As background research for my book Love Your Life, I read Gastrophysics – The New Science of Eating by Charles Spence. This isn’t a book about dieting in the usual sense of losing weight but rather about how to enjoy eating. It’s about much more than the simple act of putting food in your mouth, chewing and swallowing. In part, it’s about what restaurateurs can do to make that experience as pleasurable as possible, or in some venues as memorable as possible and damn the shallow definitions of pleasure. “The aim nowadays is to prepare the best-tasting food possible and to complement that with the most immersive and engaging multisensory stimulation ‘off the plate’ as well.”
Spence traces the historical roots for that approach to the table experience of the Italian artistic group of the 1930s known as the Futurists. It was “conducted” by Filippo Marinetti, who introduced natural sound backgrounds, big fans blowing wind across the table, perfumed dishes, textured clothing for your companions to stroke while eating, perhaps with some loud Wagnerian opera engulfing the party. Probably naked girls strutting about with leopards. Who knows? The weirder the better!
This book explores the science that is trying to discover the statistical specifics behind what makes our eating experiences memorable. Would fur-covered dishes and silverware be appealing or repulsive? Would a trout be more appreciated placed vertically or horizontally across the plate? Neither. A diagonal from lower left to upper right is preferred by most people.
The primary aim of the book, which is aimed at the top chefs, is to explore how to create the most robust memories possible. People have great difficulty in remembering the taste of the culinary experience, but they can remember the weird things surrounding those experiences and that helps them to remember how much they enjoyed the food.
Because I am writing a book that is based in part on food and because it has such an impact on human social interactions, his points about memorability are important for me to consider when designing the book. It is to be a strange little book more in the tradition of Epictetus than Spence. No! On second thought, it is a blend of these extremely opposite styles of people and of living. And yet, strangely enough, almost identical. Epictetus was a slave in the infamous Roman Emperor Nero’s court and no doubt personally observed amazing activities that Spence would applaud as his ideal. Spence is promoting strange and extraordinarily expensive dinners and that is exactly what Nero was reveling in, and Epictetus was participating too, in his own way. Read my rendition of Epictetus. He based his theory of Stoicism, without much doubt, on what he had observed in Nero’s personal life of extraordinary luxury.
Spence is heading toward what Epictetus had experienced and was rejecting.