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Foodie Pseudery (4)

Alice Waters, inevitably:

But it’s about the pursuit of perfection. You have to find the right farmer: the one who planted the right seed in the right land at the right time. They have to be right person to care for it, and harvest it at the right moment. It’s a subtle kind of farming. It’s our job to find them, purchase the fruit at the right time and serve it at the perfect moment, perfectly. That’s all it is. We cook simply.

‘We cook simply.’ And I am a three-toed sloth.

Food Links, 28.09.2011

On the hallucinogenic qualities of some kinds of food.

Restaurants in the UK waste 400,000 tonnes of food every year.

The inventor of Doritos has died. He will be buried in chips.

Waitrose revamps its branch in Canary Wharf. I know, I know, but this is in the middle of a recession, so it’s interesting.

I really like this thoughtful post about food stamps and fast food by Tom Laskawy.

The best street food in New York.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, argues that food security and agriculture should be on the COP17 agenda.

The history of MSG. (Thanks Milli!)

Kitchen gadgets and the Great Depression.

What are the meanings of staff meals at restaurants?

Acorn cupcakes.

Oh the perils of accepting freebies.

How well do you know cheese?

We need a more concerted international response to the world’s food crisis.

Is there any point to providing information about the calorie content of McDonald’s meals? (No. There isn’t.)

Why it’s worth reviving the home economics movement.

Roman vs Neopolitan pizza.

Foodie Pseudery (3)

The original inspiration for this series was Ruth Reichl’s gloriously pretentious and self-congratulatory Twitter feed. I’m not entirely sure what annoys me more: the swooning adoration which ‘foodies’ heap on her and her observations, or the overwhelming smugness and High Moral Seriousness of her tweets.

But, wonderfully, someone writing under the pseudonym Ruth Bourdain produces a daily mash-up of Ruth Reichl’s daily wisdom with the sensibility of Anthony Bourdain. Seriously, this could only end well.

So, this from Ruth Reichl:

‘Fire blazing. Bread baking. Bolognese burbling on the stove. Stella purring. Blues playing. Happy to be home.’

Becomes:

‘Bong blazing. Tangerine zest burning. Bolognese burbling. Stella purring. Me: hallucinating. Happy to be stoned with this motherfucking cat.’

And this:

‘By the pool at Bartolotta, happy to be alive. Deep red shrimp, almost impossibly intense. Octopus. Langoustines. Rouget. Pasta. Memorable.’

Is transformed into this:

‘By the pool at Bartolotta. Red shrimp. Langoustines. An octopus doing the backstroke. This is some pool. Or maybe it’s just the drugs.’

Happy Friday.

Food Links, 21.09.2011

Cooking may be 1.9 million years old.

On the north/south divide on ensuring food security.

The remarkable rise of Greek yogurt sales in the United States.

On ‘flexitarianism‘ and an apparent global decline in meat sales.

Glamour Magazine promotes healthy eating by teaming up with…Krispy Kreme to sell…Glamour-flavoured doughnuts during London Fashion Week. Words fail.

Fast food chains attempt ‘gourmet‘ options on their menus. And in a blind taste test, Pizza Express trumps Domino’s top-end offerings. Hurrah! (I LOVE Pizza Express.)

Lyons teashops and the invention of the world’s first business computer.

Food adventures at the Indiana State Fair. There’s deep-fried kool-aid. Yup.

Eating insects to save the planet. (Thanks Milli!)

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall waxes lyrical on the joys of eating less meat.

A diet book for little girls. Really?

Tee hee: Another Damned Food Blog.

Human Rights Watch reports dismal condition on South Africa’s wine farms – which, if you’ve ever visited one, shouldn’t be hugely surprising news.

You need to know more about Doom Cakes: see here and here. (Thanks, Dudley.)

Mycitycuisine.org collects recipes for and guides to local cuisines all over the world.

Happy animals make tastier meat.

*pause*

Alas, dear readers! I must leave you for the next fortnight or so because I

1. have 360 first year tests to mark (welcome to university lecturing in the developing world!),

2. must fill in about a gazillion job applications because postdocs don’t last forever (*sniff*),

3. need to finish revising an article before I bump into the journal’s editor at a conference,

4. have a seminar paper to write,

5. am moving. Hurrah! (BUT I HAVE SO MUCH TO PACK.)

Oh God. *weeps tears of anxiety*

But there’ll still be food links and some pseudery. And if you should pine for a spot of in-depth food contemplation, I point you in the direction of September’s Observer Food Monthly (and particularly this interview with Björk – I have a bit of thing about Björk – and Jay Rayner’s account of cooking with René Redzepi), and The Nation‘s special food edition. Frances Moore Lappé’s article on the food movement is an absolute must-read, as is this interview with Olivier de Schutter on the right to food.

I also leave you with this picture from Things Organised Neatly. I find this website wonderfully calming.

Wish me luck!

Foodie Pseudery (2)

Public service announcement: The House of Assembly is due to vote on the Secrecy Bill on Tuesday. Join Right2Know as we march to Parliament on Saturday. We begin at 10:30 at the corner of Tennant and and Keizersgracht Streets (outside CPUT), and aim to be at Parliament for a rally by midday. Come! Wear red and black, bring a poster, and show our MPs how many of us oppose this oppressive piece of legislation.

This is both a gem of foodie pseudery as well as a fine example of monumental self-importance. Calling themselves the G9, a group of the world’s top chefs, including René Redzepi and Ferran Adriá, gathered in Peru recently and issued an Open Letter to the Chefs of Tomorrow in which they take on the unenviable task of saving the world. I quote from the Guardian‘s report on the meeting:

They…encourage future chefs to take up a profession that “can be a beautiful form of self-expression”, adding: “It is important to carry out our quests and fulfil our dreams with authenticity, humility, and, above all, passion. Ultimately we are each guided by our own ethics and values.”

Now I don’t have anything against chefs wanting to share their knowledge, encourage their customers to eat well, and to use ethically-farmed produce. But this magnificent display pomposity from a group of men who charge the word’s wealthy obscene amounts of money to eat at their restaurants, is ridiculous. Jay Rayner writes beautifully about this ‘grand act of self-delusion’ here.

Thanks muchly to Jane-Anne Hobbs for sending this along. All submissions are more than welcome (sarahemilyduff [at] gmail [dot] com).

Food Links, 14.09.2011

The Observer profiles Britain’s new young farmers, Sarah Boden, Ed Hamer, and Richard Thomas.

Check out Sonia Cabano’s review of the Toffie Food Festival.

A slide show of New York’s hot dogs.

There is such a thing as honey laundering.

‘An additional Walmart Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.25 units and the obesity rate by 2.4%.’ And there are fifteen more amazing/appalling facts about Walmart here.

On changing attitudes towards restaurant staffs’ tattoos.

David Lebovitz discusses his favourite pudding recipe books – and is interviewed by the Financial Times.

Consider chocolate.

A brief history of menu design in the United States.

A list of favourite French recipes by Julia Child.

Jay Rayner interviews David Tanis, the head chef at Chez Panisse – and here are some of Tanis’s recipes.

On the history of biscuit embossing.

It would seem that the company providing food parcels to the poor in Britain…has links with the Tories. Funny, that.

Rene Redzepi explains the thinking behind his Mad Food Camp.

These flags made of food are surprisingly lovely.

More from What I Eat: Around the World in Eighty Diets.

How to chop an onion. (Thanks Mum!)

The perils of restaurant reviewing.

From Customers to Consumers

I love this video – it’s an overview of a century of fashion, music, and dance in London’s East End:

It’s not an art installation. It’s not part of a community project. It’s an ad. For a shopping mall. And this isn’t any mall – it’s Europe’s biggest, and one of the key developments in the Olympic site in Stratford. In fact, it seems that most of the spectators attending next year’s Summer Olympics will enter the games through Westfield Stratford City: its casino, 300 shops, 50 restaurants, three hotels, and 17 cinema screens.

I’m not a massive fan of shopping malls, and said as much when I posted this video on Facebook. And then my friend Jean-François, who’s an architect, made the point that the development will create a massive 10,000 jobs, and has funded literacy classes for the astonishingly high number of applicants who seemed to be illiterate. In an area as deprived as Stratford, surely this shopping centre could only be a Good Thing?

There has been a great deal of criticism of the way in which Stratford has been transformed by the Olympic site. I don’t want to romanticise life in a very poor borough of London, and I’m not sure that commentators like Iain Sinclair – who has been vociferous in his opposition to the 2012 Olympic bid – offer much in the way of ideas for providing jobs, decent housing, and education for the area. But I feel uncomfortable about the way that a temple to consumerism seems to be offered up as the only possible way of raising living standards in Stratford. As Suzanne Moore – not, admittedly, my favourite columnistwrote in yesterday’s Guardian:

Next week a new Westfield opens. It’s not in west London, it’s in the east, in Stratford. It will cash in on the Olympics. Is this what this deprived area really needs? Another giant, weatherless mall that has exactly the same shops as everywhere else? Maybe this deliberately disorientating social space will be a place of connection and hope. Maybe it will offer the local youth something other than an expensive bowling alley, a multiplex and some minimum-wage jobs.

But is this just a case of lefty, middle-class squeamishness? When I buy a Margot Molyneux blouse from Mungo & Jemima, or even a dress from an upmarket chain like White Stuff or online store like Toast, it’s not any ‘better’ than purchasing a t-shirt from Mr Price. Both decisions support people who designed and made the garment. When I buy from small, local grocers and food shops, it’s partly because of a belief that this is good for our food system, but it also says something about me – about how I choose to constitute my identity in relation to a particular way of thinking about being an ‘ethical’ shopper. However critical I may be of consumerism, I am, inevitably, bound up in it.

I am interested in the shift from defining people who buy things from shops as ‘customers’ to being described as ‘consumers’. There’s a growing collection of historians interested in tracing and analysing this transition. One of the reasons why I’m so interested in it is because of the pivotal role played by the food industry in creating consumers.

Given the dire state of the average American diet, it probably comes as no surprise to learn that the United States was the first country to witness the rise of a food industry reliant on consumers who had begun to buy an increasing number of good produced in factories by big food companies towards the end of nineteenth century. Consumerism is inextricably linked to the industrialisation of food production.

The first people to benefit from the Industrial Revolution were the middle classes. In Britain, Europe, America and elsewhere, the newly-wealthy bourgeoisie could afford to buy more food, and employed more servants to prepare it. They had leisure in which to enjoy the eating of this food – and it became a way of marking newly-acquired middle-class status.

Until 1850 in Europe, and 1830 in the US, the diets of the urban poor actually deteriorated. The average height of working-class people living in the rapidly expanding cities of the industrialised world actually declined – one of the most potent indicators of the levels of deprivation experienced by this new proletariat. This was the first generation of workers to be disconnected from food production: these were people who no longer grew their own food, and were dependent on inadequate and expensive food systems to supply towns and cities. Poor diets were centred around starches and cheap, poor-quality food.

But from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, food became progressively cheaper, more plentiful, and varied – and this happened earlier and more quickly in the United States. So what caused this drop in price and greater availibility in cities? A revolution in transport made it easier to take produce from farms to urban depots by rail, and shipping brought exotic fruit and vegetables from the rest of the world to Europe and the United States. When Europe’s grain harvest failed during the 1870s, the continent was fed with wheat imported by steam ship from Canada. Farmers now began to cultivate land which had previously been believed to be inaccessible – and to grow market-oriented produce. The rise of the iceberg lettuce – which could cope with being transported over vast distances with little bruising – is directly attributable to this.

The agricultural revolution of the eighteenth century made farming more productive. New systems of crop rotation, the use of higher-yielding plant hybrids and improved implements, and the enclosure movement in Britain meant that fewer farmers were producing more food than ever before. And this produce was processed far more quickly, and cheaply. With innovations in the preservation of food through refrigeration, bottling, and canning, food could be transported over greater distances, but also, and crucially, manufactured in larger quantities and then kept before distribution on a mass scale.

Food companies began to control nearly every aspect of the newly industrialised food chain: businesses like Heinz formed alliances with farmers and transportation companies which supplied their factories with meat, fruit, and vegetables. Increasingly, they also began to advertise their products. The rise of these ‘food processors’, as they’re often called, caused a fundamental change in the way in which people ate. Most Americans began to eat similar diets based around processed food produced in factories.

Americans weren’t, of course, compelled to eat processed food. They did so for a number of reasons. Factory-baked bread, tinned vegetables, and processed meat were cheap, easy to prepare, and, importantly, believed to be free from contamination and disease. But with most people’s basic nutritional and calorific needs now met, food processors began to use advertising and brands to a far greater extent to encourage customers – dubbed ‘consumers’ – to buy more and that which they didn’t need. Susan Strasser explains:

Formerly customers, purchasing the objects of daily life in face to-face relationships with community-based craftspeople and store keepers, Americans became consumers during the Progressive Era. They bought factory-produced goods as participants in a complex network of distribution – a national market that promoted individuals’ relationships with big, centrally organised, national-level companies. They got their information about products, not from the people who made or sold them, but from advertisements created by specialists in persuasion. These accelerating processes, though by no means universal, had taken firm hold of the American way of life.

Food processors needed to persuade consumers to buy their products, and in greater quantities:

People who had never bought cornflakes were taught to need them; those once content with oats scooped from the grocer’s bin were told why they should prefer Quaker Oats in a box. Advertising, when it was successful, created demand…. Advertising celebrated the new, but many people were content with the old. The most effective marketing campaigns encouraged new needs and desires…by linking the rapid appearance of new products with the rapid changes that were occurring in all areas of social and cultural life.

We have always attached a variety of meanings to food, but within a consumer society, the decisions we make about what to buy and eat are shaped to a large extent by the desires and needs manufactured by a massive advertising industry.

The industrialisation of food production has, as I noted last week, allowed more people to eat better than ever before. But this has come at a cost: we know that many food companies engage in ecologically unsustainable practices, mistreat their employees, hurt animals, and occasionally produce actively harmful food. Moreover, it was part of a process which transformed people from customers into consumers – into individuals whose happiness is linked to what and how much they buy. This does not make us happy – nor is it environmentally or economically sound. Justin Lewis writes:

the promise of advertising is entirely empty. We now have a voluminous body of work showing that past a certain point, there is no connection between the volume of consumer goods a society accumulates and the well-being of its people.

The research shows that a walk in the park, social interaction or volunteering – which cost nothing – will do more for our well-being than any amount of ‘retail therapy’.  Advertising, in that sense, pushes us towards maximising our income rather than our free time.  It pushes us away from activities that give pleasure and meaning to our lives towards an arena that cannot – what Sut Jhally calls ‘the dead world of things’.

As customers were made consumers, so it is possible for us to change once again. How we are to achieve this, though, is difficult to imagine.

Further Reading

Texts quoted here:

Harvey A. Levenstein, Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

Susan Strasser, Customer to Consumer: The New Consumption in the Progressive Era,’ OAH Magazine of History, vol. 13, no. 3, The Progressive Era (Spring, 1999), pp. 10-14.

Other sources:

Warren Belasco and Philip Scranton (eds.), Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies (New York: Routledge, 2002).

Jack Goody, ‘Industrial Food: Towards the Development of a World Cuisine,’ in Cooking, Cuisine, and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 154-174.

Roger Horowitz, Meat in America: Technology, Taste, Transformation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (London: Earthscan, 2009).

Nancy F. Koehn, ‘Henry Heinz and Brand Creation in the Late Nineteenth Century: Making Markets for Processed Food,’ The Business History Review, vol. 73, no. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 349-393.

Rebecca L. Spang, The Invention of the Restaurant: Paris and Modern Gastronomic Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).

Peter N. Stearns, ‘Stages of Consumerism: Recent Work on the Issues of Periodisation,’ The Journal of Modern History, vol. 69, no. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 102-117.

Susan Strasser, ‘Making Consumption Conspicuous: Transgressive Topics Go Mainstream,’ Technology and Culture, vol. 43, no. 4, Kitchen Technologies (Oct., 2002), pp. 755-770.

Lorine Swainston Goodwin, The Pure Food, Drink, and Drug Crusadors, 1879-1914 (Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 1999).

Frank Trentmann, ‘Beyond Consumerism: New Historical Perspectives on Consumption,’ Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 39, no. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp. 373-401.

Creative Commons License Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Foodie Pseudery (1)

This is a new occasional post devoted to gems of foodie pseudery. It’s partly a homage to the Pseuds’ Corner column in the satirical magazine Private Eye, which lists the best (worst?) examples of pretentious writing in the British press. Here, though, I’m focussing of the reams of bad copy produced by foodies, in blogs and – less forgivably – in the established media.

Why? Well, it’s endlessly amusing. And also out of an objection to food snobbery – foodie-ism – which mystifies and rarefies food, cooking, and eating. It seeks to render good food the preserve of those who believe that they possess the knowledge, sensitivity, and good connections fully to appreciate it.

All contributions welcome (sarahemilyduff [at] gmail [dot] com).

And we begin with this review of Roberta’s in the New York Times:

These are extremely beautiful plates of food, artfully designed. The cuttlefish, in particular, would not look out of place on a starched tablecloth at Per Se. They are delicate of flavor, free of excess fats or salts, as pure an expression of new American cuisine as you are likely to find anywhere. It is shocking, and wonderful, to eat them in this cinder-block garage space six stops into Brooklyn on the L, a ratty old ski lodge built for bums interested in food rather than powder.

There are no cloth napkins or tablecloths at Roberta’s, no comfortable seats. Christmas lights provide mood lighting, and urban detritus and flea-market finds the art on the walls. … Roberta’s may appear an unlikely cathedral to such culinary excellence. It is no less a cathedral for that.

Food Links, 07.09.2011

Eating with our eyes.

On the link between food insecurity and conflict.

Pret a Manger seems set to stay in the US.

Will Self considers his local Sainsbury’s supermarket cafe.

America’s favourite foods, state by state (fun, but probably spurious).

Where do whoopie pies come from? (Thanks Mum!)

Ferran Adria visits China.

How pricey farmers’ markets threaten food reform – and this is Tom Philpott’s response.

George Monbiot evaluates Hugh’s Fish Fight.

How did granite become the kitchen counter standard?

This is fantastic: the South African Post Office promotes the consumption of vegetables with some lovely new stamps, and a handy recipe book.

A guide to New York City’s pizzas.

Wonderfully, C. Louis Leipoldt’s Polfyntjies vir die Proe (a history of eating in the Cape) is now online.

The real ale renaissance (hurrah! I love ale).

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