Eating can be a joy, a repeatable pleasure, or a necessary fuel stop. How you feel about it will be the product of many innumerable factors. Here I offer an overview of my thoughts, at least on the day I wrote them. Some of these comments come from past postings which you may recognize.
Those of us lucky enough to be brought up in a genuine gastronomic culture can be either snooty or appalled by American food—or at least the diet that most Americans eat. Authorities keep warning us that such food is not only unhealthy but dangerous.
I grew up in a foodie family devoted to great food and lots of it. Our guru was Grandma Elsie who ran the food fest with skill and laughter. I said the following about her in my memoir. When we ate weekly at her house,
the food was invariably superb. I would describe it as Continental-American-Jewish. Feather-light matzoh ball soup was a favorite. Latkes, extra-thin and crisp, were called German potato pancakes. A rare specialty of the house was Dobosch Torte, a rich sponge cake with twenty-one very thin layers interspersed with frosting of Maillard’s chocolate (ordered special from New York). This left everyone groaning. Elsie ran the show with humor and love. “Eat up,” she would say, “there’s another one (turkey, roast, etc.) out in the kitchen.”
Elsie’s pickles were famous and inimitable. She made them in big crock pots and passed the recipe on to my mother and sister who unfortunately could never quite duplicate her results. Food and its preparation is often the source of some mystery.
We all seem to be captive to our childhood preferences in food. For many years I had a thing for French toast and bacon in the morning. Those associations with breakfast die hard. You know about Proust and the madeleine dipped in tea? Taste, memory and associations together make us into creatures of the past. So sometimes, as I said here, we simply have to give way to our built-in historic preferences. The alternative is food guilt, and who needs that?
The wizards of the food industry are constantly bombarded by the food police and the advocates of organic food. I think the only thing wrong with organic food is the folks who promote it and their high-handed convictions in the cause. They feed on many platitudes and attitudes about food.
Researchers claim that fat (but not obese) people live longer. So, how much weight is too much, guys? Another elaborate study on fruit flies tells us that human taste buds operate like those in the flies to make up for diet deficiencies.
You want science like this to control your diet and your life? I mean, what’s wrong with sandwiches? Stuff ‘em with lettuce if you want your greens. Did you know that pizza is the best-liked food in the world? How frightening is that? I live around the corner from a great farmers market so I’m fortunate not to be subject to the onslaught of the packaged, processed, fatty foods that outrage the food police.
Recent gastronomic traditions in American cooking can compete with the best in Europe and Asia. And the fact that we have incorporated the traditions of French, Italian and Asian cookery in our food provides variety and nourishment of a different and welcome sort. The best food in Mexico, as in the U.S., is the freshest and most nutritious. Beans, vegetables, fruits and corn tortillas are everywhere. The better restaurants here serve up endless variations on these staples, often with great flair.
But not everybody everywhere gets to eat. The horror stories in Gaza keep on coming: attacks on the food truck convoys, Israeli soldiers killing the attackers, near-famine conditions, air drops of insufficient food falling into the sea, photos of kids starving. I read a report that people resorted to eating animal feed.
Using food as a weapon is one of the most barbarous things countries can do, and we see it happening over and over again. Our politicians seem powerless to do anything, but they all enjoy a good breakfast.