Dinner Table Stories, 2007

Museum of the University of Memphis, Memphis, TN

What is the difference between a cookbook and a recipe book?

When “The Joy of Cooking” was first published in 1931, it contained helpful dialogues on how to kill and skin animals such as chicken and squirrel for our culinary delights. Readers of 2006 laugh at these quaint notions, and sigh with relief as the 75th anniversary re-release contains no such techniques, but instead incorporates time-saving shortcuts with condensed soup. I accept that cultures change, and admit that I too would have to put on a brave face to skin a chicken, but this is not my concern. My concern is the attack on our sense of “having time” do to something well, as the constant reminders in our culture of how busy we all are ebb the very “living” out of our lives. The result of this that I am most drawn to is the degradation of the effort, time, atmosphere, quality, reverence and tradition that go into the preparation and consumption of a meal.

I feel that in my exploration of tradition, inheritance and ritual in art, the meal is one of the most practical vehicles. Not everyone can say they’ve picked up a paintbrush in their lives, or a trumpet, and true, some can’t say they’ve picked up a skillet either. But everyone knows the difference between ramen noodles and Thanksgiving dinner. The former follows instructions on the packet, the latter follows the shaping of previous years’ experiences. Food carries culture. Food carries history, carries stories. As we are coerced into eating things that chemically approach plastic during the mere cracks in our daily lives, I wonder about the fate of all these stories that we don’t have time to create.

I write these lost words in spice, and measure time in grains of rice. Rather than for simple sustenance, I use food items to invoke memory, to emphasize their sanctity. I hope to capture the essence of all meals misplaced and forgotten, and all meals which will have their day.

A recipe book is paint-by-numbers. A cookbook is da Vinci. And not the Mona Lisa either, but the sketchbooks – full of genius to be reinterpreted over and over, for centuries to come.

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