Monday, June 29, 2009

Fear Factor

There is an intense pleasure that comes with eating your favorite foods or even a comfort-factor that accompanies the smell/flavor sensations that enrapture one's body when they are able to munch their favorite consumables. In a sense, there is something stemming even back to this idea of the mother's breast and a feeling of intense surrender when you have something delicious to eat.

I think this is precisely a big factor as to why knowledge about food is feared, in a way. What if someone told you that the milk you suckled from your mother's bosom had been tainted with all sorts of harmful chemicals? What if your favorite cereal, it turns out, is made from wheat that is laced with pesticides and the strawberries you've consumed for years were carcinogenic (strawberries you associate with brilliantly bright wonderful summery days in fields near where you grew up)? Would you want to know this information or would it be 'too scary' and would you be inclined to shy away/deny it?

Often, I think, in regards to food, the old cliche holds true: ignorance is bliss. It is a mechanism for defending one's own comfort and safety. If you don't know, honestly, that the Doritos are made with 17 different chemicals that cause neurological damage (this is a fabrication, by the way) or if you choose to deny yourself that knowledge, then you can continue to consume them and continue to feel the same comfort from them that you always have. It's battered wife syndrome, in a sense--how could something that gave you so much joy and positive feeling be so bad for you? Pretend it's not true. Pretend it didn't happen. Pretend you never learned that it was bad.

People make the choice to stifle their epistemological gainings, most especially when it comes to the realm of food. More importantly, nutritional knowledge has turned itself (through the intricate and deliberate workings of a strange FDA/USDA labeling system and marketing ploys of corporations, lobbyists) into a knowledge game that seems accessible only to those that devote an incredible amount of time and study to it. Nutritional Knowledge has, these days, become elusive in the minds of many and it is therefore too 'overwhelming' or daunting to even consider trying to understand, according to the average American. Much like, oh, Philosophy. Neuroscience. Islam. But the sad fact about this idea of the complexity of knowledge is that it is a sham and something created, not the truth, about food. Eating well and feeding your body nutritional things is a very basic science that anyone can (and, let's be honest, probably does) understand--it's our denial of this and the complications of a food system gone completely awry that push it to a place of inaccessibility.

'Organic' Truly Losing Its Meaning?

This piece by Marion Nestle in the San Fran Chronicle about what it means these days for a food to be labeled 'organic'. I especially like the article because it is in q + a format and is very simple and digestible (pun intended).

Check it out; you may learn something.

"USDA organic rules are about the letter of the law, not its spirit. Food marketers, however, take advantage of public perceptions that "organic" implies spirit - sustainability and better nutrition. Companies that follow the rules can legitimately market highly processed foods as organic, taking advantage of their health aura to command higher prices." -Marion Nestle

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Geography of Food

This article in the Times of India highlights a study by British researchers that claim that geography actually impacts tastebuds. They claim, "The research found Britain's taste preferences could be broken down like regional accents and depended very much on an area's history. In the north east, foods are enjoyed by taste buds on the tip of the tongue because the region has a history of industrial workers demanding meals that offer immediate sustenance." Read the full article here.

But what of cultures and lands (yes, literally, lands) that do not have such a history? For example, oh, America. How much does a history play into our tastes? I sort of wonder if we were more susceptible to a food culture of processed (though novel) foods because we lacked a steeped tradition of sorts. Though many immigrants carried the histories and traditions of their homeland with them to America, there was at the same time a real invigoration of an idea of a new life, a different way.

Just a hundred years after America became a sovereign country, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and a hundred years after that, we were all eating processed, manufactured and unrecognizable 'foods' more so than any other country. We have always been at the forefront of food product processing, marketing and distributing. And Americans absolutely gobble this stuff up. One has to question if somewhere in this incredibly short history, we forgot to create our own traditions of food and cooking. Was it just a lot of bad timing? What foods are considered 'American' and why? What cooking techniques and traditions are considered 'American'? Anything? Were we just too late to the culture-making game that we failed, or as yet have failed at least, to develop some sort of ideas about what it means to eat and cook and grow food?

I would say yes, but that all is not lost. In fact, we hit a bump in the road. We rode a wave of capitalism, nouveau riche countryism and we wanted to be different as a culture. But things are changing. The food movement is sending us in the right direction. We are essentially going backwards, starting over, hitting the reset button in order to move forward and create what we forgot to create. It's going to be simple at first, we are focusing on basic ingredients, flavors, herbs, that's what we want right now (and it feels new and it feels good), we are learning how to grow, how to do it naturally and how to cook. We are creating tastes and blending our cultures finally in a way that is not rushed and is not for money. Americans are awakening their tastebuds and creating their own recipes and ideas. We want Steinbeck's Salinas Valley and the tastes of Faulkner's cows' milk again. We don't want novelties anymore, we want food.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Just One _____ .

I recommend this article on about why it's so difficult for us to control our appetites and our actions.
The reason diets don't work, according to the author of a new best-selling book on the matter, is not that the body returns to a certain set point — it's that the brain does:

"In people who have a hard time controlling their eating, their brain circuits remain elevated and activated until all the food is gone. Then the next time you get cued, you do it again. Every time you engage in this cycle you strengthen the neural circuits. The anticipation gets strengthened. It's in part because of ambivalence. Do you ever have an internal dialogue? 'Boy, that would taste great. No, I shouldn't have it. I really want that. And I shouldn't do it.'

That sort of ambivalence increases the reward value of the food. It increases the anxiety, it increases the arousal, it keeps it in working memory. We're wired to focus on the most salient stimuli in our environment. For some people it could be alcohol or illegal drugs or nicotine or sex or gambling. For many of us it's food."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids Eating Better?

Well, maybe... Check out this article in the New York Times on the matter:
"Chicken nuggets, burgers, fries and colas remain popular with the under-13 set, of course. But new market research shows that consumption of these foods at restaurants is declining, while soup, yogurt, fruit, grilled chicken and chocolate milk are on the rise."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Who's Seen It?

Read the review in the NYT today. Going to see it soon. I still think Our Daily Bread is and will be one of the most amazing films about food of all time. As a side note, there's an interesting catch in the beginning of the review article about movies and food and how some movies make you want to eat some foods. I was thinking of the chocolate river in Willy Wonka. Unfulfillable desires. Hmm.
I am off topic though.
I want to see this film because it seems like it really highlights not only the consumer but the laborers creating this food via abominable methods. This sort of plays at my alienation theory translating to food idea. But I will stop for now and get back to this after I see the movie! Please await (anxiously) my review.

Friday, June 5, 2009

From The Conspiracy of Art by Jean Baudrillard

Reading this amazing book, critical art theory/philosophy/commentary on modern art from Jean Baudrillard and it really says more about a greater societal problem and a context for understanding objects/the image. Forgive me if I am going to far, but let me give you this piece with little context:

"Yes. The question of obesity was raised in Venice and I said: "There is too much of art. But this is not only true for art: there is too much of too much. And that may well be a form. Francesco Bonami, the head of the Veince Biennale, didn't agree and we did a little scene together about it. 'How can there be too much?' said Bonami. 'You can never have enough of a good thing.' And I countered, 'And obesity? You don't think there's a pathology in there, do you?' 'The more body, the better it is,' he replied. Well, no, that's not true. A body has a form, it has measurements, a symbolic space, an initiatory form. Form is all of that. I believe a limit does exist. But you can only say it from the outside, if you are talking in terms of form, not of art. You can do the same kind of analysis with information, consumer habits, everything that is part of a linear process of production and accumulation. More is notbetter. So everything is moving towards this kind of reversal. It's inescapable."
-The Conspiracy of Art, Jean Baudrillard, 2005, published by Semiotext(e)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Neighbor's Lovely Book Comes Out Today!!!


So I have to tell you that my neighbors are some of the absolute most loveliest wonderful people in the whole world that I have ever met. Additionally, they produce edibley adorable offspring and delicious treats, all of them.

But today is a special day in our building, because my beautiful, wonderful, classy and amazing baker neighbor's new book is coming out for purchase! Yay! It is called Organic and Chic: Cakes, Cookies and Other Sweets that Taste as Good as They Look by the fabulous Sarah Magid. I am personally going to place my order for a copy this moment and anxiously await it's arrival in the mail (I have seen a copy and it is filled with glorious recipes, pictures and inspirations)--then have it signed by the magnificent author herself.

Sarah is a former jewelery/fashion designer turned baker whose organic delights are the epitome of creative, combining not only a decadentness unbeknownst to me ever before, but also an elegance and imagination that go unparalleled. She is inspired by the greats--Ghery, Coco Chanel, Yoda--and her thoughtfulness and tastefulness are remarkable. What do we need in this world of hardship, strife and recession? Cakes! Cookies! Golden Twinkies (her specialty)! And all done with the simplest most real, organic ingredients. These are not poison, my friends, they are magic.

So buy her book! Buy her book! Please buy her book! You will be inspired and delighted.

Monday, June 1, 2009