The Culinary ImaginationFrom Myth to Modernity

From the recipe novel to the celebrity chef, renowned scholar Sandra M. Gilbert explores the poetics and politics of food.

In this stunning and important work, the prominent critic, poet, and memoirist Sandra M. Gilbert explores our relationship with food and eating through discussions of literature, art, and popular culture. Focusing on contemporary practices, The Culinary Imagination traces the social, aesthetic, and political history of food from myth to modernity, from ancient sources to our current wave of food mania.


What does it mean to transform raw stuff into cooked dishes, which then become part of our own bodies; to savor festive meals yet resolve to renounce gluttony; to act as predators where in another life we might have become prey? Do the rituals of the kitchen have different meanings for men and women, for professional chefs and home cooks? Why, today, do so many of us turn so passionately toward table topics, on the page, online, and on screen? What are the philosophical implications of the food chain on which we all find ourselves?


In The Culinary Imagination, Gilbert addresses these powerful questions through meditations on myths and memoirs, children’s books, novels, poems, food blogs, paintings, TV shows, and movies. Discussing figures from Rex Stout to Julia Child and Andy Warhol, from M. F. K. Fisher and Sylvia Plath to Alice Waters and Peter Singer, she analyzes the politics and poetics of our daily bread, investigating our complex self-definitions as producers, consumers, and connoisseurs of food. The result is an ambitious, lively, and learned examination of the ways in which our culture’s artists have represented food across a range of genres.

Sandra M. Gilbert has published numerous volumes of criticism, including, most recently, Death’s Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve, as well as eight collections of poetry and a memoir. She is coeditor (with Susan Gubar) of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women and a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. A Distinguished Professor of English emerita at the University of California, Davis, she lives in Berkeley, California.

“The Culinary Imagination is a meticulously researched and wonderfully written examination of how food is at the heart of our cultural identity. From Shakespeare to Pablo Neruda to Gertrude Stein, Andy Warhol to Wayne Thiebaud, Gilbert skillfully follows the thread of gastronomy through history, art, literature, and pop culture with a scholar and poet’s eye for detail and meaning.”

— Alice Waters


“It is hard to imagine how Sandra Gilbert could have produced so broad an overview of contemporary food writing and thought, not only literary analysis but also history, memoir (“foodoir!”), and bibliography. Anyone wanting an introduction to the meaning of food culture should start here.”

—Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, and author of Eat Drink Vote


“A rich and tasty dish of cultural history, gastronomical ethnology, literary criticism, and memoir…flavored with Gilbert’s characteristic blend of erudition and humor, warmth and wisdom. I learned something from every delicious page.”

— Elaine Showalter


“Wonderful…The Culinary Imagination shows us how food can be, and has been, transformed through history into memory, myth, language, and image as different artists explore the subject in different forms. This is a tour of our daily lives with a radiant light cast on our most essential item.”

— Eavan Boland


“Sandra M. Gilbert brings her legendary powers of discernment and analytical gusto to the urgent subject of food, and the results—lushly entertaining, salty with anecdote and wisdom—have lyrical savor and a tenderly autobiographical richness.”

— Wayne Koestenbaum


“I love The Culinary Imagination—it’s so funny, foodie, learned, and personal at the same time. It shines with joy!”

—Diane Johnson


“A rich, powerful, important delight of a book to mull over both for its splendid insights but also to use for years to come as a guidebook into the most important writing about food both now and in the past.”

—Louise DeSalvo


“[Gilbert’s] evocative prose and shrewd analyses make for an intellectual feast.”

Publishers Weekly


 “Feminist scholar and poet Sandra M. Gilberi dishes with gusto on our romance with food.”

— Lisa Shea, Elle

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