“On Food.” Born in La Celle-Saint-Cloud in 1870, Belloc attended the Oratory School, Birmingham, worked as a journalist, served in the French military, and enrolled at Oxford University in 1894. Over the next two years, he published Verses and Sonnets and The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts. Becoming a British subject in 1902, Belloc was a member of parliament for Salford from 1906 to 1910. He died at the age of eighty-two in 1953.
Alas! What various tastes in food
Divide the human brotherhood!
Birds in their little nests agree
With Chinamen, but not with me.
Colonials like their oysters hot,
Their omelettes heavy—I do not.
The French are fond of slugs and frogs,
The Siamese eat puppy dogs.
The nobles at the brilliant court
Of Muscovy consumed a sort
Of candles held and eaten thus,
As though they were asparagus.
The Spaniard, I have heard it said,
Eats garlic, by itself on bread:
Now just suppose a friend or dun
Dropped in to lunch at half-past one
And you were jovially to say,
“Here’s bread and garlic! Peg away!”
I doubt if you would gain your end
Or soothe the dun, or please the friend.
In Italy the traveler notes
With great disgust the flesh of goats
Appearing on the table d’hôtes;
And even this the natives spoil
By frying it in rancid oil.
In Maryland they charge like sin
For nasty stuff called terrapin;
And when they ask you out to dine
At Washington, instead of wine,
They give you water from the spring
With lumps of ice for flavoring,
That sometimes kill and always freeze
The high plenipotentiaries.
In Massachusetts all the way
From Boston down to Buzzards Bay
They feed you till you want to die
On rhubarb pie and pumpkin pie,
And horrible huckleberry pie,
And when you summon strength to cry,
“What is there else that I can try?”
They stare at you in mild surprise
And serve you other kinds of pies.
And I with these mine eyes have seen
A dreadful stuff called margarine
Consumed by men in Bethnal Green.
But I myself that here complain
Confess restriction quite in vain.
I feel my native courage fail
To see a Gascon eat a snail;
I dare not ask abroad for tea;
No cannibal can dine with me;
And all the world is torn and rent
By varying views on nutriment.
And yet upon the other hand,
De gustibus non disputand—
©Estate of Hilaire Belloc. Used with permission of PFD (www.pfd.co.uk)