Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stickin' It to Slow Food

In Gastronomica, and now digested in the Utne Reader, Rachel Laudan sends a shot across the bow of slow food romanticists. She makes some very good points, but as the denouement and its qualified acceptance of the value of slow foodism indicates, she's sort of arguing against a straw man from the start. After all, I don't think the majority of modern foodies would actually argue that we should go back to the feudal era of peasantry.

The best point in the whole piece is that many of the things we think of as old, traditional foods are scarcely a century old.   It's a fact that's not often commented upon: foodways change and evolve rapidly, and the way people eat in one generation is likely to be almost completely different from the way their great-grandparents ate.  And that's not just a phenomenon of our era.

One of the points I make in my barbecue bookis that what we really think of as classic old-school barbecue was basically established in the early 20th Century with the rise of the restaurant industry, which commercialized a dish that had been popular in American since the early colonial days.  And, at the time barbecue restaurants were taking the country by storm, traditionalists were grumbling that it was a pale imitation of good old-fashioned barbecue, the kind they cooked over huge open pits dug in the ground back in the 19th century.

The historical food clock moves rather quickly, and, as Laudan persuasively argues, to try to turn it back to an idealized point in the past is bound to be a fool's errand.

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