Food Trends vs. Food Culture
Chow, a magazine of Food, Drink and Fun, published a list of major food trends that were taking place in 1999 and those that are taking place today. Granted I was not such an independent foodie at the time: I never really dug Asian fusion, but I did have my fair share of sushi and drank plenty of Starbucks. While I still enjoy my sushi, I find myself engulfed in many of the hottest trends that are all the rage as we end the year – from the butchering bandwagon to the pie.
But like all trends, they come and go. Food culture on the other hand takes generations to create and dedicated communities to foster. Looking to other, older societies like France, China, Italy or Argentina we see events that are focused on food grown, prepared and consumed in a particular way. That doesn’t really happen in the United States all that often. Due to our “melting pot” status, celebrations are often influenced more by the “home” culture of a particular family than that of this country. This goes for food too. Even quintessential “American Food” tends to be hotdogs or hamburger (which are really German) or Pizza (also from Italy) or even some Nachos (bastardized Mexican food) – in short we don’t really have something to call our own.
However, I would also posit that another trend, not covered by Chow, is the painfully slow adoption of an American food culture.
Americans are watching more food TV, reading more food books and eating more well-crafted food. We are learning to cook more complicated food and beginning to enjoy what our country has to offer. Yet, like with all trends, these changes could come and go.
The food culture trend is worrisome to me as a foodiophile. If it is just another trend like tuna tartare or food trucks, then the concepts that are put forth by eating in a more focused and meaningful way will be lost.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie outlined during his 2009 Biennial sermon that food shouldn’t be secondary to other actions. As in all aspects of life, we need to be intentional with our choices and know what we are consuming. Rabbi Yoffie called upon Reform Jews to eat less meat and participate in localized food production and other very hip food trends.
But that won’t do it alone. People need to start eating with awareness and joy. Just like any social activism, if you do it just because it is “right” odds are you will stop doing it after that “I-am-doing-good” feeling wears off. There is a reason why there have been so many homes have been built in New Orleans after Katrina: not only is it the right thing to do it is also fun and rewarding.
Eating should be a joyous experience filled with new sensations and expressions. But most importantly food should be enjoyed with other people. Culture needs to be fostered by communities. Sitting at a computer, doing work late at night while eating dinner does not a culture make. You could be eating the latest molecular gastronomic invention of Wylie Dufresne, the classically French fish of Eric Ripert, the newest Southern masterpiece from Art Smith or even something you put together — but if you eat this by yourself you are missing something essential to fostering food culture.
The Just Table, Green Table initiative is a first step in an environment fight, a healthful fight and a social justice fight. But for this fight to make it past the next wave of trendy initiatives it must also become a fight for culture.