Radishes and Michel de Montaigne [1533-1592]

I am not excessively fond either of salads or fruits, except melons. My father hated all sorts of sauces; I love them all. Eating too much hurts me; but, as to the quality of what I eat, I do not yet certainly know that any sort of meat disagrees with me; neither have I observed that either full moon or decrease, autumn or spring, have any influence upon me. We have in us motions that are inconstant an unknown; for example, I found radishes first grateful to my stomach, since that nauseous, and now again grateful. In several other things, I find my stomach and appetite vary after the same manner; I have changed again and again from white wine to claret, from claret to white wine.

Few philosophers would write about the size of their gallstones, about love, sex and marriage or what they ate. The father of the essay form, Michel de Montaigne’s work is refreshingly anti-cerebral and anti-academic in a very thoughtful “academic” way.  The passage above describes the unexplainable variability of our appetites. Subjectivity and variability is precisely why historically philosophers avoid love, sex, laughter and food. Despite the hubris of academic thinkers, Montaigne reminds us that we cannot know and explain everything. Rather, everything is subject to custom (Circe’s drink). For him, an attentive description of an experience in all it’s complexity that actively engages others is far better than the passive repetition of learned theoretical abstraction. In the era of rational Renaissance, his insistence on everyday experiences as inherently meaningful, was bold and refreshing. Still is. I love his “down with dogma” attitude. Then again, as Montaigne would say, ‘Que sais-je?’: what do I know?

This passage about variable appetite reminds me of pregnancy cravings or appetites of 2-year old kids. I have to be in the mood for soda, candy or barbecue. Sometimes foods I generally enjoy don’t like me back, like pasta a few days ago. What foods do you enjoy in varying degrees?

Here’s a recipe in honor of radishes and Montaigne.

Bengali Shredded Salad with Radishes:

Combine equal amounts of shredded cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cilantro and radishes.
Add salt, sliced green chilies and vinegar.

Really good with a rice pilaf (pulao) and Bengali Chicken Roast (Chicken roasted with shallots, ginger and garam masala) or Beef Bhuna (a dry beef curry). This works even better with shredded beets. The whole salad turns red! 

Image from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/montaigne/




2 thoughts on “Radishes and Michel de Montaigne [1533-1592]

  1. Scott

    Hi Lisa, I loved this post. You captured Montaigne’s essence perfectly in this charming and pithy piece. I love Montaigne because I relate to his propensity to sometime share way too much personal information. In an effort to figure out how to be a better human being, I can also gbe uilty of this. http://scottbryan.blog if you’re interested. I am off now to peruse the rest of your site, there appears to be quite a lot to explore. Nice one! 😉


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