Modern Food Culture – Present at the Creation (Part II)

Poems, Symphonies, or Something

Following on from Part I, the annals of gastronomy hold many wild and wonderful tales that would be lost to posterity but for the wonders of the digitized newspaper archive.

One tidbit we can rescue from dusty oblivion is Gelett Burgess’ dinner speech to New York’s Gourmet Society in 1936. This group was another of the New York-based epicurean societies that took root when Prohibition ended. It was helmed by business executive and food author George Frederick. I discussed a number of their dinners earlier.

Author of the well-known Purple Cow poem (a nonsense lyric) and enfant terrible, Burgess was a bohemian who early escaped the strictures of his Boston gentrified heritage. He is generally credited as well with inventing the term blurb. An abbreviated bio at the University of Toronto Libraries explains his career.

More extended accounts are available online.

Speaking at a Gourmet Society dinner in 1936, even at 70 he declaimed against the conventional wisdoms of gastronomy. Press coverage started this way:

New York’s Gourmet Society had to listen to some heresy the other day. Gelett Burgess attended one of those Gourmet Society repasts which are supposed to be poems or symphonies or something in food. Mr. Burgess partook thereof and then arose to speak. Among other things he said: “It seems a pity that you have doomed yourselves deliberately to dyspepsia.”

While the Gourmets were turning that over in their minds, Mr. Burgess defined a gourmet as a person who spends most of his time explaining why he is not a gourmand.

Read the rest to get the full story.



Burgess died in 1951, years before the good work of the Gourmet Society, the International Wine and Food Society, and the like-minded created our modern wine and food culture (pre-COVID-19 to be sure).

Would he be a gadfly still today? I think so. Who are his like now?

See Part III of this series below.

Note re image: sourced here, believed in public domain. All rights belong solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcome.



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