Food For Thought, An Anthology of Writing Inspired by Food, edited by Joan and John Digby. Collages by John Digby. New York: William Morrow & Co., Inc. 320 pp. $17.95. From the magnificence of Matthew, Chapter 15, with Jesus' thanks for the seven loaves and the fishes, to the drollery of Ogden Nash celebrating celery, Joan and John Digby have put together an interesting anthology of writings inspired by food.
``Food For Thought'' is made up of some mighty good writers, so no one can knock the quality of the often mouth-watering tributes to the honest egg, tapioca, beef, rice, potato, carrot, sugar, and salt that have been worried and mashed, boiled and baked, throughout time.
Included is that great moment in Dickens when Oliver Twist says ``Please, sir, I want some more.'' When we think about the gruel that Oliver was eating, we can be sure he was very, very hungry, indeed.
But we all would want more of Proust's ``petites madeleines.'' The taste of which bore ``in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.''
In Chapter LXV of ``Moby Dick,'' Herman Melville investigates the whale as a dinner dish, eaten by the light of the whale oil lamp. Nothing wasted.
Jonathan Swift, in his day, found time to write some Directions to Servants. They included this practical hint: ``When you carry up a Dish of Meat, dip your Fingers in the Sauce, or lick it with your Tongue, to try whether it be good, and fit for your Master's Table.''
And about the same time Henry Fielding, probably after dinner, wrote, ``When mighty roast Beef was the Englishman's Food,/ It ennobled our Hearts, and enriched our Blood;/ Our Soldiers were brave, and our Courtiers were good./ Oh the Roast Beef of Old England,/ And Old England's Roast Beef!''
You remember this from Lewis Carroll! ```The time has come,' the Walrus said,/ `To talk of many things;/ Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax/ Of cabbages - and kings....''' But do you remember the lines further along?
```A loaf of bread,'' the Walrus said,/ `Is what we chiefly need;/ Pepper and vinegar besides/ Are very good indeed - / Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,/ We can begin to feed.'''
David Ignatow honors the bagel with a lovely first line to his poem: ``I stopped to pick up the bagel rolling away in the wind.''
Leo Tolstoy tells a charming Russian peasant story about three rolls and a pretzel, while Richard Wilbur versifies happily on the humble potato.
The reading gets a little harder when Upton Sinclair describes butchering in ``The Jungle,'' and from ``The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,'' T.E. Lawrence describes well, but does not get me much interested in eating, mutton cooked in the sands of Arabia.
Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a Frenchman of the late 18th century, philosophizes this way: ``Animals feed, man eats; wise men alone know how to eat.''