You can't properly call yourself a gourmand (or even a minor foodie) until you've digested Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's delectable 1825 treatise, The Physiology of Taste: Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. Brilliantly and lovingly translated in 1949 by M.F.K. Fisher (herself the doyenne of 20th-century food writing), the book offers the Professor's meditations not just on matters of cooking and eating, but extends to sleep, dreams, exhaustion, and even death (which he defines as the "complete interruption of sensual relations"). Brillat-Savarin, whose genius is in the examination and discussion of food, cooking, and eating, proclaims that "the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star."
Chocoholics will be satisfied to know that "carefully prepared chocolate is as healthful a food as it is pleasant ... that it is above all helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work...." He examines the erotic properties of the truffle ("the truffle is not a positive aphrodisiac; but it can, in certain situations, make women tenderer and men more agreeable"), the financial influence of the turkey (apparently quite a prize in 19th-century Paris), and the level of gourmandise among the various professions (bankers, doctors, writers, and men of faith are all predestined to love food). Just as engrossing as the text itself are M.F.K. Fisher's lively, personal glosses at the end of every chapter, which make up almost a quarter of the book. These two are soulmates separated by centuries, and Fisher's fondness for the Professor comes through on every page. As she notes at the end, "I have yet to be bored or offended, which is more than most women can say of any relationship, either ghostly or corporeal." --Rebecca A. Staffel [via]