Symons begins his essay with what he says is a silly critique: “How could you be so interested in food when half the world is starving.” I do not understand what is so “silly” about the question. I understand his implication. He is interested in the aesthetics of food as food employed in and through the meal; he finds value in this exploration and perceives the meal as a space for ethical and political thought as Epicurus taught. However, are current thinkers not thinking about “the pleasure of their own stomachs” because those pleasures are so hard to discuss (as Hume points out)? Additionally, Symons goes on to say there needs to be more talk about food, “both dinner parties and Third World hunger;” however, he never addresses Third World hunger. While I agree with (some of) his conclusions, I disagree with his attitude towards the ethical question of meals. Moreover, I disagree with how he is exploring his subject matter.

Symons’s exploration of friendships formed at meals is insightful (if not obvious), but what he does not explore in meals is more insightful. The silly question comes up again: what about families who cannot afford meals? What does Symons mean by “meal?” The meals Symons discusses appear to be elaborate dinning experiences that are shared in community and where there is more than enough food for everyone. However, in spite of Symons’s oversights, I agree that friendships are “maintained at the table.” I also agree that sharing food requires “a sensible etiquette that adds up to a view of ethics.” However, the ethics inspired by sharing food are limited. One of the greatest pleasures I have when I visit friends and family at home is eating with them, but it is a pleasure because we get to decide when and where to have our meals. What about people who do not have the pleasure or privilege of deciding when and where to eat?

It is through food that I build relationships with my friends and family. Every trip home involves sharing a decadent meal at a Cuban restaurant with friends; most of the time I spend with my family is sitting around a table, whether at my brother’s house or at a fancy establishment my aunt recommends. Sharing foods and places to eat and exploring new places to eat involves me in an entire process of building friendships and strengthening familial bonds. Furthermore, going to places to eat enhances my taste for fine foods. As Hume would point out, I can only know what fine food is—the art of food—by engaging in that standard, and I have been fortunate enough to have an aunt who has impeccable taste in cuisines. However, these relationships and exposures to fine foods, my ability to engage in the pleasures of my stomach (and palate), are only possible because I am privileged, and my problems with Symons’s analysis and exploration of Epicurus is his oversight of this privilege.

Symons’s oversight to the ethical of food choices is most acute when he criticizes scholars who examine food as a sign of social and cultural status. He appears to deny Barthes’s reading of food as signification. Food does mean, and the upper-crust drinking champagne “to demonstrate their social superiority” is not a deceptive way of reading food as Symons would imply; furthermore, inverting this approach, “as if people could be said to eat gruel to show they were poor” does not work in the same manner. The poor eating gruel is not a choice in the same way that the rich drinking champagne is. The poor eat gruel, precisely, because they are poor. I understand that Symons is implying that a rich person eating gruel would not signify poor-ness; however, a poor person can’t even afford champagne in an attempt to signify rich. On a basic level, these foods do signify a social status. Even a rich person eating gruel would signify the rich person’s connection to “the people” or “the street” or to some romantic past when his or her family was poor and had to work hard. This signification works the same way as when a rapper from a poor background raps about drinking Cristal or Don P.

Symons appears to want to justify his studies of the pleasures of the meal by trying to force a faux ethical stance when he should just assert that his thinking aligns with his elitist stomach. I don’t mean to say “philosophizing” food in the manner Symons wants to is bad. The basic difference here is one that can parallel literature: it is the difference between W.B. Yeats who wanted an art that can affect the world and change it, against an Oscar Wildean view of art for art’s sake. Of course, “eating is living, and living is eating,” but Symons’s tautology fails to explore the implications of those who do not get to eat, who do not get to share meals, who do not get to drink mimosas with their Sunday brunch with friends and family.

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