Food for the brain

UTSA food journal brings white bread to the ivory tower

Fava beans have never tasted the same since the scene from Silence of the Lambs in which Hannibal Lecter purred: "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."

Since people have eaten (or been eaten, as the case may be) food has been as prominent as a flowery table centerpiece in film, art, and literature: From the ancient Greeks' paintings of grapes to Flemish still-life painter Clara Peeters' Herring With Capers and a Sliced Orange on Pewter Plate; from Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's Odas Elementales to the 1992 film Like Water for Chocolate, based on Laura Esquivel's novel.

No longer merely the purview of mass consumer newspapers and specialty magazines, food has crashed the ivory tower of academic journals, where the erudite can delight one another with footnoted examinations of paprika's role in Hungarian literature or a deconstruction of Pablo Picasso's Enamel Saucepan.

Such is the academic, but readable Convivium Artium - the title refers to the classic tradition of the banquet - a peer-reviewed electronic journal devoted to food representation in world literature, film, and the other arts. Sponsored by UTSA's Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, articles can be submitted in English, French, German, or Spanish.

"Food is an accepted academic pursuit," said Convivium Editor Santiago Daydi-Tolson. "It's everywhere in the arts, in everyday life. It touches everything."

Convivium Artium
To submit papers:
[email protected]
Division of Foreign Languages

6900 N. Loop 1604 W.
San Antonio, TX 78249
In 2002, Daydi-Tolson, also director of UTSA's Department of Modern Languages, started a biennial conference devoted to food and the arts, which included a call for papers. Those submissions, which became the first edition of Convivium Artium, range from a dissection of 17th-century English diarist Samuel Pepys and his obsession with cookbooks (he also is rumored to have a recipe for the small cakes that accidentally burned, thus causing the Great Fire of London) to "From Kunst to Kitsch: The Chile Pepper Motif in Art, Craft, and Commerce."

Daydi-Tolson plans to publish six more submissions before the end of the academic year. The next food and arts conference is scheduled for February 2006."The subject of food is overwhelming," said Daydi-Tolson. "Dieting, bulimia, the idea of fatness. The reason we are stuffing ourselves is nobody is free from the thought of it."

America's obsession with food has made it a worthwhile subject of study, which extends beyond the arts to encompass sexuality, sociology, and class consciousness. Neruda's poetry can transform an artichoke into a seductress; the Peter Greenaway film The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, features gluttony - gastronomic and orgiastic - with elaborate, high-brow dinners, a man eating his words (literally), and a roasted penis. Yet, in Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote, food and hunger are themes, as the main character often fasts during his long journey. And in the Milagro Beanfield War, peasants fight a wealthy landowner.

Alas, current food trends don't bode well for modern art: Imagine a late 21st-century novel delving into a woman's struggle to remain on the Atkins diet during a soul-searching cross-country road trip; a still-life painting Happy Meal; or a film depicting a man who eats only fast food for a month. Oops, that's already been done.

By Lisa Sorg


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