It is not entirely pleasant swimming deliberately against the tide. This effort becomes particularly problematic when it concerns an issue that in the final analysis does not really matter.
Food does not really matter.
Which is the message of the previous blog post and this one. So thank you, and good night.
I shall now continue. Although, possibly, alone.
It is the definition of curmudgeonliness to make a fuss about what, in the grand scheme of things, is a relative irrelevance. Celebrity chefs, accorded disproportionate adulation? Hardly an earthshaking consideration. They are unlikely to have heard about it in Pakistan.
Somebody’s got to make me feel terrible about myself. Why shouldn’t it be chefs? Not just chefs, of course. But they are now added to the list.
The same level of “Who cares-edness” applies equally to this follow-up as well, concerning, this time, not the preparers of food but the actual food itself.
Let’s begin with the basics.
“What is food?”
You see the title for this post – “Nouriture”? That’s French for “food.” From the look of it , “nouriture” appears to derive from the same “word family” as the word “nourishment.”
To me, the French have it right, because that is fundamentally what food is.
And that’s it.
The rest is window dressing. Gustatorial gift-wrapping for the nourishment.
And nothing more.
It is only recently that comestibility has been converted into something high-falutin’ly fancier. For it was not always thus.
In prehistoric times, for example, the most exciting thing about food was,
“We found some!”
Finding food meant you wouldn’t die. For a while. After that, to maintain that lucky streak,
You had to find food again!
And again. And again. And again.
Your entire life was just food shopping with spears.
How did it taste? It tasted wonderful. Especially compared to the alternative, which if you did not find food, was wood. And when you ran out of wood, was “dead.”
After the “availability issue” was taken care of, the next stage in the operation might be called “Food 2.0”. The “procurement problem” having been covered, it was now a question of making distinctions.
Once, the “beginning and end” of the “dining experience” could be fully delineated by the words,
As you’ll recall from Oliver, there were no complaints about the quality of the gruel. Little Oliver never said, “Can you put some salt in this?” He said, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
Compared with those easygoing standards, our microscopic attention to food would appear to be the height of ingratitude and snobbery. For those urchins, it was,
“‘as it got any bugs in it? Then it’s good.”
Today’s diners expect better.
Having jumped to a more sophisticated level, we find two areas of concern about food: Its healthiness and its delectability.
We now know which foods are good for us. Though not precisely, as the rules appear to continually fluctuate. Upon waking up, a cryogenetically frozen Woody Allen in Sleeper (1973) returned to discover that pastrami sandwiches were now good for you. The “rights and wrongs” in these matters have turned out to be precariously fickle.
Lemme go out on a limb here: Nobody wants to die. (I didn’t say it was a long limb.) Throughout history, living as long as you can has been a continuing aspiration. From the earliest of times, people of means, by whom I mean people who had food options beyond the alternative of “food” or “no food” have made concerted efforts to eat things that would prolong their lives rather than shorten them. (With the exception of barbecue.)
Our nutritional knowhow may have advanced in these matters, but the primary objective remains remarkably consistent.
“Death: Not so fast. I’m taking fish oil and eating gluten-free hamburger buns.”
Today, the goal remains to eat the right things so you will not only live, you will alive longer and healthier. The only qualifying proviso in this regard is that we may not know what we’re talking about. (They may never have.) But at least we’re trying. (And so did they.)
Moving from the health-conscious to the epicurean…
We are now in the “Quintessential Dining Experience” department. Call it “Food 3.0”. An exponential step up. (Some might say. Though not everybody.)
There is enough food. You have determined what’s good for you. Enter:
The palate and the taste buds.
This is not necessarily a dollars issue. It is not merely the “Best Gourmet Meal At Unreasonable Prices.” What has happened is that, in dining categories across the board, we have become more knowledgeable and more demanding. “Good enough” is no longer good enough. It has to be “The Best.”
“The Best Bagel.” “The Best Greasy Hamburger.” “The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich.” “The Best Spicy Green Stuff You Put On A Burrito.”
Everybody’s an expert. And they are not only proclaiming their expertise. If you are missing “The Best”, they assert, you may not know it, but your life is bereft of significant meaning.
My wife and daughter Anna are at least “borderline foodies.” Usually on the upscale side of things, although they also extol Tacos Por Favor. Being around them has immeasurably upgraded my palate. Which, it turns out, is an unexpected mixed blessing.
They have introduced me to “finer dining.” But since most prepared food is all right but rarely spectacular, I have now joined them in being regularly disappointed.
Meaning I can no longer enjoy restaurants that I once thought were all right. Is that better for me, or worse?
It is in this context – and this context alone – that I identify with conservatives’ frustration with our sexualized society. When bombarded by fads and fashions, especially those favoring increased visceral pleasure, whether you want it or not, it’s everywhere. And there is nothing you can do but complain about it.
Which is helpful, of course, because complaining about things turns things immediately back to to the way they once were.
Did you hear me just sigh?