views updated May 08 2018


GASTRONOMY. Most dictionaries define gastronomy as "the art and science of good eating," or "the art and science of fine eating." The etymology of the word is generally attributed to the title of a poem by French attorney Joseph Berchoux, "Gastronomie" (1801). Early descriptive writings often assume gluttony. One versed in gastronomy is said to be a gastronome, while a gastronomist is one who unites theory with practice and thus becomes a gourmand (gourmet).

The original suffix root of gastronomy derives from the Greek word nomos, meaning 'laws that govern', which led to the notion that gastronomes are those who only dwell upon classic and haute cuisine. Implied too is that "the art and science of good eating" is confined to expensive, lavish, and complex meals requiring equally expensive silver and china. Fortunately, as is the case with so many rules and regulations, such rigidity of form can become uncomfortable. One so-called early proponent of gastronomy asserted that a true gastronomist should shun diversitya rather narrow footnote by today's understanding.

Gastronomy has evolved from its original dictionary meaning to the point that it really would be best studied broken down into subsets by culture.

A further denotation of nomos, 'the sum of knowledge of a specific subject', gives gastronomy a meaning that includes a person's command of the totality of knowledge regarding the art and science of good food and eating. Rather than just beautifying the ritual of consumption, gastronomy now entails an appreciation and understanding of the many avenues of cooking and food production. For example, today's gastronomist would do well to have some knowledge regarding food chemistry and physics, food history, foodways, and culinary anthropology, including a link to the many cultures of the world via computer technology.

One should seek a better understanding of agriculture, aquaculture, and the technology of newer cooking methods and equipment, as well as information on the impact of eating and diet upon health, including foodborne disease and worldwide ecology. Gastronomy should promote lessons on how to taste, savor, and fully sensualize the dining experience, whether it is a family meal at home or a special dining-out event.

Simpler repasts should be enraptured alongside the grandest banquets. Standing at a seaside fish market and savoring a freshly shucked oyster just harvested and chilled from the sea can be savored as much as the expensive three-hour feast served in a banquet hall.

There is a tendency to judge food and cooking solely by what it looks like. When dining out, taste and aroma are demoted in favor of stylistic architecture. People, especially Americans, are losing the ability and sensibility of how to taste. Americans no longer savor or appreciate the joy and satisfaction of eating. Entertaining and pleasant conversations over dinner seem to have disappeared; food fads come and go before ever having had a chance to even establish an identity. It is time to relearn or reemphasize how the senses can be used to fully appreciate and relish the hedonistic pleasures of life. People are equipped with the necessary anatomy and physiology to elevate a boring biological function to one of life's greatest pleasures.

See also Appetite ; Brillat-Savarin, Anthelme ; Catherine de' Medici ; Eating: Anatomy and Physiology of Eating ; Icon Foods ; Larousse Gastronomique ; La Varenne, Pierre François de ; Pleasure and Food ; Sensation and the Senses ; Slow Food .


Montagné, Prosper. Larousse gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine, and Cookery. Edited by Charlotte Turgeon and Nina Froud. New York: Crown, 1961. First English edition.

Montagné, Prosper. Larousse gastronomique: The New American Edition of the World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. Edited by Jennifer Harvey Lang. New York: Crown, 1988. Second English edition.

Montagné, Prosper. Larousse gastronomique : The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia. Edited by Jennifer Harvey Lang. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2001. Third English edition.

Simon, André Louis. A Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy. Complete and unabridged. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1952.

Szathmáry, Louis. American Gastronomy: An Illustrated Portfolio of Recipes and Culinary History. Chicago: Regnery, 1974.

Fritz Blank


views updated Jun 27 2018

gas·tron·o·my / gaˈstränəmē/ • n. the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food. ∎  the cooking of a particular area: traditional American gastronomy.DERIVATIVES: gas·tro·nom·ic / ˌgastrəˈnämik/ adj.gas·tro·nom·i·cal / ˌgastrəˈnämikəl/ adj.gas·tro·nom·i·cal·ly / ˌgastrəˈnämik(ə)lē/ adv.