Extracts from A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy by André Simon.
Compiled by Prof. Alan F. Harrison
Published in Food & Wine, the Journal of The International Wine & Food Society Europe & Africa Committee, pp 18/19
André Simon planned his book in 1938. Despite the war, it was published in sections. The book itself saw the light of day in 1952. We now read the Foreword and footnotes reflecting contrast etc have been added in this compilation. Readers will have their own reflections.
Whatever Plato really meant when he suggested that Gaster-the-Belly was the seat of the Soul, is a question that we are content to pass to Greek scholars and philosophers for their learned opinions. But every man, woman and child who reaches the age of reason should be made to grasp and hold throughout life the fact that Gaster-the-Belly is a most important part of our anatomy; one that has needs which must be satisfied, as well as fancies and moods which wemust accept and understand.
It would be quite useless for us to have our house expertly wired for light and power, to buy the best electric cooker and radiators, to choose fine fittings and the right place for each one of them, if the generating station upon which we depend for power happens to work badly or not at all. So also will our brain and heart, our sight and hearing, our hands and feet fail us if and when Gaster-the-Belly fails them. This is not a matter of personal opinion or mere guesswork: it is a fact which nobody in his right senses would dare to challenge.
Our dependence upon Gaster-the-Belly is universally acknowledged, in spite of which, the number of Gastronomes is comparatively small1 and Gastronomy, that is the proper understanding of our own inner regions, is much less honoured than Astronomy2 . This is probably mainly due to the widespread idea that so long as the fires are kept burning, all must be well and that any food is fuel to the furnace that is Gaster-the-Belly. But Gaster-the-Belly is not at all like a coke oven: it is a temperamental furnace, one that may refuse one day what it accepted the day before, one that has likes and dislikes that must not be disregarded if we are to enjoy the best of health.
Gastronomy in England and in the United States of America has a very limited appeal3;
it certainly has none of the fascination which Nutrition has for a vast number of people4.
Gastronomes are not slaves but the masters of Gaster-the-Belly, intelligent and kindly masters, who realize that a good servant is a friend in need and that he deserves to be well treated, listened to and at times humoured; no good service can possibly be expected from a starving servant any more than from a drunken one.
1.This might be contested by those who participate in TV programmes depicting dining, and by those who watch the programmes whp might argue that there are, proportionate to the 1952 population, more gastronomes and many are in our Society.
2.There are many within astronomy who would argue that it is less honoured than in 1952. Finding out how they feel about gastronomy could involve inviting them to our branch events! Astronomy meets Gastronomy. IWFS membership rises.
3. Further to the TV dining considerations hinted at above, the range of programmes today devoted to food and cooking suggest that Gastronomy in the UK and in the USA has wide appeal. When there are programmes on wine in similar abundance, even more might agree.
4.This viewpoint arises from wartime promotion for interest in nutrition. Vast interest is not a phrase everyone would use today in the context of obesity-levels and over-indulgence.. Similar text has been omitted, ending with “Gluttons can never be Gastronomes.”.
Journal page 18
Gastronomes believe that all our senses were given to us to be used, not abused, and certainly not ignored. They do not make the mistake, for instance, of regarding their nose as an ornament placed more or less in the middle of their face, but as the chief organ of their sense of smell which enables them to detect, and enjoy and remember different smells and perfumes, just as the taste-buds of their palate can be trained to recognize and memorize different degrees of flavours and savours. Why children at school should be taught to distinguish various colours and tones, but never made aware that they are born with senses of smell and taste, is passing strange1.
Of course, like all other senses, smell and taste have an immediate utilitarian value: they warn us in time that something is burning, or to spit out a bad oyster or any tainted food. And, again like all other senses, smell and taste can be educated or trained and become a source of real artistic pleasure or sensual joy. The difference is that whilst the occasions to enjoy fine pictures or great music are very rare for the majority of people, Gastronomes are given not once, but twice or thrice, on every day of their lives, the chance to use critically their senses of taste and smell, and to train them to recognize that which is good, better and best.
It does not mean that Gastronomes are hedonists, sensuous lovers of their ease: there may be such, but the true Gastronome is much more grateful than most good folks for Divine Providence's wonderful gifts, simply because he has a far more highly developed sense of appreciation. Nobody expects the tank of one's car to be grateful for being refilled, and such is the ungracious attitude of many for whom food is just fuel: a Gastronome knows better.
Gastronomy teaches us how to serve and to be served by Gaster-the-Belly not only on festive or special occasions but every day. Since eat and drink we must, whether we like it or not, day after day, is it not better to make a hobby of our daily meals rather than let them become a duty or drudgery? This is mildly what Gastronomy proposes to do for us, showing us how to avoid monotony and how to achieve harmony between a variety of foods and drinks.
There have never been so many or such good amateur cooks as there are now, and every year the number is growing of both men and women who find that it is quite a fascinating part-time hobby to do their own cooking. In all arts, as distinct from crafts, the amateur has as good a chance as the professional to become a master and to enjoy getting there by degrees2 . Whatever the trouble the artist may have to like to paint or sing or cook better today than yesterday, he is more than repaid by the results he achieves.
For the amateur, cooking is both an art and a sport, and there is as much thrill in seeing one's first Cheese Souffle rise in the oven like a chef's hat, as there is in bringing off a thirty yards putt or scoring a goal. And here again the cook, whether he or she, whether professional or amateur, will find in the Encyclopedia of Gastronomy a very great choice of recipes to be used as a guide how best to secure good results3.
1.Is it still “passing strange”? The media, to the writer’s knowledge, has not reported otherwise.
2.André could not have predicted that there would be degrees in Culinary Arts.
3.The Encyclopedia was planned in 1938, the same year that the then similar Larousse Gastronomique was published. We can imagine Prosper Montagne, the editor, and André discussing its progress over lunch in the same year. André had written a preface to Escoffier’s biography in which he said that “He was a man of faith but was no ’hot gospeller’. The academic Stephell Mennell in his book “All Manners of Food”, 1996, describes Montagne as very much the hot gospeller.
The Encyclopedia is in the André Simon Collection, Guildhall Library, London. Readers with Internet facility can read all the Foreword and about the Encyclopedia via enjoydrink.co.uk where further links to topics mentioned can be found.
John Leigh-Pemberton who drew this and the Foreword graphic is more widely known in the context of the original Ladybird books. The other graphics are not from the Encyclopaedia.