This past April, Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation
and co-producer of Food Inc.
, wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “Why Being a Foodie isn’t Elitist”
. I found this article particularly interesting, because within my own family, I constantly have to defend my love of food and devotion to local, organic or sustainable grown foods verses the commercial alternatives. I assumed that this was a contemporary phenomenon only affecting our American modern gastronomes, but in reading Root’s and de Rochemont’s, Eating In America
, it allowed me to see that throughout the history of America, this need to chastise those that value food has been present in all forms of society including politics. The Puritans went so far as to deem the richness of French sauces as a sign of the devil.
After the Louisiana Purchase, a world of culinary delights presented itself and could have had a positive effect on the future of American Cuisine, but a member of right-wing political party “saw peril in diluting the pure principles of Anglo-Saxondom by taking in the “Gallo-Hispano-Indian omnium gatherum (a miscellaneous collection) of savages and adventures”, but cooking had already become too firmly fixed in the Anglo-Saxon pattern to be budged, so the Creole gastronomy of Louisiana remains a local phenomenon.” The hodgepodge of foreign ingredients, spice and unknown flavors challenged status quo and were meet with a chilly reception. I feel that that outlook on eating has lead to a long history of boring and stale cuisines based on British tastes of the pasts, which is unfortunate considering the culinary reputation of British cuisine. The exotic and fresh new flavor and ingredients that were abhorred in the cuisines of the savages and adventurers has lead to stagnate civilization of unadventurous eaters.
Our founding fathers and other politicos of the time suffered the same struggle as modern day proponents of what Alice Waters calls the “delicious revolution”. Their desire to enjoy a diet filled with variety and exposed themselves to cuisine of other cultures lead to their condemnation. Thomas Jefferson was a good example of this. He constantly sought out new ingredients and techniques of local cuisine whenever he traveled. One of the reasons of the expedition of Lewis and Clark was to seek out new plant and animal life, in hopes of finding “tempting new foods”, but their travels did not unearth any new gastronomic treats. After the American Revolution, The United States’ alliance with the French lead to an increased exposure to French cuisine, which Jefferson was quite fond of, so much so that his household cook was French; for this he suffered some political backlash from Patrick Henry for his “effete taste for French cooking, which had led him to “abjure his native vituals”.
Jefferson was not the only one under scrutiny. During Martin Van Buren’s presidential reelection campaign against Whig William Henry Harrison, Van Buren, who was raised in a large family under humble circumstances, he “was represented as the spoiled child of luxury, and Harrison, scion of the Virginia aristocracy, who was touted as a plain man of the people”. The campaign came down with cider. Van Buren was drinking sparkling wine, while Harrison enjoyed hard cider. People though that Harrison ate raw beef without salt, while Van Buren gorged himself on strawberries, cauliflower and foie gras. At the time, these food items represented the appetites of the Old World decadence, which America, as a young nations was eager to distance itself from.
While I find these historical accounts of anti-foodie sentiments fascinating, they somehow make me question whether or not a passion towards good food will ever be something that will be ingrained in the hearts and stomachs of the American people. “Gastronomic know-nothingism constitutes a special case of that anti-intellectualism which crops up so disconcertingly often in the United States, an extension of the yokel’s distrust of anyone better educated, better mannered, or even merely cleaner then himself.” Much media attention is given to “organic” and “local” foods, but these movements or lifestyle choices have become diluted. They are now trends that have been commercialized by manipulating the terms “organic”, “green”, “sustainable” and “local” to lead mindless consumers to believe that with their dollars they are doing something significant; just because you buy an “organic” TV dinner or breakfast burrito, it is still a freeze-dried abomination, which will not make you healthier, lose weight, save the planet or whatever other promises are assigned to entice you to make that purchase. These are products of multinational conglomerates that are far removed from the philosophy that they are selling to the point that the original and intended message is nothing more than a commodity to be exploited for profit, which after all is the American way. I feel I need to switch my optimistic stance on this issue to a more pragmatic one and realize that what I believe about the “delicious revolution” will most likely not be embraced by the masses. With every trend comes a backlash and it is only a matter of time before America gastronomy and enclaves of foodies will exist on the outskirts of society.
This was my final paper for Cuisines of the America’s which was taught by arguably one of my favorite Chefs at the CIA, Tom Kief. If you have the opportunity to have him as a Chef… take it! I never felt prouder to be a “shoemaker”!