“I have discovered that there is romance in food when romance has disappeared from everywhere else.”–Ernest Hemingway
From 1920 to 1924, a young and relatively unknown Ernest Hemingway wrote for The Toronto Star. His columns covered sports, culture, travel, politics, and more; his columns were sometimes credited with a byline and sometimes not, and he occasionally employed a pseudonym, particularly for articles that would run in the same issue as another column with his own byline.
The above quote is from a piece titled “Wild Gastronomic Adventures of a Gourmet, Eating Sea Snails, Slugs, Octopus, etc. For Fun ” published November 24, 1923 under the byline Peter Jackson, which is one of several known pseudonyms employed by Hemingway according to the editor of Dateline: Toronto. It’s worth noting (as the editor notes) that the article’s title would have been provided by the newspaper, not by the author, but the phrasing comes directly from the article itself, which begins as follows:
Last night we were cooking venison.
As the meat sizzled in the pan it brought back adventures in eating. Wild gastronomic adventures.
In order that this may be a full confession, the author writes under a pseudonym. But it is all true. Every word of it is true.
I have eaten Chinese sea slugs, muskrat, porcupine, beaver tail, birds’ nests, octopus and horse meat.
I have also eaten snails, eels, sparrows, caviar and spaghetti. All shapes.
In addition I have at one time or another eaten Chinese river shrimps, bamboo sprouts, hundred-year-old eggs, and lunchcounter donuts.
Finally I must confess to having eaten mule meat, bear meat, moose meat, frogs legs and fritto musto.
The article goes on to enumerate the various situations and locations that provided him with this exotic fare, from the lively culinary scene of Kansas City (home to all-night lunch wagons serving up ethnic cuisine and, apparently, copies of Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage) to Toronto (no place for gastronomic adventures unless you go to the Ward) to France. He notes: “In Dijon you are no man if you don’t eat escargots. So I ate them. I don’t know that I’m any more of a man now. But I know what snails taste like.”
The line about romance in food comes near the end of the piece. “Romance,” in this context, is a curious word to use. Often we use the word “romance” to invoke experiences that inspire discovery or adventure, that are unique or extraordinary in some way–and, certainly, you can feel the pursuit of adventure and novelty in this narration of unusual and hard-to-find dishes. At the same time, this is an article that mourns the passing of time and erosion of localized cultural practices, like snails in France and beaver tails in Canada, which the narrator claims are no longer so common as they once were. Romance, which like the beaver tails might be in danger of disappearing, could also imply a kind of authenticity or purity of experience. This half-whimsical, half-boastful column strongly reminds me of what the authors of Foodies claim are the dominant pursuits of the conspicuous consumer: nearly 100 years later, the authentic and the exotic continue to rule the passions of wild and adventurous gourmets.