Food flip-flops

You can learn a lot about a culture by its attitude toward food: What people consider a wholesome meal, the timing of consumption (second breakfasts, anyone?), even the appliances used to prepare food. I’m reminded of when a globe-trotting friend of mine said that you could learn more about a culture by shopping in a local supermarket than by perusing tourist traps.

Only about a half-century ago, people had a strong enthusiasm for manufactured meals. Think of The Jetsons and food pills, small pellets containing all your daily nutritional needs in an unperishable form. Or consider how early microwave dinners resembled ersatz Star Trek dinners, different parts of a meal separated into tidy compartments.

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Coming soon to a Whole Foods near you!

Today, popular opinion has somewhat shifted on what is good, wholesome food. Food pills have lost out to homecooked dinners. Farmer’s markets have replaced Star Trek-type food replicators. Whether it’s unpasteurized, unbleached, pesticide-free or organic, we prefer nature’s bounty to man’s science experiments.

Why such a shift? It could speak of a growing distrust of technology. People were promised a lot by early food science. Not only would enhanced eats be cheaper and longer-lasting, but they would be healthier, too. But the initial euphoria looks to have gradually worn off as synthetic food became linked (or so we think?) to health problems. Pesticide-ridden, genetically-modified, lab-generated foods are not necessarily healthier.

And as I write this in between bites of a homegrown tomato, I wonder if another problem was that synthetic food just isn’t as much fun. Food pills and Nutraloafs ignore thousands of years of cultural history. Eating around a dinner table with family, snacking in between meals or preparing a simple Fluffernutter at home – these are activities that the synthetic future hasn’t adequately replaced.

I remain optimistic about the future of food, particularly the future of synthetic food. We may not have the formula yet, but Rome was not built in a day. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy my homegrown tomato and leave the test-tube hamburgers to more adventurous souls.

2 thoughts on “Food flip-flops

  1. It’s really interesting how attitudes toward food have done a 180 in the last 50 or 60 years–it used to be that TV dinners, white bread, processed foods, and other “high-tech” foods were an indication of wealth and luxury. Now, organic produce is more rare and expensive than most processed foods! Not to mention anything home-grown is also a rarity. And fyi, I would also rather eat a home-grown tomato than a test-tube burger.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Yes, it is remarkable, this shift from processed foods as a sign of wealth to the scourge of the poor. I heard there’s something similiar going on with the preference for tan skin in North America today – it’s no longer just lowly farmhands who are associated with tans.

    Though I I confess I am a guilty participant in the homegrown/organic mania – I love Whole Foods!

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