Jonah Campbell, Food & Trembling

Let's be honest: Jonah Campbell is kind of an ass.

But crucially, it's precisely because he's the kind of ass that he is, that Food & Trembling was and remains such a great read. It's not for everyone, this book, but if it's for you, you'll have a tough time putting it down. His prose is wonderfully variable, though he's self-conscious about the deliberate rough edges and the intentional flights of stylistic wankery that pepper the essays (pieces? tapas plates?) of this collection (sequence? buffet?). I tired of it occasionally, but a brief rest from the book always brought me back cheerfully to it.

Here's an example of what Campbell at one point calls "the orgy of comma-spattered obfuscation that is customary around here" (p.93), part of his defense of margarine:
... what margarine can do that butter never can is to make something taste like it is covered in margarine. Which, look down your nose all you please, amounts to making something taste like it is covered in salty oil, and if you can't appreciate that you best step back, because brother, life is but an empty coffin, and you's being a touch too selective about how you fills it. (p.29)
Would you want that passage put another way? Of course not. He admits, naturally, that you'd deserve to be assaulted if you served anything in a "margarine blanc" sauce, and that there are plenty of times that butter is the only right choice. Still, that phrase sticks with me, and I'm looking for any excuse to bust it out: "you best step back, because brother, life is but an empty coffin."

There's wonderful variety in this book, which includes some of Campbell's thoughts on offal, veganism, French cuisine, and all sorts of other food-related issues. He even includes a whole genre's worth of disquisition purely on potato chip flavourings, though my favourites are probably his multiple pieces on cabbage: "The immediate question which arises is, 'Why cabbage?' the answer to which is, of course, 'shut the fuck up'" (p.71). He's energetic in his prose and thought, and alternately slothful and impassioned in his pursuit of foodstuffs. He is, thus, a terrific companion, even if he can't be trusted:
I am convinced that one of the better angels of our nature, which along with restraint, and taste, and discretion, cannot be neglected but to our detriment, is just givin' er. (p.166)
Indeed. Bring on the weird potato chips.


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