The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

Philosopher's Diary Reveals an Obsession with Food

By Marty Smith ’88 | March 1, 2014

Few today recall Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1952 visit to Reed, where he provocatively encouraged a rapt audience of young philosophers to “reify the dialectic” by dressing up like oppressed workers and beating each other with wooden poles. 

A vigorous demonstration followed (one which brought new meaning to the term “lumpenproletariat”). In the fracas, some of Sartre’s personal papers were lost, including the following diary entries, which lay hidden under a bar of soap in the student union for 35 years. They were eventually found by Marty Smith ’88, who mistook the soap for either an exotic Balinese aphrodisiac or some chicken, depending on who’s around when he’s telling the story.

These previously unknown writings find the young Sartre working as a short-order cook and obsessed, not with the void, but with food. He apparently aspired to write a cookbook that would “put to rest notions of flavor forever.” The diaries are excerpted here without further comment.

October 3:

Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I have begun my formula for a Denver omelet.

October 4:

Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. Malraux suggested paprika.

October 6:

I have realized that the traditional omelet form is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones. I fed it to Malraux, who puked. I am encouraged, but my journey is still long.

October 7:

In an attempt to reach the bourgeoisie, I taped two fried eggs over my eyes and walked the streets of Paris for an hour. I ran into Camus at the Select. He sneered and told me to “go home and wash my face,” so I poured a bowl of bouillabaisse into his lap. Enraged, he seized a straw wrapped in paper, tore off one end of the wrapper, and blew through the straw, propelling the wrapper into my eye. “Ow! You douche!” I cried. (This insult probably would have stung more if we were not both French. Now he thinks I called him a “shower.”)

October 10:

I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:

tuna casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.

While a void is expressed here, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.

October 12:

My eye has become inflamed. I hate Camus.

November 23:

Some of the patrons at the restaurant have complained that my breakfast special (a page out of Remembrance of Things Past and a blowtorch with which to set it on fire) did not satisfy their hunger. As if their hunger was of any consequence! They are going to die anyway. I have quit the job. It is stupid for Jean-Paul Sartre to sling hash. I have enough money to continue my work for a little while.

November 26:

Today I made a Black Forest cake out of five pounds of cherries and a live beaver, challenging the very definition of the word “cake.” I was very pleased. Simone said she admired it greatly, but could not stay for dessert. Still, I feel that this may be my most profound achievement yet, and have resolved to enter it in the Betty Crocker Bake-Off.

November 30:

Today was the day of the Bake-Off. Alas, during the judging the beaver became agitated and bit Betty Crocker on the wrist. The beaver’s powerful jaws are capable of felling a blue spruce in less than 10 minutes and proved more than a match for the tender limbs of America’s favorite homemaker, so I only got third place. Moreover, I am now the subject of a rather nasty lawsuit.

February 16:

I have gained 46 pounds in the last two months, and am now experiencing light tides. My pain and ultimate solitude are still as authentic as they were when I was thin, but seem to impress girls far less. From now on, I will live on cigarettes and black coffee.

Adapted from Marty’s original article, which first appeared in The Free Agent in 1987, and which went viral in the early days of the internet.

Tags: Reed History, Alumni