Food Media and News

MFK Fisher - Just a Little Word - Fair or Foul?

In 'Garum' MFK Fisher writes of the foodways of Ancient Rome. She discusses the overeating that occurred and the habit they had of quickly emptying their stomachs with emetics in order to eat more.

Then she writes:
The wholesale catharsis necessitated certain architectural changes. And suddenly these changes, luxurious privies to start with, metamorphosed once more. Vomitoria came into being.

Then after writing how little boys and girls hear the name with disgust only one person ever used the word in public with the proper 'reverence': Colette, who noted that a certain eclair vomiteusement chocolate.

Following that is
Romans, their minds less of future derivatives of the word than on their next course, used their vomitoria with appreciation.

The end of the piece lists a heavy banquet to be dined upon then finishes with:
A good old Roman custom - vomitoria! .

This has been in print since 1937. MFK Fisher is considered to be one of America's finest 'food writers'. Some people say that the word 'food writing' was practically invented for her, because of her then-innovative style of writing that blended fact with memoir.

Blending fact with memoir can be problematic in general, in writing. One either does not question, believing the writer of the tale to be telling the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth or one questions the writer's understanding of their own reality. Memory is a funny thing. It is not all that objective.

But here in this case is a telling of facts, but a telling of facts that simply is not true. Vomitoria is not something one vomits into, it is an exit from a building.

MFK Fisher may have been confused due to the general use of the word in her time. But then again she is an educator about food, and in this case writes as one, and one to be respected.

Fair or foul? Should this have been corrected by an editor or by the publishers at some point since 1937 with a note to explain this?

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