Ben Katchor’s ‘The Dairy Restaurant’

J Hoberman at Bookforum:

Beginning thousands of years before the first dairy restaurant appeared, Katchor’s book attempts to explicate the laws of kashruth—the separation of milk and meat—and other dietary notions and origin myths. (The mixture of causal logic and total irrationality recalls Katchor’s musical-theater piece The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, in which exploited workers transport tiny lead weights to place inside and give heft to small appliances.) Coffeehouse culture stimulates the Enlightenment. Radical puritans imagine a prelapsarian Hebrew vegetarian diet while, having internalized certain liberal values advanced by the French Revolution, eighteenth-century Parisians invent the “restaurant” and the “menu,” consecrated to individual rights and freedom of choice.

Soon after, health-minded central Europeans brought forth the ostentatiously sanitary glazed-tile Milchhalle (milk bar), which, according to Katchor, attracted intellectuals and fugitive revolutionaries: “If the saloon was a place for workingmen to fall into an alcoholic stupor, and the cafes of Paris, coffeehouses in London, and tearooms of Russia were caffeinated hotbeds of radical thought and action, the mleczarnia, or dairy cafe, was a place of ferocious rumination.”

more here.