I was looking for something else when I found a fun article from six years ago in Bon Appétit. The article, by Nicole Villeneuve, is called “All the Food in Thomas Pynchon’s Books (and What It Means, Sorta),” and it riffs on most of the food in Pynchon’s oeuvre.
Here’s the section on “The Inedible,” which includes notes on two of my favorite scenes from Gravity’s Rainbow—–
“A lot of people who think they’re cooks but are clinically deluded,” says a mess hall manager in Vineland. Pynchon includes a lot of their misguided creations in his books, relishing the gross and inedible—the places where “even [the] Jell-O salads have scum on them.”
Maybe the most memorable example is the “English Candy Drill,” in which a parade of disgusting sweets are sampled, unwillingly, by Tyrone Slothrop, the protagonist (sorta) in Gravity’s Rainbow: rhubarb creams, cherry-quinine petit fours, eucalyptus-flavored fondant, and pepsin-flavored nougat, licorice drops with a “dribbling liquid center, which tastes like mayonnaise and orange peels” and “a hard sour gooseberry shell into a wet spurting unpleasantness of, he hopes it’s tapioca, little glutinous chunks of something all saturated with powdered cloves.”
Gravity’s Rainbow includes another scene that’s hard to stomach: As a culinary prank, Bodine and Roger hold a dinner party with an intentionally revolting menu: “snot soup,” “sum soufflé,” “vomit vichyssoise” and “wart waffles.” Needless to say, “A general loss of appetite reigns, not to mention overt nausea.”
It’s a fun article, like I said, but there are a few things missing. It notes Against the Day’s cult of mayonnaise but leaves out all the ketchup (ketjap) stuff in Mason & Dixon, as well as Mason & Dixon’s important core distinction between Grape People and Grain People:
“If this is as bad as it gets, why I can abide thah’. As long as the Spirits don’t run out.”
“Nor the Wine.”
“Wine.” Dixon is now the one squinting. Mason wonders what he’s done this time. ” ‘Grape or Grain, but ne’er the Twain,’ as me Great- Uncle George observ’d to me more than once,— ‘Vine with Corn, beware the Morn.’ Of the two sorts of drinking Folk this implies, than’ is, Grape People and Grain People, You will now inform rne of Your membership in the Brotherhood of the, eeh, Grape…? and that You seldom, if ever, touch Ale or Spirits, am I correct?”
“Happily so, I should imagine, as, given a finite Supply, there’d be more for each of us, it’s like Jack Sprat, isn’t it.”
“Oh, I’ll drink Wine if I must…?— and now we’re enter’d upon the Topick,— ”
“— and as we are in Portsmouth, after all,— there cannot lie too distant some Room where each of us may consult what former Vegetation pleases him?”
Dixon looks outside at the ebbing wintry sunlight. “Nor too early, I guess…?”
“We’re sailing to the Indies,— Heaven knows what’s available on Board, or out there. It may be our last chance for civiliz’d Drink.”
“Sooner we start, the better, in thah’ case…?”
Again, a fun article—but what other food bits are missing? (We can leave the coprophagia and urolagnia in Gravity’s Rainbow out, though).