creating intra-dependencies?
  1. Recipes don’t assemble ingredients. Recipes are cosmologies emerging by other means.
  1. Recipes are patterns of practices that are eventually transcribed.
  2. These patterns of practices shape us at the deepest level.
  3. The most basic patterns that underlie the vast majority of a cultures recipes (e.g. “Heat things up in a container & add sauce”) reveal a culture's fundamental worldview.
  4. Change these recipes and new cosmologies are possible.
  5. Let us move away from “Heat things up in a container & add sauce” -- what new compositions are possible?
  1. Restaurants do not serve dishes. Restaurants are an experimental site for worldmaking
    1. Of course, restaurants serve dishes. But they are and can be so much more.
    2. This is equally true of your dining table -- or wherever you eat.
  1. Open to change… (Please add)


1.  So how does art show up? This is a historical question: Art shows up with the development of the Nature+Culture mode of being (cosmology) in the west circa 1600-1700. Nature+Culture is a mode of becoming sensitive to phenomena as being of one of two types (nature or culture) which contains a series of further binary divisions (active+passive, human+non-human, subject+object, pure+artificial, etc.). As we become sensitized to the devastating consequences of engaging with the earth from within the Nature+Culture mode of being there is a spreading awareness that we need to develop alternative modes of being (cosmologies). These alternative modes of being will necessarily have neither Nature nor Culture -- and Art being critical to the Nature+Culture mode of being is something that we need to experimentally move out from as well.

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