One of my favorites, Regina Schrambling's got a new blog on Epicurious.
You know which one I mean. The one everyone has their panties in a twist about. This one.
I love the headline. Love it. "A Locally Grown Diet with Fuss but no Muss." "Fussy" is a fantastic word to associate with foodwads. In fact, "fussy" is a word that's under-used in general.
Ok, seriously, though, all day I've been reading responses to this piece, from the short and sweet to the long-winded and self-important and no one has really hit the problem with the article. At least for me. Here goes:
There isn't a problem with hiring someone to make a vegetable garden for you. No, seriously, there's nothing wrong with it. People hire people to do all kinds of things for them: walk their dogs, do their taxes, raise their kids. The difference between a subscribing to a CSA and hiring someone to plant a vegetable garden for you (Josh Friedland) is that if you get a CSA no one will think that you're gardening. What everyone is so pissed off about is the fact that hiring someone to plant a garden for you is not (ta da!) AUTHENTIC.
By ascribing to the idea that there must be some sort of authentic impulse behind eating locally and organically (or really any other foodwhore trend out there these days) in order to validate it somehow, Kim Severson is showing that she's just a douchebag foodwad like everyone else in the "church of local food." (REALLY, Kim? REALLY? You wanted to go THERE?) What she's ignoring is that the entire idea behind getting someone to plant a garden is to make your uptight judgy foodwad friends think you live up to their ridiculous standards. And then, when they find out you're not, they turn around and splash it all over the front page of the NYT. Brava.
The James Beard Foundation recently put out a study of sorts the attempts to codify American cuisine. Sort of. The study itself is not all that interesting (Regional cuisine! Macaroni and Cheese!), but the introduction is. You can find the study for yourself right here.
"Through cuisine, we can feel that we belong to a greater community. (We can also feel rejected by it.)"
Interesting. My mind is flooded with various stripes of children trying to hide whatever weirdo thing their moms put in their lunch bags from cafeterias full of bologna sandwiches (nevermind how outdated that image is). Seriously, though, this is an interesting concept, especially given the food world's reputation for being elitist (no quotation marks). When does food exclude people? There are obvious examples of the first time one encounters a whole lobster, or the exclusion based on dietary restrictions (religious or otherwise). I wonder, though--because this does end up leading into a discussion of regionalism and immigration as major factors in American cuisine--to what degree do people really think of varieties of food as being weird any more? I mean, sure, a lot of my friends think the idea of sea salt caramels is weird, or avocado margaritas, or other foods that aren't necessarily traditional flavor combinations (I know, I know, but you know what I'm talking about), but ethnically? Regionally? I just got done teaching a two week course on international foods to group of 5 to 10 year olds who could not stop begging me to talk about sushi and Tanzanian coconut bean soup. We're not talking about bias against garlic-eaters still, are we? I almost think they are, and that they miss the boat a little by forcing a parenthetical on this one.
"When cuisine is written down and codified, as was done in France in the early 19th and 20th centuries by great, literate French chefs such as Marie-Antoine Careme and August Escoffier, it becomes easier to understand and to transmit to others....Through this dissemination, cuisine also becomes more public, because it is no longer strictly something reserved for the home or something intimate between the cook and the diner."
Well, would you look at that. Let's move beyond the fact that trying to force the idea of cuisine onto so chaotic an entity as the United States is nigh impossible--and beyond that pretty wholly French--and focus on the word "transmit." What an odd, lovely choice for them to have made. "Transmit," meaning to send or convey from one noun to another. A tricky definition to work with, and really the meat of the matter.
What we're really doing when we write down recipes is attempting to share an experience. I talk about this a lot--how cookbooks are closer to technical manuals than they are to great literature (which the foodies all too often insist on turning them into). They cover a specific type of experience--those that are primarily sensed via taste--but really it's no different than the idea that a book written about how to build a tree house has the goal of some kids having a great time in a tree house, whether those kids are on the writing end or the reading end.
Now. "Transmit" implies to me that I am taking my experience--eating a cake--boxing it up, and sending it to you, as opposed to writing a map for both of us to (bake in order to) eat a cake. (I want to be careful here and emphasize that I am not talking about this temporally, I'm talking about something that is closer to intent without stomping all over that word.) There's a problem there, because if we're transmitting--I make the cake, send off the instructions to you, and don't make the cake again--we're not sharing the experience. And we're not disseminating a cuisine, we're transmitting separate strings of experiences that don't have anything to do with one another because the second they get written down, they're gone.
And I have no idea what they're talking about with the whole "no longer something intimate between the cook and the diner," because I don't know what role they want cookbook authors to play in all this nonsense--that is, the intimacy between the cook and the diner, or the writer and the reader, is what makes concepts like "cuisine" or "culinary literature" so fascinating and meaty and I can't fathom why they'd want to remove that, even theoretically. I just know that if I make an awesome cake and write it down, I want you and I to have resonating experiences when you make the cake and eat it yourself, and that our theoretically simultaneous experiences are the only thing we could call remotely close to "cuisine." (And I don't really think this new definition of "cuisine" is necessarily defined by national identity any more than dance or sculpture--to use the study's own examples--but that's a whole different kettle of fish, as they say.)
"Cuisine, as a concept, has to be fluid enough to correspond to the different memories people have of it and meanings that people ascribe to it, whether those people do so individually or collectively."
Didn't Levi-Strauss try to do a semiotics of flavor? I just googled it and it came up with Jean-Jacques Boutard. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, shoot me an email, would you? In any case I find that this concept sort of rejects the rigidity of the last quotation.