Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Skeptic's Food History

The food of my childhood was pretty unremarkable. My sorta-suburban family of five ate what my mother made. This generally meant such things as roast chicken and Bisquick biscuits, roast beef and potatoes, El Paso Tacos with ground meat and iceberg lettuce, something called "hungarian goulash," and loose meat with gravy over mashed potatoes, to name the most memorable. I can't complain about any of it. It was well cooked and tasty. I was a hungry little person. I ate everything thankfully. My mother also had a weakness for health fads. In the late 1970s, she got swept up in the natural foods trends. These were not my family's best gastronomic years. Our 70s dinner table groaned with weird curried concoctions served with raisins and shaved (unsweetened) coconut, grape nut bread and other indistinct items. Again, I ate everything thankfully. I was hungry most of the time. Apparently my maternal grandmother made wicked pies, cakes and cinnamon buns. I don't recall, she didn't live near us. I do have a clear summer memory of making dinner with my paternal grandmother (aka momma). The menu that night included pan fried steak, salad, and instant mashed potatoes. While whipping the mashed potatoes, my momma threw in a dash or two of garlic powder. What innovation, I thought. And, like always, I ate everything thankfully, especially those garlicky instant potatoes.

As you can imagine, my childhood did not foster a very specific food identity. I became a mediocre-to-very poor cook once out on my own. As my boyfriend-to-be-husband used to say, "we can both make an okay pot of slop." This all changed when I began my dissertation on natural foods. I spent so much time reading and thinking about food that I started to learn and cook. Our (me and the husband's) food life improved dramatically. I continued to read about food and cook and bake. I became a bit of an aesthete, a searcher for the special and the delicious.

So why a skeptical foodie, you ask? Part of me is happy to revel in food luxury. I, as much as the foodie next store, love to look at seductively photographed food magazines. In the summer I get my fruit and vegtables only from the two farmstands near my house. The quality is undeniable. I just recently started perusing food blogs: I'm hooked. But I feel a little dirty after these indulgences. When I'm honest with myself, the whole foodie things feels frivolously bourgeois.

My years as a food historian bred a two headed beast: the food lover and the food skeptic. That's where I'm at.


Neil said...

I don't mind if there is a hair in my food unless it is firmly enmeshed into a baked good. That, old friend, is where I draw the line.

Ria McG said...

How did you know my baking strategy for hiding fallen hairs. Mix well and no one knows.