The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 18 No. 3 (Fall 2016)

Three Ideal Dinners

Mark Edmundson

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Fall 2016

(Volume 18 | Issue 3)

The eminently sensible British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips once observed that we in the West currently have little idea of what constitutes the good life. We lack a philosophical sense of how to be, what to do. We seem to have settled instead, I would suggest, for the enviable life. Out with the good life, in with the life others can wish they had—painfully wish they had. When we incite envy, we at least show that our life has some meaning, meaning that comes from our ability to evoke the jealousy of others: I wish I had that! I wish I were going there! I wish I had achieved such heights!

In few places is the pursuit of the enviable life more pronounced than in the world of food. Privileged people vie with each other for dining supremacy. They compete to go to the best restaurants, eat the fare of the foremost chefs, sit at well-placed tables, then photograph the results and post them here and there. Cooking is an art now on par with composing lyric poetry, and eating is a mode of appreciation that has become a bit of a subsidiary art in itself. Food, literary scholar William Deresiewicz says, “has developed, of late, an elaborate cultural apparatus that parallels the one that exists for art, a whole literature of criticism, journalism, appreciation, memoir, and theoretical debate. It has its awards, its maestros, its televised performances. It has become a matter of local and national pride.”1

Today, one seeks the enviable meal. One works to draw the admiration, maybe the awe, and certainly the jealousy of others. Food, Deresiewicz continues, is now “a vehicle of status aspiration and competition, an ever-present occasion for snobbery, one-upmanship and social aggression.”

But is it possible to conceive of the good meal, rather than the enviable one? If so, what would the good meal—or the good meals—be like?

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  1. William Deresiewicz, “A Matter of Taste?,” New York Times, October 28, 2012,

Mark Edmundson is University Professor in the Department of English at the University of Virginia. His most recent books are Why Write? (2016) and Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals (2015).

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 18.3 (Fall 2016). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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