A rather depressing post over at Shanghaiist yesterday with a brief video description of "Confucius Cuisine." For whatever reason the short youtube clip was blocked on their site, so I am embedding it below.
The "Confucian cuisine" portrayed here is very elaborate, obviously the stuff of the rich and powerful. The average farmer in imperial China did not eat like this. And, I would assert, the fundamental moral project of Confucianism does not include this sort of indulgence.
He did not dislike to have his rice finely cleaned, nor to have his mince meat cut quite small. He did not eat rice which had been injured by heat or damp and turned sour, nor fish or flesh which was gone. He did not eat what was discolored, or what was of a bad flavor, nor anything which was ill-cooked, or was not in season. He did not eat meat which was not cut properly, nor what was served without its proper sauce. Though there might be a large quantity of meat, he would not allow what he took to exceed the due proportion for the rice. It was only in wine that he laid down no limit for himself, but he did not allow himself to be confused by it. He did not partake of wine and dried meat bought in the market. He was never without ginger when he ate. He did not eat much. When he had been assisting at the prince's sacrifice, he did not keep the flesh which he received overnight. The flesh of his family sacrifice he did not keep over three days. If kept over three days, people could not eat it. When eating, he did not converse. When in bed, he did not speak. Although his food might be coarse rice and vegetable soup, he would offer a little of it in sacrifice with a grave, respectful air.
食不厭精，膾不厭細。食饐而餲，魚餒而肉敗，不食。色惡，不食。臭惡，不食。失飪，不食。不時，不食。割不正，不食。不得其醬，不食。肉雖多，不使勝食 氣。惟酒無量，不及亂。沽酒市脯不食。不撤薑食。不多食。祭於公，不宿肉。祭肉不出三日。出三日，不食之矣。食不語，寢不言。雖疏食菜羹，瓜祭，必齊如 也。
We shouldn't take this as his daily routine, however. Analects 10.7 (Ames and Rosemont) mentions his clothing during "periods of purification" and Analects 10.9 (Ames and Rosemont) notes how he would not keep meat more than two days "after participating in public sacrifices." Thus, 10.8 could well be referring to one's attitude toward food in some sort of solemn context of ritual or sacrifice.
The broader message of the Analects, in regard to food, is, I believe, more humble and modest than the "Confucian cuisine" that is developed by imperial power holders after Confucius himself is long dead and gone. In 7.16 (Legge) he makes clear that fancy food and drink should not distract from the pursuit of doing the right thing:
The Master said, "With coarse rice to eat, with water to drink, and my bended arm for a pillow; I have still joy in the midst of these things. Riches and honors acquired by unrighteousness, are to me as a floating cloud."
And that sort of simplicity is what elevated the moral stature of the diciple Yan Hui in the eyes of Confucius, as in Analects 6.11 (Legge):
The Master said, "Admirable indeed was the virtue of Hui! With a single bamboo dish of rice, a single gourd dish of drink, and living in his mean narrow lane, while others could not have endured the distress, he did not allow his joy to be affected by it. Admirable indeed was the virtue of Hui!"
I think the problem here (and it is a general problem as well) is that Confucianism is historically hijacked by the rich and powerful, and its tenets are bent toward rationalizing their wealth and power. The political elite uses Confucianism as a justification for their rule, avoiding, when necessary, the obvious moral limits and responsibilities that should define their power. Mencius poses certain difficulties along these lines - he speaks truth to power so directly! - which is why the founder of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, tried to censor that text. But something similar happens with food as well: the rich and powerful seek out moral justification for their extravagent lifestyles, their elaborate banquets; and, so, they coin the notion of "Confucian cuisine," a vain attempt to make their excess appear ethical.
We should not be fooled. Their is nothing about "Confucius cuisine" that is particularly "Confucian." It is simply now a tourist trap or a veil for corrupt excess. Better to think of a "Yan Hui cuisine."