"To a man with an empty stomach, food is God." -- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi)
As memorialized in the opening chapter of his book A Moveable Feast, the American writer Ernest Hemingway sets out on one of most renowned walks in literary history, a walk that takes him from his humble apartment in Paris to eventually write in a "good café on the Place St. Michel."
Nearly ninety years later, one can still, as Hemingway recalled, walk past the Lycée Henri-IV and the ancient church Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, into the Place du Panthéon. The wind is still bitter on cold, rainy days and shelter can still be sought by cutting right and slipping behind a remnant of the Université de Paris to reach the Boulevard St. Michel. Turning right and walking down the slight grade toward the river Seine, the Musée de Cluny and Boulevard St. Germain still mark the journey.
Just shy of the Place St. Michel itself, the boulevard flattens, as so do the hopes of finding a café similar to those that existed in Hemingway's day. Such cafés exist in many other parts of Paris, but in this heavily touristed area, the only café open early one morning was a Starbucks coffee shop, albeit one culturally assimilated enough to have Parisian-style café tables outside.
In the Place St. Michel proper, there are now only high-traffic cafés that have signs and menus in multiple languages. Looking left and downstream along the river in the direction of the Louvre museum, a blue awning advertising "Pizza" and "Pasta" shades the opposing corner café. Wheeling back to look across the river to the Île de la Cité and then over a bit to view the westward façade of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, the view of a flying buttress of the famed Gothic cathedral is partially obscured by signs perched on top of the closest corner, a café advertising Ben and Jerry's ice cream, along with an Italian brand of coffee that brews beans grown and harvested from farms around the world.
In the most important and profound ways, Hemingway remains true. Paris is a moveable feast for the soul, but globalization has, for better and worse, also moved the feast of the world to Paris.
Food: in Context is not, however, a book about gastronomy or the impacts of globalization on cuisine per se. It is, rather, a book dedicated to offering a first course in food-related science, politics, and issues. While food is art -- its history and expression both mirroring and articulating subtle cultural differences -- its provision in some areas devolves to more sharply drawn struggles with outcomes measured in health or sickness, life or death. (continued) -- K. Lee Lerner & Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, Senior editors. Paris, France. December, 2010.