At Tangerine and Cinnamon, a thoughtful food blog I have only just discovered, Sarah Duff ruminates about the problems of “authentic” regional food. What does authenticity mean when different families prepare regional food differently, when national borders change, and when emigrants adapt their cuisines to new landscapes and cultures? As a historian, she invokes useful theories of anachronism and nostalgia. A lovely, thoughtful read. (4.21.2013.)
At the Atlantic, Emily Matchar explores a potential avenue in food development that’s been on my mind since the Stream discussion of making accessible, affordable, and desirable alternatives to highly processed snack and convenience foods: what if there was healthy fast food? Emily gently challenges some of the assumptions of prominent food pundits like Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, who would prefer that fast food remain a stop gap measure, secondary to a regular practice of homecooking, even if the fast food is healthy. In reality, Emily writes, if healthy fast food were broadly available and affordable, it would become the primary source of meals for many families–and that’s a good thing. There are always going to be some folks who don’t have time to plan meals and cook, or simply don’t enjoy doing so, and those people deserve better food options just as much as the rest of us. (4.12.13.)
There’s a lot of unacknowledged privilege at work when food activists insist that the endgame should be more people cooking more meals at home. One element is certainly sexism–Michael Pollan in particular has come under fire repeatedly for linking the rise of convenience foods to the rise of feminism, which supposedly compromised the nation’s health by chasing women out of the kitchen and into the workplace. It’s not that he thinks cooking is or should be women’s work, but when he imagines a world in men and women alike return to the kitchen, he doesn’t acknowledge the high rate at which cooking (and planning and shopping and cleaning up from meals), like so much other domestic labor, becomes women’s work. That’s why I was delighted to see Emily Matcher’s excellent eye-rolling in response to the promotion for his latest book. (4.18.13.) Her post initiated some excellent Twitter snark between us, Janis Thiessen (who is researching a history of snack foods), and Kate Harding, who made similar arguments about Pollan’s writing at Salon in 2009.
That this homecooking proselytism is also classist is obvious. But I think there’s another kind of elitism at work too–it reminds me of people who insist that food is or is not art, because art is a word with a lot of cultural baggage and such conversations are usually about protecting the prestige and honor of one particular category of aesthetic experience. Food writers like Pollan and Bittman, who have built their careers on making and researching and writing about healthy food, depict healthy home cooking as something anyone can do–but doing takes time, education, and exposure. The more democratic position would be to imagine healthy food as something everyone should have, even without accruing the cultural capital or performing the skilled labors of education, discernment, and actual cooking.