January 20, 2011
Listen up, boys and girls. In my day, bacon knew its place: squarely next to the scrambled eggs as part of “this nutritious breakfast.” No one dared to—or, for that matter, had occasion to—utter the words “artisanal” and “marshmallow” in the same breath. No one even knew what artisanal meant. And gorging yourself on an entire pizza the size of a garbage pail lid was considered a sign of an eating disorder, not a qualification for hosting a show on the Travel Channel.
But those days are over, and man, am I glad. All of the above are expressions of the same trend: America’s current infatuation with food. As annoying as the more obsessive-compulsive aspects of this food fetish have occasionally become, I think the net result has been positive. People are becoming more adventurous eaters, cooking and growing more of their own food, and thinking through important issues about where their food comes from and the effect it has on our health and the environment.
I am glad that even my tiny rural community in upstate New York now has places where I can get an horchata cocktail or gourmet poutine. I’m glad that I can read an entire book about the history of salt. (O.K., I haven’t actually read that one, but I’m glad it’s out there in case I’m ever curious about the subject. Which could happen.) And I’m especially grateful that I get to make part of my living researching, thinking about, writing about—and even occasionally cooking and/or eating—food.
The editor of the new food section at Good, Nicola Twilley, has been moderating a multi-site discussion this week called Food for Thinkers (of which this post is a part) with the following question as a jumping-off point:
What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today?
For one thing, it means we have a lot of company. Have you noticed that suddenly every time you go to a restaurant people are photographing their meals? Food bloggers. We’re everywhere: on food magazine sites; on sites like this one, for magazines that aren’t specifically about food; on personal blogs. There are recipe sites, restaurant review sites, sites that explore the politics of eating local/organic/nose to tail/out of a Dumpster. And there are backlash sites devoted to mocking extreme foodies (which is kinda like shooting sustainably sourced fish in a barrel). “Please, stop talking about ramps,” urges the blog Shut Up, Foodies!
It’s a crowded field, to be sure. But, as reading the Food for Thinkers entries posted so far demonstrates, food is an endlessly versatile subject. An architect wrote about building models out of edible materials, and designs inspired by food. A librarian explored what old menus can teach us about demographic and cultural changes. And a Tibetan blog explained how food is “a tool of national identity and political resistance” there. I’ve discovered some new food blogs I’ll be following, and I hope some new readers discover this one. There’s a lot to talk about.
But, please, can we give the bacon a rest?
Food for Thinkers is a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food-writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011, more than thirty food and non-food writers will respond to a question posed by GOOD’s newly-launched Food hub: What does—or could, or even should—it mean to write about food today? You can check out the conversation in full at GOOD.is/food, join in the comments, and follow the Twitter hashtag #foodforthinkers to keep up-to-date as archaeologists, human rights activists, design critics and even food writers share their perspective on what makes food so interesting.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.