Kant and The Critique of Culinary Reason

Kant and The Critique of Culinary Reason

The rigorous and meticulous Immanuel Kant, the milestone of modern philosophy, pleasure and pain of high school students, also had its own detailed “gastronomic ethics”.

After being granted tenure and following this a financial security, he finally bought a house in the Prussian town of Konigsberg and hired a cook, ending his lunches in taverns.

We will try to trace half-serious the author’s unique taste through the hours of his daily routines.

“Mr Professor, it’s time to get up!” this is how the ex-military butler Lampe awakened Kant, mercilessly at five in the morning. Breakfast was more than frugal: two cups of tea and a tobacco pipe, the only one of the day. Then, in this order: meditation, university, homework. Finally, the preparations for lunch started at 12.15 announced by the maid’s solemn entry into the room, with the inevitable carafe of red wine. The wine was one of the philosopher’s passions and a fundamental part of any convivial ritual. His preferences went to Rhine wines and, above all, to Medoc ones. Becoming older, he would combine red with white (less astringent), but never more than a quarter of a litre, since the intensity of taste had to proceed together with moderation. In his mind, in fact, the taste should never be linked to real necessity, but always and only to the delicacy of our organs.

In the last years of his life, after a hot dinner soup, he used to drink a sort of elixir: a sip of Bischof red wine, preferably Hungarian, with sugar, orange peel, cinnamon and cloves.

At exactly 1 pm, the lunch ceremony occurred in the Prussian home of Königsberg, which Kant always “officiated” in the company of others, never alone. Frequently, Kant himself gave instructions to his servant on the setting of the table and the choice of plates and cutlery, very often his best silver ones. The diners, seated in non-random places, were always swinging from three (the Graces) to nine (the Muses).

“A good lunch in a pleasant company – claimed the landlord – reconciles physical and moral wellness”. For this reason, the group of guests had to be mixed and diverse, including the attendance of his students with their touch of cheerfulness. The agreed signal to start lunch was always the same. After the unfolding of the napkin, the professor pronounced the inevitable invitation, “Come forward, gentlemen!”

They always ate very well at Kant’s house. His philosophy was clear: “Taste requires variety”. The servings were usually three, while in milder seasons they added fruit and dessert. Lunch started with soup: usually, veal broth with rice, whole wheat or capellini, to which Kant added slices of rye bread to make the broth thicker. Then it was the turn of fish served with legumes or vegetables. The philosopher was mad about codfish. After that, beef was served, which he asked matured, tender and well cooked. Dipping sauces followed, above all English or homemade mustard, that Kant put everywhere, spreading it in abundance also on the bread he always wanted well baked. Such a meal could not come without cheese. At the top of the list, there was the Dutch one. The philosopher was fond of it, so much so that, at the urging requests of the philosopher’s doctor, the servant had to forcibly hide it regularly from him.

The host used to accompany the food and courses with reasoned comments and notes. He used to range every subject, revealing himself as a friendly and cordial conversationalist, quite different from the dressed-up cliché that defined his public image.

Sometimes, alas, stomachaches came and Kant, disregarding any medical prescription, replaced the prescribed drops with a delightful sip of rum. Other times, he relied on natural and preventive health precepts. Thus, during the summer, he used to have lunch with the garden window open, admiring from this observatory the ancient tower of Lobenicht, in the belief that pure air favoured appetite and digestion together. In the same way, he never dismissed the ritual of the postprandial walk, always along the “lime trees avenue” and rigorously by himself. These walks aided his digestion, his constant thread of meditation and, above all, they helped him breathe better altogether. Kant was in fact convinced that a solitary and silent walk, during which one would only breathe from the nostrils, would introduce in one’s lungs natural and warmer air. In this regard, he boasted of a long immunity from colds and similar diseases.

We like to imagine that this small, slim and fragile man, but whose eyes “seemed made of celestial ether”, had caressed the plan to write, alongside the ponderous Critique of Pure Reason, a more practical and domestic “critique” of the culinary art. When he died, almost as an involuntary posthumous tribute to this Kantian “competence”, his home became an inn where every year his friends met to commemorate the anniversary of the master’s departure.


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