Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan


There is nothing unique or innovative about the Hot Pocket concept. It is fundamentally just meat with a pastry-like cover. This is nothing new. I remember initially looking at the Hot Pocket product I saw in commercials and thinking, Well, that’s just a calzone. I imagined all the South Americans exclaiming, “Hey! That’s our empanada!” And the Jamaicans insisting, “No, that’s our meat pie!” It seems like every culture has a version of the thing we Americans have come to call a Hot Pocket. While these other countries’ dishes seem like real food with some special kind of history, the American version seems like a cheap imitation. The Hot Pocket is sort of a symbol of the way we eat in America. The early development of the Hot Pocket appears to have begun with the TV dinner, the hominid of the Hot Pocket evolutionary chain. In the middle of the last century, our lives got busier, and we got lazier in our food preparation habits. In the 1950s, the TV dinner made it possible for us to conveniently eat in front of our television. The microwave made it possible for us to make the TV dinner faster so we could watch more television. I imagine intravenous food streaming from the television is about a decade away.

This was the best travel read in a long while for me. I laughed out loud to many passages, which I admit, rarely happens. The balance between his and his wife Jeannie’s eating preferences was helpful orientation … and hilarious. The venn diagram of fruitcake and the map of American food according to Gaffigan is worthy of considered study. The visuals, like the diagrams, maps and photos throughout the book were effective in justifying his claims that for example no one likes vegetables or fruits, everyone likes ice cream etc,. Despite my love of vegetables and fruits, I still very much agreed with Gaffigan’s analysis of American food.  As a philosopher how could I not appreciate such unabashed honest self-aware eating!

All joking aside, Gaffigan comically highlights quite a few oddities about the serious problem of American eating and obesity. The quoted passage above helps explain my interest in American food from a design perspective. Notice the mediation of technology in the American Hot Pocket example. After all, a Hot Pocket is a designed object. An ontographic map, a la Levi Bryant, of the Hot Pocket would show that the supermarket, the freezer, the microwave and the television exert gravity absent in traditional variations of empanadas or calzones. The technological intervention and preservation, the emphasis on speed of preparation and the association with television and entertainment, make the Hot Pocket, according to Gaffigan, quintessentially American like Las Vegas all-you-can-eat-buffets.

Food: A Love Story is a personal conceptual and comic exercise of food studies, design studies and American studies. Jim Gaffigan is an exemplary hungry philosopher. I am humbled. And, now very hungry for a cheeseburger.

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