17 January 2014

Thought for Food

Reading over yesterday's post and some of the comments I got on it in various places makes me realise that this calls for an addendum. Food for Thought, Take 2. Or Thought for Food?

See, what I need to tell you today is that when I was talking about German food culture yesterday, I was telling you what I grew up with, not what is happening in my own house with my own offspring. I wasn't trying to say that that is how I raised my own children, with every dinner a sit-down meal and eating every vegetable that's put on the table. I tried, I really did - but that's one of those instances where, as I said, I found out the hard way that you can't run a culture on your own. (The other major instance is that my kids don't speak German, for all intents and purposes. That's right. I tried teaching them, but in the absence of a German environment, it just didn't happen.)

So, just in case you took yesterday's post as a "Thou Shalt", stop it right now. Guilt trips are not a good place to go; trust me, I'm an experienced traveller on that road. I did not mean to say that the German way of doing things is how kids should be raised, and that if you don't, you're doing it WRONG. That's not it at all.

What is, then? It's exactly that, the getting rid of "Thou Shalt" and replacing it with a "You May". Where food is concerned, North American culture has deeply ingrained in it the old Puritan-inspired idea that Food Is Only There For Sustenance, and taking pleasure in it is somehow sinful and to be regarded with suspicion. If it's tasty, it must be "bad for you", and the root cause for many of the ills in our society are "bad foods". If you are a virtuous person, you will eat virtuous food (no, not virtual. Virtuous. Sheesh.); if you are a bad (self-indulgent, undisciplined, non-virtuous) person, you will eat bad food - or the other way around, eating virtuous food makes you a virtuous person, eating bad (vice-ous, vicious) food makes you a bad person. You don't believe me? Think about it - have you ever heard of a chocolate cake being "sinfully rich"? Or seen that commercial which equated eating cream cheese with being angels or devils? (I can't remember if the point of the commercial was that this brand of cream cheese was so delicious that it even tempted angels to commit the sin of eating it, or if it was so much artificially altered that it didn't count as sinful any longer and even the angels could eat it. I only remember that it was a really obnoxious ad.)

Food is equated with virtue or vice, being good or bad. And being healthy or sick is how we are rewarded or punished for our self-discipline or self-indulgence. Add to that the "every man for himself" ideal on which North America is built, put it in the pot, stir until combined, and you end up with a completely fragmented food culture.

What I'm saying is that it doesn't have to be that way. The Germans, the French, the Italians, for that matter the Greeks and Turks and Japanese and Chinese and Russians and Spanish and - well, you get the idea - they don't think that way of food. They love food. They enjoy food. And they SHARE food. I sometimes regret that I don't drink coffee (I never have, and for a no more virtuous reason than that I don't like the taste). I would love to be able to share in the conversation of this society's all-pervasive coffee culture, to be able to discuss whether a triple-mocha-venti-macchiado made with a Columbian roast is more tasty than an, umm, cinnamon-pumpkin-spice latté sourced from Costa Rican beans, but as you can tell, I don't even get the terminology right. My regret isn't big enough to cultivate a taste for the roasted bean, but you get my drift. There is pleasure in a shared food culture, and it's a good thing.

Life, the Universe, and the Pleasures of Food. Now that is virtue.

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