What does the food you eat say about you?
Food is more than just what we eat. We use it to signify who we are.
I remember when the term “foodie” started getting passed around. At that time, it was both something positive and negative. On one hand, it described people who were in love with food – the process of making it, eating it, discovering it. But it was also derogatory – as in being a food snob. Then came the complication of being a “foodie” about fried bar foods and street hot dog vendors.
I feel like I have seen a cultural shift in how we think about food. I’ve certainly seen changes in my own life. When I was a kid, with two working parents including a teacher mom who sometimes had to work late nights at conferences and school events, we ate a lot of quick food. There were boxed conveniences like Mac and Cheese, frozen chicken and fish sticks, and good old Dinty Moore stew from a can. But she also made meals that were home cooked, but easy to prepare: tuna casserole, chili, sloppy Joes, pepper steak and hamburgers. They were hearty, well liked by pretty much everyone in the family, and usually made enough leftovers for several meals. It was practical cooking.
My father was the “chef” of the family. He would sit down on Sunday after church and pour through his recipe books for something that looked interesting. Then, it was off to D&W for ingredients for some new dish. He didn’t like to make the same thing twice, but we had our favorites. His apple pie was divine – I’ve never had one as good his. His spaghetti sauce was the best I ever had (and I still have his recipe.)
Despite my dad’s love of cooking though, there are things he did that were based in the convenience culture of the 60s and 70s. He never used fresh herbs, though we had a huge pantry full of dried spices. He always used bottled lemon juice and pre-chopped garlic from a jar. In fact, he cut ingredients like parsley out of his recipes all the time because he felt it was only there for color. Nonetheless, we loved his Sunday meals.
I got the cooking bug from him. When I moved out in my twenties, I started experimenting with purchasing my own cookbooks. I had an apartment with a great little kitchen and I started cooking on my own. My apartment had a rooftop where I could have a container garden, but it was too hot to grow many vegetables, so I began experimenting with growing fresh herbs. I discovered the amazing flavors of fresh lemon juice, real garlic, and yes, fresh parsley.
My father died when I was just 28, so I never got the opportunity to share with him what I had learned. I would have loved to. (And I kick myself every fall for not learning the secret to his apple pies. I have his recipe – it’s just not the same.) I wish I could have showed him what I learned about Indian and Lebanese cuisine (both of which taught me incredible lessons about cooking,) and shared with him my favorite roast chicken recipe.
Now I see people looking at food very differently than they used to. It’s much more common for people to be clear about foods they won’t eat. When I was a kid I remember one schoolmate with a strawberry allergy, but that was it. When my aunt and cousin became vegetarian, it was still an unusual thing. Now people have all sorts of food limitations, some medical, some by choice.
People are also thinking about where their food comes from and how it was raised. Some of it is about health, and some of it is about political and social choices. More people today have their diet as part of their identity. Talk to anyone who has chosen a specific dietary path, and you’ll see what I mean.
I find that fascinating. I love the idea that food can not only fuel our bodies, but tell the world something about who we are.