If you've been with me here at Be Food for a decent length of time, I might have mentioned that I haven't always been in the foodservice industry. You might have known that I was a public school and later, college-level English teacher, for over a decade. And while there isn't much I miss about education, one thing lately has stood out, glaring and staring me right in the face every time I punch in to work.
Academia. Colleagues. Discussion.
I miss intellectual stimulation a lot. And there is a lot of intellectual stimulation to be had in food and food-related issues. I just don't have it here. In my current job settings, that is.
I recently decided it was a time for a return to my beginnings. To reread the authors that inspired me to leave education and become a chef.
So, I started with Pollan and his In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. And of course, it is as brilliant as I remember. I want to share a few highlights from the text (especially the beginning pages), and hope that you, dear readers, will have some chance to discuss these ideas with like-minded others, even if I am not quite able to.
Point #1: While elaborating on the notion that in America especially, we seem to be wrapped up in "nutritionism" and the idea that we consume food for health reasons primarily (something food manufacturers have capitalized on), Pollan goes to state "the experience of other cultures suggests that, paradoxically, regarding food as being about things other than bodily health - like pleasure, say, or sociality or identity - makes people no less healthy; indeed, there's some reason to believe it may make them more healthy"(29).
Once you get past all the punctuation in this statement and break it down, it's really a very interesting statement. We (Americans) are the only ones who overly obsessed with eating healthy, food health, health claims, etc. But, ironically, we are such an unhealthy country. Hm.
Some people view food as fuel, and they consume in that economical way...what's the least amount of food that will provide the most nutrients? And that's okay...but I like the idea that food should taste wonderful, look great, and BE REAL. And, I love the idea that food is what brings families to the table together and causes laughter in the kitchen.
Go now. Discuss. Then, come back.
Point #2: Pollan is discussing the writings of a Harvey Levenstein, an American food writer, who contends that "the sheer abundance of food in America has fostered a culture of careless, perfunctory eating"(54).
Another paradox, indeed. Walk into any supermarket or SuperWalmart in America, and it's totally obvious: the choices we have in the area of food are staggering and overwhelming (compared to other countries, especially). But because we have access to all this food, have we become more blasé about it? This point hit especially close to home when Pollan cited a David M. Cutler article titled "Why Have Americans Become Obese?"...in 1995, Americans spend 27 minutes a day preparing meals and four minutes cleaning up afterwards; in 1965, the prep time was 44 minutes, with 21 for cleanup (145). And that's data from twenty years ago. I imagine the numbers have continued to drop. Mealtimes, it seems for many Americans, has just become a To-Do list item, something to speed up so that other activities can be fit in.
That's a lot to think and talk about, isn't it? And then once you've chewed that over and digested it a little, the next startling question is: So, what do we do now?