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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Alain de Botton's Pleasures and Sorrows of Work ― and Food

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 4:55 PM

MEREDITH BRODY
  • Meredith Brody
We thought that attending the recent conversation between Alain de Botton and Will Hearst at City Arts and Lectures on the occasion of the publication of de Botton's new book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work would be a night off from our obsession with the pleasures and sorrows of food.

But noooo! After briefly citing his source of inspiration (Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day, which de Botton read to his two young children), it turned out that de Botton had spent four months of his life tracing the journey of tuna from the Indian Ocean to dinner plates in England.

Locavores, stop reading right now: By page 42, de Botton is tracking 12,000 California strawberries waiting "in the semi-darkness" in an enormous food warehouse: "They flew in from California yesterday, crossing over the Arctic Circle by moonlight.... At any given moment, half the contents of the warehouse are seventy-two hours away from being inedible...The supermarket will never again let the shifting axis of the earth delay its audience's dietary satisfactions: strawberries journey in from Israel in midwinter, from Morocco in February, from Spain in spring, from Holland in early summer, from England in August and from the groves behind San Diego between September and Christmas. There is only ninety-six hours' leeway between the moment the strawberries are picked and the moment they start to cave in to attacks of grey mould."

There was more food to come. Perhaps our favorite section of the book, prosaically entitled Biscuit Manufacture (biscuit = cookie), follows the creation of a new cookie called The Moment. De Botton confided in us that they were intended for "25 to 35 year old women of low income who need more Me time," (a more nuanced and poignant analysis can be found between the book's covers).

And it wasn't just the book that held food news. For foodies about to cross the Big Pond England-wards, possibly crossing over the Arctic Circle by moonlight, be advised that de Botton, gathering inspiration, he said, from Dave Eggers and his

826 Valencia, has started an organization called the School of Life. In addition to offering classes in what he termed "real world" subjects (such as love, politics, work, family, and play), the School of Life also organizes communal meals: Conversation Dinners, in which there's a menu for topics of conversation as well as fancy food (£50 for three courses and wine), and the Breakfast Club (two sittings, 7:30 -- 8:30 a.m. or 9 -- 10 a.m., 20 pounds), in which philosophers engage with big ideas while you try to swallow muesli, yogurt, and fruit.

We give up. It all comes back to food, doesn't it?

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Meredith Brody

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