Monday, September 21, 2009

A Taste of Things to Come

I think a lot about food.

I like to eat. I like feeling full after feeling hungry. I like the way certain foods feel in my mouth, the taste they leave on my tongue, the way they scent my kitchen and my hands while I cook. Now that I have a really good kitchen for cooking, I think even more about what I cook and how. My recipe collection is expanding by leaps and bounds. I think about menus and kinds of beans and if it will be too hot to cook when the Santa Anas blow and how to use the left overs.

I think a lot about food.

I think about what it was like to grow up not being able to afford the kind of food "normal" people ate. I think about cans from charity. I think about having to shop at cut-rate food stores, buy day-old ("used" in my family's lexicon) bread, have only non-fat dry milk on the shelf, cheap off-brand margarines on sandwiches, big cans of peanut butter we had to stir to keep the oil from separating, and lunch boxes that had books in them because sometimes there wasn't lunch. I think about a mother too far gone in depression to care what she served her family. I think proudly about eating Hamburger Helper because I could make it myself and have it ready when Dad got home. I think about the way our meals improved as Dad finally got seniority at his job and his pay inched up. I look at the pantry shelf and wonder if I'm hoarding again.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the varying quality of produce between the IGA, the Trader Joe's the Ralph's and the Henry's Market where I live. I remember, living in New York as a grad student, walking around Balducci's, eyeing the perfect red bell peppers, then sighing and going to D'Agostino's or the A&P. I remember bunches of fresh arugula at the little Korean grocery down the block near the corner of Prince and Mulberry. I think nothing of buying off brands of pantry staples and splurging on bulbs of fresh fennel. I grin when the check out clerk at the IGA just says "Three today?" as she pushes the plastic bag past her because she knows I always buy that many bunches of radishes each week. I think I need a new container as I prepare a small plastic tub of cut-up vegetables and a single hard-boiled egg every morning for lunch, but don't want to spend the money.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the way in which grocery stores and shopping lists become political markers of having "made it." I think about socio-economic classes in terms of where they buy their potatoes and what color they are - red, white, gold, purple. I read the comments on food blogs and ponder the arrogance of the people who write almost as much as I wonder whether they know what they sound like. I think about why food allergies are so chic. I wonder where the hell do I get sherry vinegar because no store I go to carries it. I think about rewards cards and tracking purchases. I think about union busting at grocery stores.

I think about food a lot.

I think about the gendering of our interactions with food - real men eat meat, real women watch their weight, famous chefs, unpaid housework, hunters and gatherers. I think about the way a woman's mouth is regarded when she puts something into it. I think about stepping on a scale and having my worth reduced to three digits. I think about beefcake and cheesecake. I think about the bones in shoulders and clavicles. I think about preparing dishes you don't dare consume, fearful of what it will say about you, both the making and the consuming.

I think a lot about food.

I think about the desire to tax "junk food". I think about the industry of shaming fat people. I think about scarfing down ice cream, ashamed I am doing so because I'm fat. I think about the self-indulgence of watching rock concerts to stop hunger. I think of the anxiety about not ingesting the courant food of the month. I think about the miracle elixers that will save us all from the heartbreak of some obscure condition. I look at case after case of frozen convenience foods and their bar codes. I think about quaint little groceries in the Oakland Hills with prices written by hand onto the shelf tags. I think of relatives who sneer at stores I rely on. I think about the medicalization of food, turning eating as such into a pathology. I think about the transformation of food into a visible sign of personal rectitude.

And because I think about food a lot, I think I'll be writing about it quite a bit.



layton-fordham said...

If this is any indication, feel free to blog about food all you like. Not that you need my permission. Just to say: I found this all very interesting and thoroughly *human*.

Anonymous said...

I think about how people pay outrageous sums of money for a meal, not because it's nutritious and filling but because it's trendy.

I think about how the average American has a diet more varied and exotic than the emperors of Rome or China ever dreamed of, yet they still aren't satisfied with their standard of living.

Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy said...

A worthy direction, and always great to see you posting again.

But food-allergies = chic?

I have one, as well as a distaste for several popular vegetables (peppers and onions among them), and it's a totally status-lowering thing. You're the whiny person who complicates things, just like someone who dares to second-guess the Obama Movement, "public option" (whatever-it-is), or some other popular thing.

Do you know any salesmen/women? They'll eat anything, no matter how bizarre or awful, because refusing to eat certain foodstuffs -- either because of a medical condition (not something I like to see dissed) or preference -- is considered anti-social.

D. said...

Heh. I'm going to link to this, if you don't mind. It may be that not having to think about one's food is a species of privilege.

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

I think about food a lot too. Mostly because we never had it growing up. In my twenties, I didn’t have much when I was a single mother with my first child either. Now, we seem to have too much, but I am the only one who seems to think so. I was participating in a back and forth email exchange with a friend about food for a while and abruptly ended it when I could no longer spend the mental energy. Especially each time I hear about that stupid fat tax. I could eat and get fat [fatter] without ever touching anything that is on the proposed tax list. When I think about deprivation, I think about how I was deprived growing up, not because of some stupid anorexia epidemic but because we were deprived, deprived because we could not buy food. And I think about how I should feel wrong calling an anorexic epidemic stupid, but I cannot find any other words to apply to a phenomena that people willingly participate in, when we could have never imagined in our wildest dreams, --to deprive our self of food, food that was readily available. It is an absurdity that I simply cannot identify with. But I do feel that I should feel guilty, although, I don’t feel bad that I don’t. I think about sugars and fats, not because of how it makes me (or my child) fat but because of our health. And I think about how it all could be a lie. I think how I wish I could get in the mindset to make love to food instead of having a series of one night stands.

Falstaff said...

If food be the music of love, blog on...

july4cat said...

"I think about how the average American has a diet more varied and exotic than the emperors of Rome or China ever dreamed of, yet they still aren't satisfied with their standard of living." Really? Maybe you want to rethink what constitutes fancy food. Just have a look at Ang Lee's move Eat Drink Man Woman, and you'll understand what I mean.

Koshem Bos said...

I love food as much as the other guy. I cook almost daily and like to have guests for dinner. I have no recipe book; ask me and I'll tell you, if I remember what I did.

Since the family is spread over continents and states, the joy of family dinners (a world's habit) is limited to Thanksgiving and one or two religious holidays. It saddens us.

We grow up with meager means, but no one went agree. Wherever we live, we always remember the loaf of white bread my mom got leaving the Camps; she ate it whole. When a little girl in a remote small town said that she is hungry, the whole country was up in arms as if the president had oral sex and a 20 something.

Jasper White, a Boston chef, said that there is no justification for eating bad food at any budget. He is right, unless you consider people too poor to know better. When you must eat spaghetti with cheese from the food bank day in and day out, Whole Food isn't an option nor is the silly competition over who "made it."

Ten years ago farmer markets were infrequently attended. Today, they tend to overflow with veggie squeezers, watermelon smellers, and elephant size cucumber buyers. We shouldn't worry, they made it plus.

Food is way too central in our life not to be projected into our class system. You have to give it to Whole Food, they charge a lot for tickets to the club.

Anglachel said...


Yes, food allergies = chic, but only if they aren't real.

True allergies, where your body has a severe reaction to the chemicals in a particular food, are not chic. They are at best obnoxious and make you feel sick. At worst, they kill you.

What I'm talking about are people who don't *like* a certain food and state they are "allergic" to avoid having to eat it. Or maybe they don't understand that a food that disagrees with you or gives you really bad gas or otherwise isn't to your liking is not the same as having an allergy. You yourself distinguish between your allergy and your dislike.

I'm talking about the parents who impose draconian eating regimes on their children, and say that little Johnny or little Suzie is "allergic" to tuna salad - when what they really mean is that they don't think mayonnaise is healthy unlike yogurt/soy spread, and that we shouldn't be eating fish and need to substitute tofu. Or whatever their current food obsession may be.

I'm talking about guests who pick and push and sigh at what you served them, query you about whether it's organic, and then yammer on about how it's only the upscale organic stuff that they aren't "allergic" to because of, you know, pesticides and poor farming techniques.

I am suspicious of the rise in "allergies" in the upper middle class white population when there are no scientifically demonstrable increases in other parts of the population. Now, it may be that particular gene pool is overdue for a a little drainage a la Darwin, but I'm more inclined to think that it is part and parcel of wanting to feel harmed or damaged in some way as a psychological buffer against the privilege they guiltily enjoy.

But as someone who grew up on several-day-old (and sometimes moldy) stale Orowheat white bread spread with generic tub margarine and Sunny Jim peanut butter or who went hungry because that's what was being served, I'm kinda cynical that way.

It also helps to have a sibling who works in public health and who can regale me with stories of real health hazards. Usually over a meal. Usually about the contents of the meal. Meals with Little Bro are always an adventure.


Anglachel said...


Eat, Drink, Man, Woman - one of my favorite movies. I love movies about food, too.


cgeye said...

I think about how eating disorders are class-segregated, and how obesity doesn't qualify for the same sympathy.

How super-obese people are treated like addicts, yet the people who feed them are not talked to or judged. If they were pumping heroin into their bedridden husband's veins, they would be.

How the food and safe-walking-area deserts that surround poor people never come up during the TLC freak shows.

How social x-rays still get praised for bulimia, exercise and otherwise.

How the same companies that make the unhealthy food also sell the diet food, connected to a profitable diet plan and at such a markup that people wanting healthier processed choices pay through the nose.

The people who hate fat people make the most money off them, through their investments in property without sidewalks, companies without consciences and trends designed to fill the moat between rich and poor. When robber barons were fat they cursed skinny people as tuberculotic and diseased. How things change....