Eating Object-Oriented Thinking

Last week at the Purdue Aesthetics Conference I spoke of four object-oriented thinkers who employ food references to demonstrate their defense of object wonder, vitality, complexity and gravity.

  1. Ian Bogost’s pound cake shows us complex “alien” encounters that yield a pound cake. He compares Alton Brown and Duff Goldman’s approach to cake baking.
  2. Jane Bennett’s berries and beef show us by comparison Nietzsche and Thoreau’s food preference as indicative of their philosophies.
  3. Timothy Morton borrows from the Shredded Wheat commercial slogan of “nothing added nothing taken away” to celebrate things as they openly announce their duplicity.
  4. Levi Bryant’s brazil nuts exemplify bright objects capable of exerting existential gravity on things around them.

My study of OOO was meant to help me develop a food-oriented strategy towards writing a cookbook. It is not about simply writing recipes for my daughters to follow but rather offer guidelines that might help them question all recipes (normative prescriptions) and find their own relationship with each dish (embodied and existential situation amidst other organic and inorganic things) in order to avoid living a correlationist life searching for correspondence to an abstract external “truth.”( I have to find a subtle way to insert the philosophy between the lines. Is there one?)

OOO offers strategies and orientations to think things, to speculate and imagine object lives and demands. I eat it…… is only one-half the story in any inter-object relationship. How it eats me…is the other half of the story…the more, imaginative, interesting, consuming part of any object story. And so, the task of Bittermelon and Brownies: Proclamations of a Philosopher-Mom is to show how we are ourselves ingredients in each recipe.

Now that I’ve announced the project I really have to do it! Yikes!

I’ve just started to work on the cookbook. Wish me patient consistent writing! I’m open to your advice and suggestions dear bloggers, hungry philosophers, food writers, chefs, and cookbook authors.

Here is a satirical example of a philosopher writing a cookbook that I find instructive and funny!

October 10

I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.

While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.

From, The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook by Marty Smith, from the Free Agent, 1987

Too Pretty to Eat?

You know that moment of pause in front of a beautiful plate of food when we think……wow! This is too pretty to eat.

What is that pause about? It doesn’t stop me from consuming and dismantling a beautiful banana split. Is that pause a moment of appreciation and recognition? Is attractive plating in fancy restaurants about extending the pause when our brain is confused by the paradox of “gosh, this is beautiful” and “I need to eat, enjoy and destroy it?” Maybe. Beauty has the power to direct us towards an ethical moment, a pause before destruction. Timothy Morton talks about beauty as recognized fragility. Recently, in a blog post, Levi Bryant asks a similar question, when he suggests,

I do think, however, that beauty might play a key role with respect to environmental issues and how we relate to other living organisms, but I’ll save that for another day.  I just wonder why it is that I find something beautiful or what is reflected back to us about ourselves in those things we find beautiful.

Beauty may be a way to interrupt our destructive relationship with the world and things with an ethical pause. How do artists, designers, chefs create things of beauty to be appreciated yet consumed? They may not answer, Levi Bryant’s question, “What is the ground of the ability to have, as Kant put it, “disinterested pleasure” or the ability to find things beautiful?”

But, makers of “(interest) dependent beauty” may offer some strategies capable of extending the ethical pause that makes us lament……this is too pretty to eat.

I need to eat something pretty now and think about this consumption-coexistence paradox provoked by beauty. Hmmmmm…

This question is in part a response to a blog post titled “Beauty” on the blog: Larval Subjects.

Mapping Roasted Chicken, Big Mac and Rice Relations


Philosopher Levi Bryant’s Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media presents us with multiple examples of how things (machines) exercise power over us and the world. Here are three food examples from the book:

We go to the grocer and buy a roasted chicken, believing that there is nothing social about this relation insofar as it is simply a relation between us and the chicken. Yet the commodity embodies an entire set of social relations that are the medium of the chicken, insofar as it was produced by people under certain conditions, within a particular legal system, within a particular network of distribution, and so on. As Deleuze and Guattari remark, “….we cannot tell from the mere taste of wheat who grew it; the product gives us no hint as to the system and the relations of production. The “mediasphere” of the chicken and wheat is veiled in the thing withdrawn from view.

What would a map of all the hidden relations in my grocery cart look like? I imagine quite a complex web. Here’s another familiar  and branded example,

When for example, I eat a Big Mac, I think I am involved in a purely cultural affair that has nothing to do with nature. In analyzing the Big Mac, the cultural theorist might discuss how what I’m really eating is “signifiers,” examining how this sandwich is a marker of national identity, class, symbolic position, and so on. What is not examined is how the Big Mac is related to the clearing of Amazonian rain forests for bovine grazing, and all of the material outputs produced in transporting the meat, processing it cooking it and consuming it. The Big Mac is thought of as something unrelated to these issues of relevance to climate change and ecology.

Like my grocery cart, what if I were to map my dinner plate. Where my ingredients came from, supermarket it came from, how much energy to took to cook, how long of my time and much of my space, how the ingredients affect my health, how much I waste, the role of my garbage man in carrying the waste away, the plumbing system that allowed me to wash my ingredients, the factories that produced the knives, pots and pans, how I found my recipes online, the network of foodies, cooks, eaters online, the taste, ……what a complex map my dinner is unfolding into. The next example, demonstrates how rice is an example of a bright object that has the directive power to organize and influence us and our world.

Rice is yet another example of a bright object. The rate at which it develops, how it is planted, how it is harvested, the number of times it can be harvested a year, all contribute strongly to the organization of people’s lives that rely on rice. These properties of rice influence the sort of labor people engage in, the tools that they fabricate, their bodily postures, how their bodies develop as a function of rice heavy diets, the sorts of social relations that develop between people, and feast and famine as a result of weather vents that affect harvests or diseases that befall plants. Once the technology or practices are developed allowing  rice to be planted in water, new problems emerge. Harvest sizes are increased through these new planting methods, but the water in which the rice is planted also becomes a nest for diseases. Now these diseases must be dealt with. Rice organizes the space-time of these people’s lives, especially before the advent of robust international trade and things like supermarkets. It organizes the rhythm of days, when things are done, how long they’re done, cooking methods, and variety of other things besides.

The book is a fantastic example of an object oriented approach to thinking about our world. I look forward to re-reading, highlighting, noting, pondering over these and other moments. Hope you do too.