by Emily Gelsomin
“Is this good for me?” As a dietitian, I get this question quite often. Yet, such simple sounding inquiries are never straightforward. Are you trying to lose weight? Improve your irritable bowel syndrome? Run a marathon? It all depends. Nutrition can easily become a complex science of food dissection. Red ripe tomatoes become a way to protect your eyesight (lycopene!). But not if you have heartburn. Aged blue cheese becomes a way to clog your arteries (saturated fat!). But not if you need more calcium. Things only get maddeningly more complicated from here once you remember that we are humans, not machines. Humans—no less—that eat food in social settings, not vacuums. It is also here where things get increasingly more interesting; and it is here where the gastronomy program picks up the crumbs of science and transforms food into language.
A fork and knife have never been, ahem, lonely in my presence. Similarly, foods like cheese—touted health perils and all—have always charmed me. But now I’ve become charmed by the likes of Elizabeth David and Emile Zola. I’ve also become a bit more cynical about the power of food thanks to Karl Marx and Pierre Bourdieu. As for Brillat-Savarin? Well, let’s just say he and his aphorisms have caused some renewed anxiety on the science of hosting dinner parties.
It is precisely here where gastronomy—and, debatably, Brillat-Savarin—shines, straddling the line between science and art. Gastronomy transforms food into a holistic language. A language for which there are many dialects. While cuisines can offer unique cultural expressions, we all use food to communicate. We use it to assert agency, apathy, love, and loneliness. It is here that gastronomy makes the very question of “good for me” insanely more complex.
The question of whether blue cheese is “good for” something is thus no longer a debate solely on its medical merits. Where did the cheese come from? What are its food miles? How were the cows treated? Were they soothed with jazz music? Were they given growth hormones? Did the dairy farmer receive a fair price for it? Are you feeding it to someone special (love!)? Are you eating your feelings (grad school is ruining my social life!)? Are you demonstrating your wine pairing savvy (Sauternes!)? Or your hip, counter-culture indifference (PBR!)? What makes this program so enriching is that it opens the oven door up to a banquet of questions. “Is this good for me?” becomes “is this good for my being, my trajectory, my gender, my planet?” What I’m learning is that such questions are not only good for dietitians: they are good for everyone. Which has made digesting gastronomy invaluable, each and every bite.
Emily Gelsomin is a registered dietitian, gastronomy student, and lover of all things food-related. She also writes a food blog called A Plum By Any Other Name, which touches on the joys of cooking and – with any luck – offers a little comfort when the pot of life boils over.