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Margaret Visser

  • The extent to which we take everyday objects for granted is the precise extent to which they govern and inform our lives.

  • ... food is never just something to eat.

  • Salt is the only rock directly consumed by man. It corrodes but preserves, desiccates but is wrested from the water. ... It preserves things from corruption — even as it corrodes other things with its bite. A little of it fertilizes the land; a lot sterilizes it.

  • 'One can never be too rich or too thin' is an aphorism attributed to the Duchess of Windsor. Being both rich and thin is a difficult enterprise, indeed almost unprecedented as an ideal. Into the paradoxical gap between the capacity to spend money and the need to eat less steps a brilliant solution: 'light' food. In buying 'light' food we can pay more for what costs less to produce in the first place ...

  • Eating olives, in our society (as opposed to that of the Mediterranean, where children are taught to like olives at an early age) is 'sophisticated' behaviour. ... Eating olives, one is grown up, broad-minded, and a person, as we say, 'of taste.'

  • Salt represents the civilized: it requires know-how to get it, and a sophisticated combination of cooking and spoilt, jaded appetites to need it.

  • We use eating as a medium for social relationships: satisfaction of the most individual of needs becomes a means of creating community.

  • Eating is aggressive by nature, and the implements required for it could quickly become weapons; table manners are, most basically, a system of taboos designed to ensure that violence remains out of the question.

  • Animals are murdered to produce meat; vegetables are torn up, peeled, and chopped; most of what we eat is treated with fire; and chewing is designed remorselessly to finish what killing and cooking began. People naturally prefer that none of this should happen to them. Behind every rule of table etiquette lurks the determination of each person present to be a diner, not a dish.

  • It is the nature of human beings not to be able to leave nature alone.

  • Our perception that we have 'no time' is one of the distinctive marks of modern Western culture.

Margaret Visser, South African-born Canadian writer, broadcaster

(1940)