The Food Culture

I’d like to consider this a space to express my (however unofficially educated) perspective on the vast and multifaceted conversation about food and culinary culture. Of course, that includes recipes as well as topics related to economics and industry.

To that end, I began thinking about cooking and our relationship with eating. This may be too broad of a subject to address at one time, so I will be brief.

Relatively recently, there have been waves promoting the raw food movement. I don’t know really know much about it offhand (save from the fact that clearly no food gets cooked), but I find the idea very interesting considering the grand history of cooking. What I mean to say is, I regard cooking as one of the things that really helps define what it is to be human. While no historian seems to be certain of how cooking came to be, they speculate that it began shortly after the discovery of fire. The revelation may have occurred spontaneously with an animal falling into the flames or it may have been a deliberate experiment with nuts resulting from creative thinking. In any case, heating food must have contributed positively to our ancestors’ quality of life, because they continued to do so. And look where we are now.

We are sharing specific written instructions detailing exactly how to achieve a distinct flavor and texture that someone -potentially on the other side of the world- made for dinner yesterday. Or a hundred years ago. What we eat has the power to connect us to a time and place, whether it is historic or personal. Food is often the center of social functions such as family gatherings and celebrations; it has roots in our traditions. Every culture has characteristic flavors and dishes that are largely defined by their geographic regions. Global travel and trade have allowed us to experience authentic cuisine from every corner of the planet.

But at what point does this commercial machine actually begin to damage the overall value of this exchange? Most people would likely agree that that point is when mass production comes into play. Be it bread, beets, or burgers, local is better for the future (personal health included). I’m not going to come at you from a snobby vegetarian standpoint, because I definitely do not eat local one hundred percent of the time. Household budgets are a thing that you can’t ignore and sometimes you just have to buy the big box of spinach at Sam’s Club to make it through the week. I get it. It’s hard to actually be that model citizen who cares more about the world and the future than anything else, every minute of every day. Contemporary demands get fulfilled in the most economic way on an individual basis as well. Doing what you can to encourage awareness and change is really about buying power -money talks. Where we spend our hard earned paychecks, and what we spend them on, makes a statement to the farmer, the baker, the independent grocer, and the big corporations.

I understand not everyone is interested in making absolutely all or even a portion of their own sustenance from scratch. And that’s okay. There is always someone out there who does want to make fresh food for you, your family, and your community. And as a current general rule, they don’t do it to get rich or enjoy regular benefits, however hard the next generation of chefs is working to reshape that standard.

And let’s not forget the impact of “foodies” who post photos on social media, promoting their various avenues of indulgence. Everything from clean eating to desserts to fine dining to brunch to a guilty weakness for Chipotle has a place in the fast-paced feeds on every smartphone. These images have a fleeting split second to arrest the viewers’ attention and our primal instincts render us very receptive. Foodies are an especially valuable group in the future of modern cuisine because they are drawing unedited surveillance of what we eat. #Foodporn is popular culture’s primary uncensored visual collection of what we presently consume. Nobody is sitting at a desk to dismiss pitches. We are making our own archives.

I sit here writing about what food and cooking means to me while also thinking about what to make my little family for dinner. It has probably never been easier to conjure up appealing ideas for refreshing twists on any old dish no matter what your kitchen holds. If you spend any time at all looking at food online, you have an abundance of inspiration already. And when you feel like your creativity is running dry, there are websites like SuperCook that give recipe suggestions based on ingredients in your pantry or fridge.

What we eat and how we eat has a heavy hand in shaping the next generation. I want my son to have a healthy life and a healthy place to live it. To me that partly means reducing chemical footprints as much as possible; I try to steer my food choices in that direction. I’ll be damned if you ever see me put a fast food burger in my mouth, but I can’t single-handedly correct the (lack of) ethics in that area of the industry. We have to do that as a community.