Typically, however much we enjoy eating, we do not normally think that what we put on our plates is particularly meaningful. One person who took a different view was the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In January 1877, while staying in Italy, he wrote a letter to his mother mentioning that he had discovered something he considered central to human happiness. Had Nietzsche stumbled on his legendary notion that modern life is driven by envy and resentment? Or that God has died? Or that we must aspire to being Supermen? In fact, his discovery was to do with cooking: he had been learning how to make the perfect risotto.
For Nietzsche, risotto encapsulated an attitude to life. When properly prepared, it is richly savory yet light; delicate yet satisfying; it leaves us feeling clean and energetic. The qualities of the dish were an invitation to become a certain kind of person: less ponderous, more direct, lively and playful. Nietzsche wanted his writing and his personality to be like risotto. It occurred to him that the prose of his academic colleagues back in Germany was more like over-cooked vegetables or heavy servings of boiled meat — and that was why German philosophy had failed. The massive, impenetrable tomes of Hegel or Kant struck him as being like the worst kinds of meals; the kind that leave us stuffed, listless and gloomy and in need of a lie-down in a darkened room.
Nietzsche’s realisation was that material matters are the bearers of ideas about life, and that the material things we habitually consume will therefore influence our intellectual outlook — for better or worse.Excerpt from “A Food Manifesto” (#7), in Thinking & Eating, by The School of Life — ISBN 978-1-912891-02-3