One of the distinctive features of A Moveable Feast is the way in which Hemingway combines accounts of his interactions with some of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century with observations about the ordinary details of his everyday life. Above all, Hemingway pays particular attention to hunger, eating, and drinking. Hunger plays a large role in Hemingway’s life; he twice describes himself as “always hungry” and he argues that being hungry in Paris is particularly difficult “because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food.” Due to his poverty, Hemingway is forced to skip meals and is reprimanded by Sylvia Beach for being “too thin.” Hunger thus symbolizes the challenges Hemingway faces as a young writer, as well as his commitment to his art. Indeed, Hemingway emphasizes this latter point by pointing out that hunger “sharpens your perceptions.” Chapter 8 of the book is entitled “Hunger Was Good Discipline,” and Hemingway argues that the experience of looking at paintings is better when the viewer is hungry.
Overall, Hemingway concludes that “hunger is healthy,” but he adds that “eating is wonderful too.” The book is filled with descriptions of food and drink, and, despite Hemingway’s claim to being constantly hungry, much of the action takes place over meals, drinks, or coffee. Indeed, the importance of eating is reflected in the book’s title. The original meaning of “a moveable feast” is a holy day that doesn’t have a set date in the calendar, but rather moves each year. However, the thematic centrality of eating highlights a more literal meaning of the phrase. Characters in the book frequently discuss art while eating or drinking together; this draws a parallel between the consumption of art and the consumption of food and drink. Art and literature are built into everyday life, as fundamentally important to the characters as the act of consuming food.
Hemingway and many other characters in the book were famed alcoholics, and most scenes feature the consumption of alcohol. (Indeed, at one point Hemingway implies that part of the reason why he skips meals is that he doesn’t enjoy eating “without something to drink.”) Hemingway admires the prominent and “healthy” role alcohol plays in European culture, arguing: “In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight.” However, it is also clear that alcohol has a destructive impact on the lives of many characters. This is most clearly shown in the chapters about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, whose lives are devastated by their drinking habits. Hemingway describes Scott as constantly battling the temptation to stay out all night drinking at parties, and he points out that drinking prevents Scott from writing. Thus although eating and drinking are shown to be important and pleasurable parts of life, Hemingway associates creativity more closely with abstinence from consumption. Just as Hemingway claims to better appreciate paintings when he is hungry, so is Scott better able to write when he is sober.
Hunger vs. Consumption ThemeTracker
Hunger vs. Consumption Quotes in A Moveable Feast
No one emptied the Café des Amateurs though, and its yellowed poster stating the terms and penalties of the law against public drunkenness was as flyblown and disregarded as its clients were constant and ill-smelling.
All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street.
The wives, my wife and I felt, were tolerated. But we liked Miss Stein and her friend, although the friend was frightening, and the paintings and the cakes and the eau-de-vie were truly wonderful. They seemed to like us too and treated us as though we were very good, well-mannered and promising children and I felt that they forgave us for being in love and being married––time would fix that––and when my wife invited them to tea, they accepted.
Standing there I wondered how much of what we had felt on the bridge was just hunger. I asked my wife and she said, "I don't know, Tatie. There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more. But that's gone now. Memory is hunger."
"All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…”
"Really?" I said.
"You are," she insisted. “you have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death. . .”
"'Was the young mechanic drunk?” I asked.
"Of course not."
"Have you ever seen me drunk?”
"No. But your friends are drunk.”
"I've been drunk" I said. “But I don’t come here drunk.”
"Of course not. I didn't say that.”
"The boy's patron was probably drunk by eleven o’clock in the morning." I said. “That’s why he makes such lovely phrases. "
"Don't argue with me, Hemingway,” Miss Stein said. “It does no good at all. You're all a lost generation, exactly as the garage keeper said."
You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. Then you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.
Outside on the rue de l’Odeon I was disgusted with myself for having complained about things. I was doing what I did of my own free will and I was doing it stupidly. I should have bought a large piece of bread and eaten it instead of skipping a meal. I could taste the brown lovely crust. But it is dry in your mouth without something to drink. You God damn complainer. You dirty phony saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord. You have credit and Sylvia would have loaned you money. She has plenty of times. Sure. And then the next thing you would be compromising on something else. Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?
In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.
Everyone had their private cafés there where they never invited anyone and would go to work, or to read or to receive their mail. They had other cafés where they would meet their mistresses and almost everyone had another café, a neutral café, where they might invite you to meet their mistress and there were regular, convenient, cheap dining places where everyone might eat on neutral ground.