Eating Their Words

Most of the world knows about April Fool’s Day, and that’s fine. But it’s also Edible Book Day. Since 2000, events all over the world on or around April 1st have been organized to celebrate the birthday of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of the seminal 1825 cookbook La Physiologie du Goût (The Physiology of Taste) and coiner of the phrase, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Most of these are gallery exhibitions, though an increasing number have been doubling as fundraisers for libraries—but all involve text rendered in food in one form or another. Some are sweet, some are savory; some are serious and some are funny; some riff on existing book titles and some invent their own; but they’re all clever, literate and (presumably) tasty.

The International Edible Book Festival website lists the various locations where events will take place, which this year include the U.S., Canada, Ireland, Italy, Singapore, and Sweden. They also provide a gallery of past entries, which are worth taking some time to check out. In addition to the expected decorated desserts, there are literary entries made from pickles, cold cuts, toast, nori, and bacon, to name a few. There’s something about the overlap of literary types and food lovers, though, that makes for a very lively interface—if there’s one happening near you, swing by and take a look.

Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be one in New York City this time around. In past years they were held at the wonderful Center for Book Arts, and at the end of the evening the pieces were auctioned off to help raise money. Long before I was a blogger I dabbled as a pastry chef, and was part of the 2004 event with “Eat the Buddha,” a gingerbread cookie Buddhist scroll exhibited with the legend:

Early Buddhists created scrolls with images of the Buddha repeated over and over as a devotional exercise, then placed them inside statues of the Buddha; alternately they burned the scrolls.  For our devotional exercise we eat the Buddha a page at a time, burning the images by converting them to calories, storing them inside the ultimate manifestation of the holy: ourselves.

As it turned out, the director of the Center was a practicing Buddhist and “Eat the Buddha” brought in the evening’s high bid—possibly the high point of my culinary career. In the years following, selected Edible Book entries were then executed by professional chefs, which probably increased fundraising potential but took the fun out of the whole thing for me, at least. But I’m proud to have been a part of it once upon a time, and can’t wait to see what hungry wordsmiths elsewhere come up with this year.

(The top photo is Larry Orbec’s “Seafood,” from the Chicago Center for Books and Paper Arts 2003 exhibition; bottom photo is my “Eat the Buddha.”)

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4 Comments to Eating Their Words

  1. April 1, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Yum to all edible books!

    Next up: edible bookcases — as compared with bookcases that eat.

    For our devotional exercise we eat the Buddha a page at a time, burning the images by converting them to calories, storing them inside the ultimate manifestation of the holy: ourselves.

    That is lovely. It reminds me of something I read once describing a human life as being akin to a gradual 70+ year explosion.

  2. April 1, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Very cool. You have every right to be proud of that!

  3. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    April 10, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Heh, I was just about to write that top graphic looks like the dried remains of a distasteful sea creature hauled from great depths (that’s been happening a lot lately), then I noticed the artist titles it “Seafood.”

  4. July 4, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Finally I learned where the phrase “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are” originates from. What’s upholding my fascination for the internet is the never ending emergence of quirky yet interesting pieces of information, lsuch as the existence of an Edible Book Day.

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