You Are/Look Like What You Eat (special guest post)

This post comes to FCI from Seth Rosenbaum, a Doctoral Candidate in English Literature at Harvard University. Seth's full bio follows the post.

I got into a heated argument the other day (G-chat arguments can get very hot, and often I don’t realize when warm water turns to a rolling boil) with a friend about social impropriety, voyeurism, cannibalism, and pornography.

She had generously, and unsuspectingly, turned my attention to this website, and I was horrified. Jon Huck takes beautiful photos and portraits of people not at breakfast, but with their breakfast dish. This was too much for me, way too much information, food pornography gone raunchy and revealing rather than mouth-watering and exquisite.

My friend suggested (I think we were at a simmer) that I was being hyper-sensitive. I didn’t think so. Soon I was “completely unable to appreciate” (getting hotter) the beauty of the prints. I told her she was patanegra-headed and naïve (simmer upgrade) for finding these pictures so innocent. Soon I was a philistine (rolling boil) who takes himself too seriously (no comment).

Why all the bickering? Because these are good, smart photos, and they promote conversation, in some cases hostile. I find something, many things in fact, voyeuristic and weird about seeing a portrait of a person presiding over a breakfast meal. Unless you have the luxury of a private chef, the money to eat breakfast out every morning, or the time to think about different ingredients and breakfast combinations, chances are you eat the same meal for breakfast every single day of the work week. I think that is part of Huck’s point – these are photos that identify not just a taste or preference, but an unwavering choice these people have made for their first meal of the day. What looks optional and delectable at first glance, on second thought, is prescriptive. It’s not clear to me all these people enjoy their breakfast foods, and then I think of them eating that same meal every single day, with only the occasional variation. Breakfast is our least democratic meal; we eat the same thing so often that the idea of choice becomes an illusion. By now I am questioning Jon Huck’s politics. What designs do his breakfast pictures have on me? What designs does my muesli have on me?

I’ve been staring at these photos for a couple of weeks now, and they are scaring me for a new reason. Did you, or someone you love (blame it on them), ever watch the annual Westminster Kennel Club competition? See the movie Best in Show? It’s not in our imaginations, the owners and the dogs really do look like one another…Is it because they’ve spent too much time together? Economized by using the same hair stylist?

And then I look back to Jon Huck’s photos, and keep looking, and masters seem to resemble their gustatory creations, which are not creations at all – they are ruthless jailers of some kind. Like a train wreck before my eyes, I can’t stop looking, uncovering, decoding, inventing the resemblances. Of course test subject 27 eats that meal everyday. Her sense of self is so clearly present and presented on that fair china, which belies, but cannot hide, the bangers and mash that she is.

Things are now tepid between my friend and me. She’s stopped eating breakfast, and I am searching for a new morning foodstuff. One that, if Jon Huck had his way, I wouldn’t mind acting as my personal avatar.

Seth Rosenbaum is a PhD student in English literature at Harvard, working on a dissertation provisionally entitled After-Taste.  His dissertation considers representations of food in 20th C. American Literature, looking primarily at canonical authors.  He believes that by re-examining old ground through the lens of food we can gather fresh insights about particular authors and works, and begin to construct a supplementary, if not alternative, history of 20th C. American literature.  Seth was an undergrad at Columbia, and then took 3 years off between undergraduate and graduate school during which time he lived and worked in France, Italy, and Greece. Needless to say, much good food was sought after and consumed. 


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