Food – Gertrude Stein (Penguin Modern: 08)

Published February 22nd 2018 by Penguin Classics
Author: Gertrude Stein
Format: Paperback (112mm x 161mm x 6mm)
Genre: Poetry, experimental, food
Pages: 55
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Opening line:

“In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling.”

Synopsis (from Penguin):

Sadder than salad.

From apples to artichokes, these glittering, fragmented, painterly portraits of food by the avant-garde pioneer Gertrude Stein are redolent of sex, laughter and the joy of everyday life.

My review

The above opening line is under the piece about ‘Roastbeef’. Anyone reading it on its own may not immediatly associate the words as being about something like roastbeef, but under that title it makes complete sense. This book is kind of non-sensical in a way that makes sense. Food is looked at from a whole different perspective, sometimes with long extracts, and other times with just a few sentences.

To begin with, I didn’t always know what I was reading, because there is a ‘nonsense’ feel to the style of writing. It’s different to, say, Eat Up! (which I’m also reading) which is a food memoir, and exploration of food to offer a new way of seeing it. That one is written through the writer’s own voice, memoir-like. In Stein’s Food, however, it’s less the voice of an author and more some ethereal musing revealing the inner secrets of food that we, the reader, have never noticed or considered before, but that we seem to know upon reading.

For example, one of my favourites in the book, celery:

“Celery tastes tastes where in curled lashes and little bits and mostly in remains. A green acre is so selfish and so pure and so enlivened.”

Okay, so I don’t actually like celery, but I know what it is, I’ve seen it, I’ve tried it. But I find this description so perfect for that food. I can see, and almost feel the texture of celery as I’m reading. What this book does is take an item of food and describe it, discuss it, appreciate it, explore it, using words and language and feeling. They are surreal and experimental in style, and sometimes I don’t understand them or I’m confused by them, but they have a dreamy rhythm to them that makes me read on and want to understand.

The middle portion of the book has shorter descriptions, and they are particularly good for revisiting and re-reading, and some foods have more than one offering, such as chicken, milk and potatoes. There are also food-related things, like cups, lunch, dinner, end of summer. Food is seasonal, it changes over the year and it’s such an important and essential part of our lives, and to read about food in a poetic way is refreshing, and to be occasionally confused by it seems apt.

Also, can I have ‘Sadder than salad’ on a t-shirt please?

Link to the book at Penguin: Food

Find more of the Penguin Modern books, 50 of them for £1 each!

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