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Friday, August 25, 2006

Slow food

Slow Food Nation

Alice Waters

It turns out that Jean Anthèlme Brillat-Savarin was right in 1825 when he wrote in his magnum opus, The Physiology of Taste, that "the destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they are fed." If you think this aphorism exaggerates the importance of food, consider that today almost 4 billion people worldwide depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Food is destiny, all right; every decision we make about food has personal and global repercussions. By now it is generally conceded that the food we eat could actually be making us sick, but we still haven't acknowledged the full consequences--environmental, political, cultural, social and ethical--of our national diet.

These consequences include soil depletion, water and air pollution, the loss of family farms and rural communities, and even global warming. (Inconveniently, Al Gore's otherwise invaluable documentary An Inconvenient Truth has disappointingly little to say about how industrial food contributes to climate change.) When we pledge our dietary allegiance to a fast-food nation, there are also grave consequences to the health of our civil society and our national character. When we eat fast-food meals alone in our cars, we swallow the values and assumptions of the corporations that manufacture them. According to these values, eating is no more important than fueling up, and should be done quickly and anonymously. Since food will always be cheap, and resources abundant, it's OK to waste. Feedlot beef, french fries and Coke are actually good for you. It doesn't matter where food comes from, or how fresh it is, because standardized consistency is more important than diversified quality. Finally, hard work--work that requires concentration, application and honesty, such as cooking for your family--is seen as drudgery, of no commercial value and to be avoided at all costs. There are more important things to do.

The reason that eating well in this country costs more than eating poorly is that we have a set of agricultural policies that subsidize fast food and make fresh, wholesome foods, which receive no government support, seem expensive. Organic foods seem elitist only because industrial food is artificially cheap, with its real costs being charged to the public purse, the public health and the environment.

Alice Waters changed the way American restaurants served food, then the way people ate. There would be no Food Network, no Whole Foods, none of the thousands of things we take for granted today if she didn't start using fresh, local ingrediants.

Julia Child was a classically trained French chef, cooking classic French food. While Child upgraded what Americans ate, Waters changed it. New York has a network of Greenmarkets because of the ideas Waters promoted. And all the fresh salads and organic food we take for granted, that's her legacy.

I've often thought modern American cuisine was Italian in ideology. Fresh ingredients prepared relatively simply and that was because fresh food rules the kitchen. Now, there's a renaissance of regional American cooking for many of the same reasons. People now value the food of their local areas and local traditions.

Take an American steakhouse. Before the 1970's, you would have seen creamed spinach, chateaubriand and beef wellington, bernaise sauce. Now, a steak dinner is grilled or broiled meat, vegetables and a glass of wine, much less complicated meals, which concentrates on the quality of the goods. Where would you eat a meal like that? Tuscany.

We're now just seeing the growth of Spanish and French regional cuisine as inspirations for American cooking.Waters promoted the idea that one could make good food not by technique alone, but by quality from the source.

In the last few years, Waters has worked with Bay Area schools to get them to teach nutrition and use fresh food.

Americans, despite our vast wealth, are just nowe returning to eat from the land and ending our love affair with industrial food.

posted by Steve @ 4:30:00 AM

4:30:00 AM

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