Thursday, August 2, 2012

Why discuss "The Unprejudiced Palate"?

In November, 2010, I did a post in the discussion of Cheap the High Cost of Discount Culture that has since  garnered hundred of hits and as of today, fourteen comments. Those of you who are long-time readers of Brooklyn Book Talk will have realized that while people are actually reading the blog (yes - we do track the hits), they don't comment. However, every few months, someone will post a comment praising this post.

In the post, I quoted the late food writer Angelo Pellegrini. I first discovered Pellegrini in the early 1990's, when I moved to Seattle, worked a series of minimum wage jobs, gardened in a community garden patch, and discovered the Seattle Public Library and the famed Elliott Bay Books. Elliott Bay prominantly featured the works of M F K Fisher, who writes not just about food but the memories that it invokes in people. She had a rich, eventful life filled with tragedy but her interest in food and eating helped her to move past failed marriages, financial crises, and the death of loved ones.

Fisher's book, Dubious Honors, is a collection of introductions that she wrote for cookbooks. One chapter is about the afterword that she wrote for An Unprejudiced Palate, which she helped to get republished by North Point Press in 1984; she had originally read the book in 1948, when she first met Angelo Pellegrini. Fisher and Pellegrini had been invited to serve as judges in a wine tasting conference at the Los Angeles County Fair. They spent three days as partners, judging wine. Pellegrini was annoyed that Fisher, a woman, had been selected as a judge. He spent all three days refusing to talk to her, and generally acting in a hostile, petulant manner:

"The next day was the last, thank God. I had never lived through such a miserable experience. My female honor felt bruised by the dark unsmiling man sitting with such obvious impatience and distaste beside me, sharing the same horrid bucket for our public rinsings, sucking in his breath whenever I had to lean toward him so that I would not pollute his pristine taste buds with my stench.I prayed for patience to get through the fruit wines, through the raw brandies, and away." (p. 97).

Finally on day three, Fisher finally won over Pellegrini, who realized that she did not in fact stink (it was his hotel soap) and she became friends with him and his wife.

Fisher described Pellegrini repeatedly as a kind of Pan (the Greek demi-god, not Peter Pan). She was willing to put aside his prolonged boorish behavior because she admired his writings and was won over by his eventual charm. Although an English professor at the University of Washington, he was born in Italy, the son of Tuscan immigrants who had moved to Washington State in the 1910's and did not learn English until he was ten. Most of his writings focused on food and life in America. While I never met Pelligrini, and was horrified by Fisher's article, I was won over by his writings, which still resonate in food-obsessed NYC society.

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