March 23, 2018
Everyone get ready for the International Edible Books Festival, a celebration of books, edibles, and legendary French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
by Simon Reichley
Someone once said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
This is not true. Firstly, barring a gluten allergy, bread will get the job done every time. Secondly, Satan is the lord of this world.
What is true, though, is that a person cannot live on books alone, because books, unlike bread, have absolutely no nutritional value. Zilch.
Of course sometimes people eat books anyways — maybe they’ve made an ill-advised guarantee that the Absolute Boy would not lead Labour to win forty percent of the general vote and send Theresa May’s Tories into a multi-year tailspin; maybe just because it’s weird and funny, you know? But never because books are delicious, or rich in fiber. They are not.
But sometimes, people eat books because they are participating in a kooky international festival that celebrates perhaps the most overlooked format in publishing: edible books!
According to their website, the International Edible Books Festival (IEBF) “unites bibliophiles, book artists and food lovers to celebrate the ingestion of culture and its fulfilling nourishment. Participants create edible books that are exhibited, documented then consumed.” The website also says, “Send the website address of Books2Eat to book artists and cooks: April fool’s day event comes back with taste every year!” — which is to say that the festival is held every year on April 1st, birthday of the legendary French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
Brillat-Savarin lived through the French Revolution, was exiled in Switzerland and the United States, and died in 1826 at the age of seventy. Shortly thereafter, his pièce de résistance was published bearing the impressive title Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes (Rough English translation: The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations on Transcendental Snacking; A book of Theory, History and Methods, Dedicated to the Party-Boys of Paris, by a Professor and Member of Many Dope Organizations.) He is today remembered as the namesake of a delicious and decadent triple-cream cheese from Normandy.
This year, the University of Cincinnati will be participating in the festival for the second time. You can check out an album from their first celebration on their Facebook page. If you do, you’ll probably notice, with more than a little disappointment, that pretty much nothing pictured is actually an edible book. There is a pizza (just a regular old pizza, thin crust by the look of it) next to a copy of Pizza for Breakfast by Maryanne Kovalski. There is a frying pan full of gummi worms next to a placard reading “How to Eat Fried Worms, Tate Snyder.” There is a heavily decorated pot of beans titled “The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Legume!).”
The photo gallery at the IEBF website gives more examples of book-adjacent edible content. Some favorites: “Smore and Peace” by Dave Teeple; “Great Eggspectations” by Tessa and Amy; and “Give us our daily bread, what a bunch of baloney” by Ann Kronenberg.
All of which is great, but again: none of these objets d’art are actually edible books. They are in fact book-adjacent edibles. Which is a drag! For now, we’ll just have to keep making due with bread.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.