Saturday, August 07, 2010

Food remembered more accurately...

I am not anxious to get in food fight with consumers, and in general I deplore the farmer who stands with bins full of corn demanding obeisance because in his imagination he "feeds the world", even though he would likely starve if he had to exist on his own production.  I prefer to see myself as a supplier of carbohydrates to a marvelous industrial complex that routinely exceeds consumer food desires.

This is not a popular theme with image-obsessed farmers today.  But after the hyperventilation over food critics, and also after serious discussions with our own physician, many of us are grudgingly ready to take a new look at our food industry and how we could be part of a better answer for tomorrow.

It does not require sandals and veganism, just a willingness to objectively look at what we are eating and place it in historical context and then move on to better things.  To get a better view of the past, this gem helped me mucho.

So the sunlit past of the culinary Luddites never existed. So their ethos is based not on history but on a fairy tale. So what? Certainly no one would deny that an industrialized food supply has its own problems. Perhaps we should eat more fresh, natural, local, artisanal, slow food. Does it matter if the history is not quite right?
It matters quite a bit, I believe. If we do not understand that most people had no choice but to devote their lives to growing and cooking food, we are incapable of comprehending that modern food allows us unparalleled choices not just of diet but of what to do with our lives. If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old.
If we fail to understand how scant and monotonous most traditional diets were, we can misunderstand the “ethnic foods” we encounter in cookbooks, at restaurants, or on our travels. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of multi­national corporations bent on selling trashy modern products—failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a choice of goods in the market. A Mexican friend, suffering from one too many foreign visitors who chided her because she offered Italian food, complained, “Why can’t we eat spaghetti, too?”
If we assume that good food maps neatly onto old or slow or homemade food, we miss the fact that lots of industrial foods are better. Certainly no one with a grindstone will ever produce chocolate as suave as that produced by conching in a machine for 72 hours. And let us not forget that the current popularity of Italian food owes much to two convenience foods that even purists love, factory pasta and canned tomatoes. Far from fleeing them, we should be clamoring for more high-quality industrial foods. [More]
Our ability to process food and simplify feeding humans is simply amazing, but it could be better. We need not defend excess salt or sugar to defend modern food, for instance. And there are worse examples.
Culinary Luddites are right, though, about two important things: We need to know how to prepare good food, and we need a culinary ethos. As far as good food goes, they’ve done us all a service by teaching us how to use the bounty delivered to us by (ironically) the global economy. Their ethos, though, is another matter. Were we able to turn back the clock, as they urge, most of us would be toiling all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be starving.
Nostalgia is not what we need. What we need is an ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialized food, not one that dismisses it; an ethos that opens choices for everyone, not one that closes them for many so that a few may enjoy their labor; and an ethos that does not prejudge, but decides case by case when natural is preferable to processed, fresh to preserved, old to new, slow to fast, artisanal to industrial. Such an ethos, and not a timorous Luddism, is what will impel us to create the matchless modern cuisines appropriate to our time. [Same]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen Amen