A relationship with food in American society is complicated.
Some don’t have enough. Others are awash in calories. We each have a human need for nourishment and the ways we go about meeting it are as different as the families which engendered us.
A favorite childhood memory is when Mother went to work in the school cafeteria after the Catholic Church built a new grade school near our home. With other women like her, she took a list of ingredients based partly on government programs (including lots of cheese) and partly on a limited budget, and made meals that included such dishes as porcupine meatballs (hamburger and rice) and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Father worked at the meat packing plant which had an employee butcher shop where he could buy beef, pork and meat products at a discount, and did. The idea of stretching hamburger by mixing it with cooked rice was a novelty in our household and eventually we implored Mother to make porcupine meatballs for us at home, just like the ones at school. She did.
This story of external culinary practices coming into our home is essential to understanding the rise of a diverse diet in American society. We see things out there, they look good, and we want them. Most people, including low-wage workers, have or find the means to get them.
Many books, careers and lives have been based on food in society. We are an individualized rather than generalized culture with regard to food acquisition, preparation and consumption. To a large extent, the rise of the modern mega grocery store has shaped our eating habits in ways no one would have expected. Much ink has been spilled about that and I’m less interested in regurgitating my slice of it.
What I do know is local food farmers work hard for the sparse income they garner. All farmers do. The local food movement of which they are a part is based on the hope more people will bring locally produced, raw ingredients produced in a sustainable manner into their kitchens, ice boxes and pantries. Enough people do for a small group of farmers to make a living.
In many ways the increased interest in local food is the same type of behavior that took place in our home in the 1960s. We experience surprise when our CSA share includes Broccoli Raab, Koji or Bok Choy. We learn how to eat and cook them and want more. It’s not that our home nourishment plan is boring. We want and enjoy the experience of creation as it relates to cooking and eating. We want that experience to be personal and shared with family. That is very American.
I concede promotion of local food is a form of consumerism no different from a tomato catsup purveyor who spends dollars on an advertising campaign to enhance sales. The same behavioral forces are at work. I’m okay with that.
Just so you know, I’m not bewitched by the allure of eating a kale salad, at least not yet. Suffice it to say the diversity and behavior regarding food in our household with its kitchen garden, farm sourcing and grocery shopping has some unique qualities that may not be of interest to the authors of the Michelin Guide, but make our lives a little better. That too is very American. That’s part of who I am, who we Americans all are.
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