Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Perspectives on Food Culture

There is lots of media coverage these days about food fads and how many voices there are in food criticism, restaurant reviewing, etc, etc. So much so you would think this is something entirely new. Not so.
I've been food focused my entire life. First it was eating, then cooking, food in the media, regional cuisines, food celebrities, wine and now a little bit of everything in food and beverage pairing. I am not alone.

My expressions of my food focus haven't always been the same. Modern blogging and marketing tools make sharing your food experiences, mundane and spectacular, with the world. Anyone who really knows what I mean from the second paragraph knows that there have always been conversations about food. It is the final act of eating; commentary. In days gone by we would talk about our food experiences in person, on the phone, in letters and with people we knew. Friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers all sharing tips on making and enjoying good food at home and wherever a good local eat was to be had.

The ability to cast your comments far and wide is what has changed. And maybe not always for the better.
Since starting blogging I have seen all sorts of articles about foodies, food fads, food-centric lifestyles, etc.

You've got it, Wikipedia has a great foodie article that explains the culture!

Articles like "So You Think You're a Foodie?" at the Kitchen Rap blog can be worked both ways. With a foodie wish list like that a curious person can explore the world. Opinions on the foods will vary and because the evaluation of food is always first person, we all must understand the difference between objective and subjective content in our reviews. With a bad attitude about food purity or stylistic rigidity this list can become a weapon of hateful vitriol, and for no good reason.

The controversy around the term foodie and the fusion of ideas that surrounds it can be fierce. Up until now I have avoided all of this by trying not to use the word and taking a different perspective on the food world. So here's what I think.
Food preparation is a first-hand activity using ingredients that can vary, processes that aren't foolproof and with senses of taste and smell that change as we grow. Add to that, the fact that each persons’ experiences and tastes are different, and you find that food is personal, REALLY personal. You have to be there from beginning to end to appreciate all of it. An affinity for specific ingredients, processes, customs and accompaniments by different cultures are all different expressions of people who participated in cooking first hand. Good and bad is hard to discern if you don't live with the food along its journey. Any opinion I have of a random dish will be based on how it presents itself to me, and not liking it is almost entirely a personal preference.

Last week I came across an article by the College Critic about authenticity in our food culture. This topic bothers me as well, especially with wine. "Drink only the best producers." "Wine from produce other than grapes is not wine and is uninteresting." "Wines made from grapes that aren't mainstream or from regions that aren't in the headlines aren't really worthy." All of these ideas come from an authenticity or nostalgic trip where objects must be grouped and compared to an arbitrary example of the perfect style of thing they are supposed represent. Take a look at the article for a great review of the issue.

OK, can't we all just get along? Every day presents a new opportunity for us to enjoy the consumption of food and beverages, first to live; and also for enjoyment. The things we choose to consume will come from everywhere, be made by many different people with different ingredients and different passions. When you review something you should be interested primarily in describing the thing, its colors, textures, aromas and flavors so that others can frame the experience. When it comes to whether you liked it or not, it should again be based on the how the attributes were perceived. Unless the dish is clearly flawed it should be hard to say or think something negative and expect it would apply beyond yourself.

We need to keep talking about food and sharing our experiences. I can only imagine where all social media laden, big headline making, celebrity chef studded food obsession is going to take us. Good thing we all still need to eat! Our rules should be simple. Get out and eat and drink what looks good, enjoy it and share useful information with fellow adventurers. Where we eat, who made it, how authentic or trendy it is or how consistent it is with the fad of the day are nothing without a few other things. How about comments on how certain aromas, flavors and textures combined and worked together? Any beverage pairings that caused comments? Maybe it is how a dish was presented, the occasion it was enjoyed upon or the people it was enjoyed with.

There is so much more we can consider with what we eat, why should we get hung up on labels and weird notions about what makes certain food experiences "super cool"?




Unknown said...

Wow Jason this is an amazing post. I agree with you 100%. Very nicely said.

Belinda @zomppa said...

I agree with you that food is everything!! =)

Winelady Cooks said...

Hi Jason,

Well said!!!!!


Kate said...

You hit the nail on the head. We were sitting on the porch after dinner talking about how sites like Foodbuzz and our blogs allow us to interact with other foodies.