What is Gastronomy?

[From 2009 to 2012, I had a blog called A Hungry Artist. It mainly functioned as a creative outlet for exploring abstract topics as it related to food. The following post was selected from that archive. Some copy has been edited for clarity.]

So, what is gastronomy anyway? Ah, everyone’s favorite question.

It is incredible how many times I have found myself in the following situation within the last year: Introductions ensue, blah, blah, blah …

Anonymous: “So, what do you do?” Me: “I study Italian gastronomy.”

One of the following scenarios usually occurs:

1 – “Huh? Astronomy, that’s interesting. I didn’t know there was a difference between Italian astronomy and all other types of astronomy.”

2 – “Wow, that’s amazing. I have so many questions. You must know really good food. So that means you are learning to cook, right?”

3 – Blank stare, half smile. “What’s gastronomy?”

Initially, I felt like a broken record having to explain what I was studying. Now, I find it both amusing and extremely disheartening that the majority of people I speak with don’t know the meaning of the word and automatically assume that it refers to cooking. This idea got me thinking of the true definition of gastronomy, or at least my version of it. It initially was a daunting feat leaving me with 7+ pages of ramblings, but I eventually had my light bulb moment which made everything extremely clear.

Gastronomy is not a revolution or a movement; it is not something specifically reserved for the gourmet or the elitist. Gastronomy is essentially a simple way of life. When more importance is given to food, everything falls into place a little better. Unfortunately in these times, food has been pushed aside and taken for granted. Thankfully, with the insurgence of food safety issues and problems with quantity and quality, gastronomy is becoming a necessary part of academia that will be useful for the uncertain future. Gastronomy can be divided into many different levels and has the flexibility for having different meanings for different people.

In order to continue the previous conversation, let’s take scenario #3; Anonymous still has a deer in the headlights look:

Anonymous: “What is gastronomy?”

Me: “Have you ever had an emotional or spiritual experience with food (a meal, a food item, etc.). Examples of this include: Mark cried at Massimo Bottura’s explanation of gastronomy. / After hours of scouting the Tuscan hills, we stumbled upon the mystical white truffles, so poised, proper, and perfect. / The scent of garlic reminds of home and cooking with my parents. – If the answer is yes, then that is gastronomy.”

Anonymous: “But what do you study in class?”

Me: “Gastronomy is an interdisciplinary realm of study that encompasses a vast area of subjects. Because food is an essential part of human life, it is bound to pertain and/or appeal to many different aspects. The study of gastronomy is both an art and a science and not particularly more bound to one or the other. It is a science when studying it through food technology and an art when studying it through the history of Italian cinema. The following figures, among many others, can be considered heroes of gastronomy: Massimo Bottura, your grandmother, Anthony Bourdain, Big Bird, your local butcher or cheesemonger, Remy the rat from Ratatouille, Carlo Petrini, the Slow Food snail, Michael Pollan, Martha from the fruit stand, and Virginia Woolf.”

The following blogs are the curious examples of common people, gastronomy, and daily life. Check them out today:

Things That Piss Me Off – Offers an array of information on food politics, while being funny and knowledgeable. He includes takes from his personal life that relate to food.

Michael Ruhlman’s Notes From the Food World – Offers an array of topics from photography to vacations to how-to recipes, among others. It is equally accessible and entertaining to read.

I personify more intensely with the creative aspect of gastronomy, and the next best thing to cooking and eating food is reading and writing about food. Words are extremely powerful and they are able to transmit the emotion, intensity, and power of food. The food blogs mentioned above are very different and show two distinct sides of the food world, further proving that the subject is universal, that everyone is capable of having an opinion about food, and that it is present in our everyday lives. The opinionated blogs offer something for everyone and even have the capability to inspire new ideas and experiences.

This concept of gastronomy is what led me to create this blog (or as I like to call it – my sequences of ramblings). Now, I challenge you to find your best inner gastronome and I hope that you find my blog entertaining along your journey.

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