What Is a Recipe?

  • Andrea Borghini


The ontology of recipes is by and large unexplored. In this paper, I offer a three-steps account. After introducing some key terminology, I distinguish four main options for a theory of recipes: realism, constructivism, existentialism, and the naïve approach. Hence, I first argue that recipes are social entities whose identity depends (also) on a process of identification, typically performed by means of a performative utterance on the part of a cook (e.g. “This is fettuccine Alfredo,” “This is falafel”); thus, the best theoretical framework for a theory of recipes is a constructivist. Secondly, I argue that the identity of recipes can be grasped only by being suitably acquainted with the dishes that instantiate them, because of the impossibility to spell out recipes in details that would match a full-fledged dish; hence, the authority to establish the identity of a recipe rests on a process of apprenticeship. Finally, I argue that the identity of recipes and—vicariously—of the dishes that instantiate them, rest on three factors: the expertise required on the part of the cook; authenticity (in turn based on the fit and approval rate of any purported rendering); and the open-ended character of recipes.


Recipes Ontology Identity Authenticity in food 



I thank an anonymous referee, Naomi Arbit and Carolyn Richardson for helpful comments on a previous version of this paper. Research for the paper grew out of a long period of confrontation with colleagues and friends, including: Andrea Baldini, Dario Cecchini, Andrea Falaschi, Christia Mercer, Nicola Perullo, Bridget Potter, Gus Rancatore, Achille Varzi, Merry “Corky” White, and Ben Wurgaft. I wish to thank also the students in the seminars on the philosophy of food that I taught over the past 7 years at the College of the Holy Cross and at the University of Gastronomic Sciences.


  1. Allhoff, F., & Adams, M. P. (Eds.). (2010). Whiskey and philosophy: A small batch of spirited ideas. Wiley: Oboken, NJ.Google Scholar
  2. Borghini, A. (2011). What is a true Ribollita? Memory and the quest for authentic food. In T. Piazza (Ed.), Secret and memory in the information age (pp. 93–106). Porto: Afrontamento.Google Scholar
  3. Borghini, A. (2012). On being the same wine. Rivista di estetica, 51, 175–192.Google Scholar
  4. Borghini, A. (2014a). Geographical indications, food, and culture. In P. B. Thomson & D. M. Kaplan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics (pp. 1115–1120). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  5. Borghini, A. (2014b). Authenticity in food. In P. B. Thomson & D. M. Kaplan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics (pp. 180–185). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  6. Borghini, A. (2014c). Substantial equivalence. In P. B. Thomson & D. M. Kaplan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics (pp. 1669–1673). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  7. Burnham, D., & Skilleas, O. M. (2012). The aesthetics of wine. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boorstin, D. J. (1964). The image: A guide to Pseudo-events in America. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
  9. Carse, J. P. (1986). Finite and infinite games. A vision of life as play and possibility. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  10. Casati, R., & Varzi, A. C. (2007). Foreword. The Monist, 90, 331–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cohen, E. (2002). Authenticity, equity and sustainability in tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 10, 267–276.Google Scholar
  12. Collins, H. (2013). Three dimensions of expertise. Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences, 12, 253–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Coombe, R. (2009). The expanding purview of cultural properties and their politics. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 5, 393–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davies, D. (2004). Art as performance. Malden, MA: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dieterle, J. M. (Ed.). (2015). Just food. philosophy, justice, and food. London: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  16. Dodd, J. (2007). Works of music. An Essay in Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Doolittle, F. W., & Papke, T. R. (2006). Genomics and the bacterial species problem. Genome Biology, 7, 116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ereshefsky, M. (2010). Microbiology and the species problem. Biology and Philosophy, 25, 553–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fischler, C. (1980). Food habits, social change, and the nature/culture dilemma. Social Science Information, 19, 937–953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fischler, C. (1988). Food, self, and identity. Social Science Information, 27, 275–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Franklin, L. R. (2007). Bacteria, sex, and systematics. Philosophy of Science, 74, 69–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gatti, A., & Montanari, S. (2007). Nanopathologies. Singapore: Pan Stanford.Google Scholar
  23. Gaut, B. (2000). ‘Art’ as a cluster concept. In N. Carroll (Ed.), Theories of art today (pp. 25–44). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  24. Germann Molz, J. (2004). Tasting an imaginary Thailand: Authenticity and culinary tourism in thai restaurants. In L. Long (Ed.), Culinary tourism (pp. 53–75). Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.Google Scholar
  25. Goodman, N. H. (1976). The languages of art. An approach to a theory of symbols (2nd ed.). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  26. Hales, S. D., & Jackson, M. C. (Eds.). (2008). Beer & philosophy. The unexamined beer isn’t worth drinking. Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  27. Jackson, P. (1999). Commodity cultures: The traffic in things. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 24, 95–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kivy, P. (1993). The fine art of repetition: Essays in the philosophy of music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kivy, Peter. (1995). Authenticities: Philosophical reflections on musical performance. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Korsemeyer, C. (1999). Making sense of taste: Food and philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Limberg, H. (2009). Ruth’s rhyming recipes for family fun. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.Google Scholar
  32. Perullo, N. (2012). Wineworld: Tasting, making, drinking, being. Rivista di estetica, 51, 3–48.Google Scholar
  33. Pollan, M. (2009). Out of the kitchen, onto the couch. The New York Times, August 2.Google Scholar
  34. Scruton, R. (2009). I drink therefore i am: A philosopher’s guide to wine. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  35. Shapiro, L. (2008). Perfection salad. Women and cooking at the turn of the century. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  36. Sims, R. (2009). Food, place and authenticity: Local food and the sustainable tourism experience. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 17, 321–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith, B. C. (Ed.). (2007). Questions of taste: The philosophy of wine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Telfer, E. (1996). Food for thought: Philosophy and food. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Todd, C. (2010). The philosophy of wine: A case of truth, beauty, and intoxication. Durham: Acumen.Google Scholar
  40. Varzi, A. C. (2013). Cover to cover. Current Musicology, 95, 177–191.Google Scholar
  41. Wang, N. (1999). Rethinking authenticity in the tourist experience. Annals of Tourism Research, 26, 349–370.Google Scholar
  42. Yeung, M. T. (2014). Geographic indications. In P. B. Thomson & D. M. Kaplan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of food and agricultural ethics (pp. 1107–1115). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  43. Zenia, K. (2011). Food sovereignty. In D. K. Chatterjee (Ed.), Encyclopedia of global justice (pp. 352–358). New York: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCollege of the Holy CrossWorcesterUSA

Personalised recommendations