Contemplation: The Impracticality of Modern Cuisines

Kottke links to a blog post by Waldo Jaquith about how impractical a cheeseburger is as a meal, and how, it is essentially an impossible meal prior to our modern agriculatural systems.  It is a fantastic little read that very clearly points out details that we often take for granted in regards to how we eat food today.  The ease of availability, year round, of some many varieties of food, have unquestionably contributed significantly to modern cullinary dishes and practices.  In many ways we are fortunate to live in a time and place where we can pair a wide varieties of food stuffs together to create unique and delicious dishes of a wide variety.  But perhaps it is worth thinking about these matters a little bit more critically. Perhaps it is worth the question of, “is this food that I so like and desire, really all that practical in the sense of its overall production requirements?”

Let me start off by saying that I love cheeseburgers.  Add a few slices of deliciously crispy bacon to one and you’ve got about one of the most delicious things you could ask for as far as I am concerned.  Beyond cheeseburgers I tned to be fond of a whole lot of different foods and dishes.  However, I do recognize, that a lot of these potential meals would not have been widely available (if available at all) a hundred years ago. 

The question of whether the avalability of such meals is a good or bad thing really depends on how you view the system that makes creating something like a cheeseburger possible.  The reason that a cheeseburger can be made with relative ease today is due largely to the existence of big agriculture and major monocropping systems in combination with an ability to move goods to every corner of the globe in a reasonably short amount of time.  This creates mass availability which, in itself, is neither good nor bad but can riase the question of long term sustainability.

The system is unquestionably taxed and it is likely that in the long run some significant changes will need to be made to ensure a long term continuation.  Massive monocropping agriculture has proven problematic in a number of ways.  Our dependency on petroleum for both production and transportation of goods is another issue which we will have to face in the not too distant future.  As such it may be worthwhile for us all to ask some simple questions about the ethics of frequent consumption of something like a cheeseburger.

For our part it may be reasonably to say that adopting a more seasonal and locovore based diet is beneficial in both educating us about recognizing avalability of specific food stuff as well as perhaps helping to lower demand for foods that should not really be available all year round.  For example, Eliza and I very rarely eat a lot of tomatoes and pepper in the winter months.  This is not becuase we do not like tomatoes and peppers (we love them) but more so becuase we recognize that the only ones available had to be grown specially somewhere else (Florida, California, Mexico, etc.) and shipped to where we are.  Tomatoes and peppers do not grow year round, even in South Carolina’s considerably mild climate (we could, reasonably, grow both inside or in a greenhouse if we wanted to) and so we have to question the necessity of eating them all year round.  We will eat canned tomatoes mostly becuase those represent a preserved crop and preserving is something that was done much more significantly in the past to make available foodstuff at differing times of the year.

Having maintained a garden for two years now has really worked to make me more aware of the seasonal availability of various fruits and vegetables and to ask myself, “where is this coming from and what had to be done to grow it?” when I see something like a peach in the super market in December.  What I find further interesting is that by actively choosing to eat more local and seasonal foods, I am challenged to be more creative cullinarily.  I have not found my food lacking in any way, it is simply that I eat differently in the winter months than I do in the summer months.  Add to gardening things like foraging (both Eliza and I are big into forgaing, especially for mushrooms and nuts and such) and hunting (something I am looking forward to picking up sometime in the not too distant future) and you can provide yourself with a pretty wide variety of foods throughout a year.

I don’t hold a grudge against anybody who chooses to eat tomatoes in the winter (becuase I do on occasion as well) but I do challenge us all to ask more serious questions about what it has teken to make certain foods available to us.  I think it is foolish to ever take something like food for granted, becuase if we do so we may find ourselves in a serious bind if and when those things ever become unavailable.

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~ by Nathaniel on December 6, 2011.

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