Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living, by Henry Theophilus Finck is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Preface
It is not often that an author is so fortunate as to have a subject which is of vital importance to everybody, without exception. Everybody eats, and everybody wants to enjoy his meals; yet few know how to get the most benefit and pleasure out of them. The French are far ahead of us in this respect; they are a nation of gastronomers, understanding fully the importance to health and happiness of raising only the best foodstuffs, cooking them in savory ways and eating them with intelligence and pleasure. One of the main objects of the present volume is to show that we have the material for the making of an even more gastronomic nation than the French are, and that Americans, especially if caught young, can be taught to eat in a leisurely way and to refuse to accept anything that lacks appetizing flavor.
Flavor! In that word lies the key to the whole food problem. Undoubtedly the nourishing property of food is also of importance; without it we could not live. Yet, as Luther Burbank has keenly remarked, if we eliminate palatability (that is, flavor) from food, it is no more than a medicine, "to be taken because it produces certain necessary results." Moreover, a littleof this medicine goes a great way. Horace Fletcher lived for years on eleven cents a day; and two university professors—Dr. J. L. Henderson of Harvard and Dr. Graham Lusk of Cornell—have demonstrated, independently, that a dime a day, intelligently expended, is enough to keep body and soul together. What more we spend on food—and we probably average five times that amount—goes chiefly for flavor. It is the flavor that makes us willing to pay more for good butter than for good oleomargarine, for fresh chicken than for cold storage fowl, for Virginia ham than for ordinary ham, and so on throughout the list of foods; for there is no difference in nutritive value in any of these cases.
This being so, it seems passing strange that while so many good books have been written on the nutritive aspects of foods, mine is the first volume in any language treating specially of this same flavor, on which we spend so much of our income, and which is so important to our health. The explanation lies in the fact that flavor is generally looked upon as something merely agreeable—like the fragrance of strawberries, or the vanilla extract we put into ice cream—but of no vital importance. It was this misunderstanding that prevented me from keeping the title "Flavor in Food" which I had intended to use. At a conference with the publishers we decided that (since, after all, the book also discusses many other aspects of the food question), it would be wiser to use the title "Food and Flavor. "Nevertheless, Flavor (with a big "F" to emphasize its importance) is the principal theme, and the most important chapters are the second and the last in which I discuss its superlative value, not only as the source of countless wholesome pleasures of the table, but as a guide to health. The gist of the book lies in the sections "An Amazing Blunder" and "A New Psychology of Eating," in which I have shown that we need flavor as much as we need food if we wish to be well; for food without flavor is not appetizing; and when food is not appetizing it lies in the stomach like lead and causes dyspepsia, the national American plague. The final chapter considers the important difference between appetizing flavor and mere fragrance, the neglect of which has created no end of confusion and done so much harm.
In the pages concerned with "Ungastronomic America" and "Our Denatured Foods," I have dwelt on some of the evils which have resulted from the giving up of the old-fashioned condiments (especially woodsmoke) in favor of the much cheaper chemical preservatives which denature our food, that is, destroy its appetizing flavor, and give rise to countless adulterations and deceptions. It was not with any "muck-raking" intentions that these pages were written, but merely to increase the present wholesome discontent and pave the way for better things by making it clear to all what those better things are, and indicating ways of thwarting the unscrupulous adulterators and dealers. There is need of a good deal of hard fighting, for there are in many towns health officers who thrive on "graft" as well as wealthy manufacturers of undesirable preservatives who prevent the passage or enforcement of pure food laws; yet I believe the time is not very far distant when these two chapters will have little more than a historic interest. Pending that time, caveat emptor—let the buyer beware.
The rest of the book is mainly constructive, and under the head of "Gastronomic America" I have tried to paint a glowing picture not only of present pleasures of the palate but of keener ones to come, thanks to Luther Burbank and other educators of fruits and vegetables. Among these educators are the specialists of the Department of Agriculture. The Government of the United States has done more than that of any other country to give useful advice to the growers of food products—and to cooks, too! Throughout this volume I have missed no chance to call attention to its many helpful publications, besides summing up the matter under the head of "Governmental Gastronomy." It is a topic of tremendous importance to farmers, vegetable gardeners, dairymen, and all who are concerned with the growing or distributing of food stuffs. Farming is defined as "cultivating the ground in order to raise food"; and why farmers, quite as much as epicures, should be interested in the best foods, I have explained in the section headed "Commercial Value of Flavor," with illustrations showing how a tiller of the soil can double or quintuple his income or even make a big fortune by taking the demand for appetizing flavor as a guide.
Knowing that they do many of these things much better in Europe, I made a special gastronomic trip in 1912 to gather first hand information in the market places, gardens and restaurants of France, Italy, Germany and England. I have dwelt on the good things raised and prepared in those countries, such as the salads, the poultry, the bread, the butter, the cheeses, the wonderful cuisine of France; the olive oil, the economical substitutes for meat, and the macaroni (the real staff of life) of Italy; the diverse delicatessen of Germany (including live fish brought to the kitchen and genuinely smoked meats and fish); the Wiltshire bacon, the Southdown mutton, the cakes and marmalades of Great Britain. Information on many things like those, concerning which there is a widespread curiosity, has not before been brought conveniently between two covers, and I am sure I need not apologize for having followed the example of the gossiping Brillat-Savarin, in presenting this information largely in the form of a narrative of personal experiences, and with pertinent anecdotes.
To the chapters on the "Science of Savory Cooking" and "A Noble Art" I wish to call special attention because in them lies, I am convinced, the ultimate solution of the urgent problem of domestic help, as well as the problem of improving the average American cuisine, which is a still larger one, because in eleven out of every twelve families the women have to do their own cooking. Too many women, not to speak of men, do not know that cooking really is a science, (which electricity will soon make an exact science), and the practice of it a fine art, experts in which may well look down proudly on the mere factory and shop girls who foolishly think they are above them. Schools, women's societies, and society women have taken up the matter in England as well as in America, and great changes are impending—changes which, it is hoped, this volume, coming at the "psychological moment," will help to accelerate.
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Finck, Henry Theophilus. 2021. Food and Flavor: A Gastronomic Guide to Health and Good Living). Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/61719/61719-h/61719-h.htm#I
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