Mirror, mirror

Living in Harmony: Fourier’s Gastrosophie by Jane Levi

Tank _autumn 2016_134Mella Jaarsma, I Eat You You Eat Me (installation view), 2001-2014. Photograph © Mella Jaarsma. Courtesy IVAA 

Can you imagine a world in which every day promises a varied series of pleasures: fulfilling work, delightful leisure and delectable meals, enjoyed with the most complementary companions? A world of peace and stability in which the miseries of war are replaced by the joys of global cookery contests; of economic prosperity in which the earth is fruitful and every harvest a cornucopia; of remarkable personal freedom in which life expectancy is doubled through a healthy and pleasurable approach to food? Welcome to Harmony, the future world imagined and described by French utopian socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837). 

Aged 17 at the beginning of the French Revolution, Fourier experienced its various terrors and privations, as well as its promise of new freedoms, during a formative period of his life. He vigorously opposed the Jacobins’ moralising, and their suggestion that political probity could be proved by a moral diet of cabbages and black bread. He was equally outraged by the new gastronomic writers of the period. He accused them (especially Brillat-Savarin, who he particularly loathed) of existing only to show off and lecture the new bourgeoisie. In Fourier’s opinion, it was just as bad to teach people to overeat and overspend on food that they only enjoyed because they had been told it was “the best”, and which they could barely even digest, as it was to deprive them through moralising and economic incompetence of the delicious things in life. 

In Fourier’s enhanced version of gastronomy – gastrosophie or gastronomic wisdom – there would be a new relationship to the entire food system. “Harmonians” would develop real knowledge, with the first “schools” for children taking place in the kitchen and garden. Knowing how to grow, cook, serve and share one’s favourite foods, convivially, with like-minded companions would allow everyone to enjoy the genuine happiness and fulfilment of self-realisation, embracing food as both necessity and a rich imaginative space. §