Posts Tagged With: food

Retiring the modern hearth: Good bye to the stove

Janine Swank. Flickr. Sonora Town, Gilbert, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

Janine Swank. Flickr. Sonora Town, Gilbert, Arizona. August 1, 2011.

Shiny, warm, and fragrant from baking chocolate chip cookies, the stove replaced the hearth as the center of the kitchen if not the home.  It is lovingly scrubbed by fryers of chicken and simmerers of tomato sauce.  Novice bakers of muffins for a Girl Scout meeting, veteran omelet cooks, and amateur gourmet chefs preparing ratatouille all pay their respects with their attentive stances before the stove.  Of course, these comforting household routines would not be possible if the presence of the stove wasn’t an expected part of every household.  Despite central heating and fast food restaurants, whether we inhabit an apartment or a mansion, there’s a stove in the kitchen.

Given the length and importance of the relationship of the stove with abodes and their inhabitants, what is the future of the stove?  Fast food meals have enabled walks right by the kitchen door.  Digital relationships have moved eating from the kitchen to the desktop.  Our working friendship with the stove has been usurped by the computer.  Cooking and baking have been replaced by tapping and clicking.  While the stove’s stolid appearance has a certain technological charm, its chunky mechanical dials and elements can’t complete even visually with the sleek, minimalist style of a laptop computer.  Of course, working with a computer imbues us with an air of intelligent accomplishment, too.  The audios, videos, and multiple screens are all commanded by the agile glide of our fingers over the keyboard.  Melodious sounds and erudite talk issue into the surrounding air.  Working with stove affords us a more visceral appeal.  Our production of nourishment, warmth, and taste suggests that not only our minds, but also our hearts are engaged.

Despite our longings, though, the demands of the information age will draw us away from the loyal companionship of the stove.  Our collection of cookbooks will make way for the overflow of paper goods from the wholesale shopping store.  Repeated foraging for meals at the drive through window will become habitual.  Our memories of cooking and the flavors of home cooked meals will disappear with our bottled herbs and spices.  Like the exercise bike that serves as a hanger for clothing, the stove will first lose its luster due to a slight covering of dust.  Our initial inattentions will be replaced with takeout menus, piles of paper napkins, and packets of sugar and ketchup.  Eventually, it will be donated to a family who appreciates its bulky sensibilities, despite its lack of cachet.  Future generations will want kitchens equipped only with microwave and toaster ovens.  Their elegant portability and just-in-time performance will speed the stove into obsolescence.  Good bye, old friend.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Global warming: Forecasting breakfast

Lara604. Flickr. January 30, 2011.

Lara604. Flickr. January 30, 2011.

Although the human diet is varied, we all have the same nutritional needs for protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.  Despite concerns about the western consumption of processed foods such as Velveeta Cheese, Twinkies, and soda pop for sustenance, we all must eat animals and/or plants.  That is, we must grow or hunt all of our foods.  Slim Fast and Jell-O aside, the laboratory doesn’t yet have the capacity to synthesize meals for human nourishment.  Global warming, then, has implications for more than the severity of hurricanes, the configuration of coastlines, the existence of islands, the stability of buildings, the functionality of the power grid, and the longevity of neighborhoods.  These consequences of climate change are of great importance to humanity.  Just ask the former residents of New Orleans or the current residents of New York City how they feel about severe storms.

Fortunately, humans have the capacity to rebuild homes, streets, and communications infrastructures. Our inventiveness and technological knowledge will ensure we build them stronger, too.  Like our great grandparents though, we are still dependent on the abundance of the harvest.  Although we can preserve, store, and transport foods in ways unknown them, we must still have supplies of cucumbers, tomatoes, pinto beans, rice, chicken, and fish for pickling, canning, drying, and freezing.  Our sophisticated predictions of severe weather won’t permit us to save our crops like we evacuate our citizens.  Unlike people, fields of corn, wheat, and rice are immobile.  Even more, they can neither adapt to nor be protected from extremes in temperature or precipitation.

If climate changes are inevitable, we will find that our menus must change, too.  Humans can competently predict the weather, farm the land, and develop seeds that will grow to fruition.  Antique grains such as teff, quinoa, emmer, spelt, kamut, or amaranth and the dishes that include them will replace wheat bread, rice and wheat noodles, and corn tortillas.  Sandwich wraps prepared from rich brown teff or pale green spelt may become ubiquitous.  Soups and stews with nutty quinoa or amaranth will grace dinner tables.  Fast food restaurants will serve pancakes and fritters rather than doughnuts and French fries.  Soy hamburgers and hot dogs will be the usual fare, too, due to the increased cost of the care and feeding of cattle, pigs, and chickens.  The increased prices for meats will render most people vegetarian.  Would most of us miss automobiles or meat more?  We’ll learn the answer within our lifetime.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Food deserts: Lost in a mirage of abundance

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Ian Britton. Flickr. August 4, 2009.

Food insecurity is popularly known as not knowing where your next meal is coming from.  Even in a country of abundance like the United States, in 2011, 14.9% of household members weren’t sure they would eat regularly.  Providing assistance in the form of soup kitchens, food pantries, and vouchers or debit cards for the purchase of food isn’t sufficient.  As described and explained by Mari Gallagher, numbers of American communities offer little or no access to healthy foods.  Gallagher developed the term “food deserts” to define these circumstances and geographical areas.  While a great variety of fast and snack foods may be available locally, fresh vegetables and meats are not within ready commuting distance.

For children living in a food desert, chips, candy bars, ice cream, and soda pop constitute their choices for an after school snack.  Their shopping is limited to a corner store or gas station.  The absence of full-service restaurants or diners prevents teens from enjoying omelets, salads, or glasses of milk with their friends.  Busy parents can’t traverse the self-service check-out lane or visit the 15 items or less cashier with salad ingredients and a package of chicken legs after work.    Their choices for a quick dinner are confined to the drive through lane at a community fast food restaurant.  Yes, they may be able to choose among fried fish, hamburgers and fries, and fried chicken.  Still, all of these meals are fried and reconstituted from frozen, not fresh foods.

The travel necessary to shop at a grocery store may prevent food desert residents without cars from shopping at one.  Residents with cars may have to shop less frequently than they need because of the time required to drive to a grocery store.  Their usual diet, then, may lack healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, milk and yogurt, whole grains, and cuts of fresh meat that can be stewed and roasted.  This grocery store deficiency can cause lifelong health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.  An abundance of fried, salty, and sweet foods can be as detrimental to quality of life and longevity as food insecurity.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Ethnic authenticity: No hyphens allowed

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Stu Spivack. Flickr. January 3, 2012.

Concern with authenticity isn’t necessary to serve or eat ethnic foods in America.  The savvy restaurateur caters to local tastes.  Without his or her innovations, there would be no Tex-Mex chili, chicken chow mein, vegetarian sushi, or Chicago style deep dish pizza.  Assimilation would demand American breakfasts of cold cereal, lunches of hot dogs and apple pie, and dinners of steaks and baked potatoes.  Accommodation welcomes new citizens with friendly interest in their cultures if not their languages.  Just as friendship necessitates finding commonalities and sharing experiences, Americans have adapted ethnic recipes to suit their own tastes, ingredients, and customs.

Our best intentions have brought us nachos comprised of tortilla chips, Velveeta cheese sauce, hamburger, and pickled peppers for lunch.  Pasta, of course, is readily assembled from packaged noodles, canned tomato sauce, and hamburger.  Chocolate chips and chocolate cream cheese transform bagels.  This disguise renders breakfast as richly sweet as dessert.  Plenty of salt and fat as well as sugar suits American tastes.  An abundance of meat and cheese is important to Americans, too.  Fresh herbs and spices and unprocessed oils aren’t missed; they would be overwhelmed by all the fatty meat and melted cheese.  Even more, rather than reserve all this rich abundance for holiday celebrations, Americans enjoy it daily.

We’re quick to give credit as well.  While Italians may wish compliments neither for Snooki nor for “Italian” beef sandwiches, they are legendary in the United States.  Swedish pancakes served at American family restaurants are probably about as well known to Swedes as Dolph Lundgren.  Chinese fried rice and Bruce Lee offer similar dubious compliments to the long history of Chinese civilization.  American pride in these adulterations of ethnic foods and culture does acknowledge their hyphenated or hybrid nature.  After all, credit is due to Americans for their development, if not their taste buds.

If only the same devotion afforded to recipes for apple pie and potato salad accompanied forays into tacos and Thai noodle dishes.  Treasured recipes for flaky crusts include prescriptions for specialty ingredients and their temperatures.  Selected varieties of apples are recommended for fillings of the best texture and flavor.  Traditional family recipes for potato salad call for particular types of mustard and varieties of potatoes and onions.  The ingredients of their dressings, accompanying vegetables, and temperature at serving are diverse and detailed.  Respect for other cultures would be improved by respect for their cuisines.  In our global society, there’s ready access to unfamiliar ingredients and authentic recipes via the web if not your local grocery store.  Unlike learning another language, eating authentic ethnic foods offers fun with much less exertion.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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Chowing down: Fast as a way of life

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Derek Steen. Flickr. January 17, 2011.

Fortification for the demands of the day is economically, geographically, and nearly instantaneously available to Americans.  There are toastable frozen waffles, packaged breakfast bars, or yogurt cups from one’s own kitchen refrigerator.  Drive-through windows at local restaurants offer complete and handheld breakfasts.  Even if purchased, not cooked oneself, the substance of bacon, eggs, and toast used to require a fork, knife, and plate.  The preparation of even popular, comfort foods has become the province of people who are formally educated and paid.  The rhythms of a lovingly handmade, hot breakfast enjoyed in a warm kitchen in the convivial company of loved ones are gone.  Americans are so enamored with mass production that the value of amateur proficiency in the kitchen has declined precipitously.  Slowly preparing meals from fresh ingredients and family recipes has little meaning.

Still, how is it that fast preparation requires fast consumption of meals?  Eating while driving, working, and watching television is an expected part of multi-tasking for Americans.   Sandwiches, pizza, doughnuts, fried chicken, and burritos can be dispatched by the mouthful, too.  They constitute a handful; a double cheeseburger or a beef burrito dwarf finger sandwiches in size and weight.  Energetic chewing may be required, but table manners needn’t stand in its way.  Neither a dining table nor dining companions are found in a car, office, or den.  Large chunks of food are readily swallowed with the help of large volumes of beverages.  Straws encourage gulps rather than sips.  It isn’t enough for food to be fast, so must the diner.  The goal is to assuage hunger and finish a meal; minimizing the time spent eating is as important as minimizing the time spent cooking and cleaning up after the meal.

That doughnut or fried chicken leg need not be memorable as long as it is edible.  This minimal standard for taste enables the purchase of doughnuts or chicken legs at any restaurant.  For Americans, a valuable meal has become more food or drink per dollar.  Fast food restaurants compete by lowering prices or increasing portions rather than by improving taste or nutrition.  Their customers seek savings in time, effort, and money rather than enjoyment of their meals and the companionship of family and friends.  Changing these values would dramatically change not only the American diet and physique, but also the American identity and way of life.  Race you to the grocery store?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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At a museum near you: Vintage foods

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

Clare Chandler. Flickr. January 2, 2012.

The era of sauerkraut and sausages, rice and beans, pasta and tomato sauce, and turnips and potatoes is behind us.  For those of us on a budget, the dollar menu at McDonald’s is not only as economical, but also efficient and labor-saving.  The time from stomach growling to dinner time is approaching equivalence to the time required to say, “Millions served”.  When was the last time you ate pickled beets, cream of rice cereal, or beef tongue?  Molasses and prunes are now worthy of a museum exhibit.  They used to constitute important ingredients for cookies and cakes.  Ginger cookies, spice cake, and prune Danish pastries rendered the consumption of iron and fiber not only painless but also sweet.

Now that Hostess has stopped creating rich variations in the color and texture of sugary snacks, will people revert to canned fruit cocktail, toaster pastries, peaches in heavy syrup, and frozen cookie dough?  Their sweetness and convenience offered a surfeit of taste and expedient satiation.  Their popularity is now rivaled by hamburger, chicken parts, and cheddar cheese.  Given the great variety of foods available due to mass transportation and global trade, why are Americans satisfied with such a repetitive diet?  Fast food and family restaurants serving burgers, cheese burgers, macaroni and cheese, pizza, beef and cheese tacos, barbecued chicken, and chicken wings densely populate many communities.

What happened to pancake houses, delicatessens, and fish shacks?  Blueberry waffles, pastrami sandwiches, and fried clams offer the aromas and flavors of regional and ethnic America.  The preservation of tradition and variety requires experimentation.  Kippers for breakfast would wake up American taste buds.  Boredom would be banished by sushi or chorizo for lunch.  A supper of goulash, kimchi fried rice, or a prosciutto frittata would require dinner time conversation.  Heirloom status should be awarded to recipes, not just tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2013

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What’s for lunch in 2020?

Cindy Funk. Flickr. January 21, 2006.

Cindy Funk. Flickr. January 21, 2006.

Mass transportation and mass production dramatically changed American diets during the Industrial Age.  We are accustomed to canned tuna and ham, frozen turkey, packaged crackers, and year round fresh fruits and vegetables.  Mass immigration brought us a rainbow of ethnic foods.  Tacos, pizza, pierogi, chop suey, and bratwurst and sauerkraut compete with meat and potatoes for a place on American dinner tables.  Dining on vending machine foods by the glow of a computer screen has become an Information Age habit.  Who could have imagined 24-hour self-service of shortbread cookies, bars of chocolate and nuts, and bags of crispy sliced potatoes?

What will Americans be eating as the 21st century progresses?  Important influences are likely to be global warming, the obesity epidemic, and increasing numbers of single person households.  Burgers and fries, cold cereal, and even eggs are already being replaced by soup and salad, oatmeal, and yogurt cups.  Flavorful chili and artisan greens overwhelm yesterday’s chicken noodle soup and iceberg lettuce.  Oatmeal sweetened with dried fruits is available at fast food restaurants.  Single servings of creamy yogurt have an abundance of delicious additions.

Dessert will likely disappear.  Witness the shrinkage of the cake slice into cupcakes, the bankruptcy of Hostess, and the introduction of 100-calorie packages of cookies.  Public schools are considering bans of party snacks.  Employers are restocking vending machines with nuts, crackers, and bottled water.  Grocers offer more fruit sorbets than brands of chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  Singles have little or no time for baking homemade cookies, pies, and cakes.  Even devoted homemakers are challenged by the rising prices of chocolate and sugar.

Solo and insular living will continue the trend away from meals.  Snacking will become a healthier means to daytime rejuvenation than energy drinks.  Smaller portions will prompt more consumption of easily prepared and single serving foods.  Soup, salad, and sandwiches are already typical American meals. Warmer weather will end the seasonality and the expense of fresh fruit and vegetables.  The current obsession with types of coffee beans has already extended to varieties of apples and greens.  It will expand to other varieties of produce including herbs and spices.  Boutique produce departments that are now the province of major grocers will become independent brick and mortar stores.  Instead of online shopping for home delivery, they will establish regular truck routes.  Consumers will be able to purchase fresh produce on their doorsteps a couple of times per week.  Unlike the predictions of science fiction, future foods will be neither processed nor synthetic.  American ingenuity is again on the verge of meeting the challenges of its changing fortunes.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Food preservation: The value of time

Indi Samarajiva. Flickr. April 21, 2006.

Convenience enables us to save the time that is as valuable to us as money.  Thanks to the web, no one need even rise from his or chair to accomplish the grocery shopping.  College-educated chefs and dieticians protect us from hot kitchens and scorched fingers by preparing sumptuous and nourishing restaurant and packaged meals.  Should we wish to dabble in cooking, we can purchase pancake mix, instant hot cereal, dry macaroni, or powered cocoa.  Of course, they can’t eclipse the now dated wonders of food preservation.

Refrigerators, canned soup, frozen vegetables, and bottled beverages have freed us from long, hot days in the field and the kitchen.  Even these astounding achievements have been superseded by modern chemistry.  They enable us to store meats such as hot dogs and sliced ham, condiments such as mustard and pickles, and baked goods from buns to pumpernickel bread to apple pie.  No one has to shop every day, bake every week, or live without his or her favorite foods.  There’s time for children, spouses, social service, education, business strategy, urban planning, construction, technology, baseball, television, and social media.

While food preservatives improve the quality of life, do they reduce the quantity of life?  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, most food additives, that is, preservatives and colors are safe.  Still, consumption of common food additives such as sulfites which are found in dried fruit and potatoes has been fatal to some people.   Sodium nitrates and nitrates preserve the hot dogs, bacon, and cold cuts beloved by many Americans, but they have been associated with cancer.  It’s necessary, then, to choose processed foods wisely.  Today, reading labels is likely a legacy of grandmother and grandfather.  That’s a tradition worthy of preservation.

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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The refrigerator: A short story

Your Postmodern Cornucopia
Travis Hornung. Flickr. Santa Cruz, CA, USA. May 27, 2006.

Americans expect their kitchens to be equipped with refrigerators, but these appliances are not common in all parts of the world.  Even Americans who eat primarily fast food and restaurant meals still stock their refrigerators.  How would our meals differ without refrigeration?  We’d have to drink warm beverages including water, soda, and orange juice.  Forget the cold tinkle of ice cubes in iced tea and party punch bowls.  There’d be no keeping supplies of condiments such as pickles, ketchup, mustard, and jam.  Consumption of dairy products like milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream would be uncommon.  There would be no milk and cookies, grilled cheese sandwiches, or ice cream sundaes.

Trips to the pantry or dank, dark basement for cans of mushy yellow-green peas and lank grayish green spinach would be necessary.  Bins of potatoes and winter squash would accompany containers of split peas and pinto beans.  Shopping daily for fresh bread, meat, and produce would be required.  Fresh fruit would last only days.  We’d have to eat only locally grown, seasonal fruit.  There’d be no oranges in Michigan, apples in Arizona, kiwi fruit in Connecticut, or bananas in Idaho.

Without the refrigerator, Americans could not enjoy leftover cold pizza, fried chicken, or Chinese food for breakfast.  There would be no midnight refrigerator raids to eat that last piece of apple pie, savor the crispy corner portion of lasagna, or build a sandwich from leftover turkey.  The lullaby of its hum wouldn’t induce overnight naps on the couch after television marathons.  There would be no place to post children’s drawings, doctor’s appointments, or grocery lists.  What’s on your refrigerator?  What’s in your refrigerator?  Do you have a favorite midnight refrigerator raid story?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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Artificial flavors: Taste confronts style

Valerie Zinger. Flickr. April 29, 2012.

Grape soda, orange ice pops, lemon drops, nondairy coffee creamer, and artificial sugar substitutes are well-established treats for many Americans.  Children who relish their morning orange juice may still clamor for artificially flavored grape soda and orange ice pops.  Grandparents who grow backyard vegetables may still dispense artificially flavored lemon drops to neighborhood little ones.  Parents who hand cut beef and vegetables for crock pot stew may still sprinkle their coffee with nondairy coffee creamer and sugar substitute at the office.  All of these items are available in the same place.  How is it that cherry-flavored Jell-O and chocolate-flavored cold cereal are available in the same grocery stores that sell whole coffee beans and freshly baked breads?

The pluralism of which Americans are so proud doesn’t just include ethnic foods.  It straddles generations and social class.  Gourmet cooks shop for olive oil and specialty cheeses as Lean Cuisine devotees head for the frozen dinners’ aisle.  Football fans pile their carts with chips and cases of soda pop.  Grandmothers scrutinize the fresh greens and meats as college students speed toward the checkout line with boxes of instant oatmeal, packages of Ramen noodles, and jars of peanut butter.  Young mothers with toddlers ensconced in their carts choose steaks, baking potatoes, soda crackers, and instant chocolate pudding.

American tastes call for hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries at public sports events where plumbers, office managers, and bus drivers sit side by side with accountants, professors, and engineers.  It wouldn’t be fashionable to eat quiche or drink champagne at a baseball game.  Holiday office parties attended by the boss, managers, and staff can include wine, cheese, submarine sandwiches, and brownies.  Holiday dinners may include grandmother’s handmade ravioli and auntie’s Jell-O mold.  No one can claim to be the sole arbiter of American taste or style.  There is too much variety to permit it.  What is artificial about that?

© Laura Rizzardini, Inc., 2011

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