When I think about food, celebrations immediately come to mind. Food is – and has always been – a major part of holidays and celebrations around the world. Where there are birthdays, weddings, festivals, or even small family gatherings, food is surely to be found.I’m sure that everyone has their own interpretation of food, for some it is not very special and just a means of survival and for others it’s life.
Food has always played an important role in my life; however, it wasn’t until I took my Critical Thinking and Writing class here at Santa Clara University that I became aware of all of the various aspects of the food industry. Focusing on our theme, “Self, Food and Culture”, I have done extensive research about food. Before taking this class, I was neither acquainted with the unethical techniques that our food industry uses, nor did I ever think about where my food was coming from. This class has not only contributed greatly to my writing but also to my knowledge about healthy eating.
One thought that often strikes my mind is that the meaning of food for us has changed drastically over the last few decades. In the past, fresher and more organic food options were available, and people made healthier choices about what they were eating than we do today. The fast food joints which we are so accustomed to today did not exist then, and it was a simpler time. Homemakers cooked everything from scratch, using vegetables mostly grown on their own small farms, and even the meat, too, was locally raised. Everything was “organic”. Not all fruits and vegetables were available throughout the year as they are today (“Food Standards Agency – Eat Well, Be Well – Changing Tastes.” ).
With changing times, though, priorities also change. Nowadays, most of us keep materialistic things on top of our list. Some of us are so busy that we don’t have time to eat or cook. Ours is an era where everything is fast and convenient, especially food. Fast food joints are popping up on every corner. Fast and processed food is now being served at restaurants and drive-throughs, at stadiums, airports, zoos, elementary schools, cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at K-Mart, Walmart, gas stations, and even at hospital cafeterias. By far the most popular fast food chain, McDonald’s has revolutionized the food industry (Gilpin). They introduced a way to eat food without knives, forks or plates; grab a hamburger with some fries from McDonald’s and you are good to go! While these meals are great options for many, as they save the time and effort required to cook and are cheap and filling, if we take their harmful side effects into consideration, we will see that they far outweigh the benefits of taste and convenience.
Overall, food is not as nutritious as it used to be. There has been a rise in the rate of obesity since these fast food chains have been introduced. More than two-thirds of the adults and one-third of school going children in the United States are obese (“Obesity in the United States”). This is an unfortunate and sad indicator of the times we are now living in. Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely consider where their food came from, how it was made, or what its effects are on the community around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap the paper, and dig in. They should know what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten.
However, there is another side to the food industry that involves more than just junk. Another change in food culture that I was informed about upon attending my Critical Thinking and Writing class was the birth of molecular gastronomy. Molecular gastronomy puts all other cooking fads to shame; it brings the ultimate fantasy to life by creating edible works of art combining science and cookery. It is exciting and has allowed for revolutionary research and findings within the cooking world. Often considered just fancy and unnecessary showing off, at the expense of taste, it is, instead, a wider perception of cooking, which includes physics to improve the cooking outcome. I believe it is an upcoming trend, mostly for wealthy individuals. There are even some science-aficionado and chefs who have devoted a great deal of time to studying the physical and chemical mechanisms of cooking (“What Is Molecular Gastronomy? | Molecular Recipes.”). Their kitchens become labs inspired by science-fiction as they strive to understand what lies behind gastronomy. The main objectives of molecular gastronomy are to understand in detail the culinary transformations and processes from a technical, artistic, and social standpoint. The Fat Duck is a restaurant in England is well known for serving dishes using molecular gastronomy (“The Fat Duck.”).
Here is a video which will give you a glimpse of what The Fat Duck has to offer.
While I would not deny the fact that molecular gastronomy is still growing, I feel that using such scientific techniques in cooking cannot be a part of our everyday life, however. These things can give us momentary pleasure, but cannot form the basis of how we view at our food. Humans have a general tendency to invent new things, which I agree is great, but to some extent. Food is not something we should experiment with because a single mistake can adversely affect our health. People will realize one day that we should not play with our food.
What amazes me, though, is that despite all of this most of us have started making responsible and healthy food choices. The demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased recently, and I can speak from own personal experience. Most of my friends and family members prefer getting fresh fruits from farmers markets. Not only that, but organic food markets such as Trader Joe’s are also becoming famous. I believe that this fresh food trend is reviving the more health conscious and environmentally friendly ideals of our past generations. We used to grow and cook healthy vegetables fifty years back, slowly shifted to fast-foods, followed by scientifically experimenting with food, and now we have again become conscious of the food we are eating. The question that I now ask myself is “What’s next?” To be honest, I don’t think I can answer that question, but surely I can say that we need to enjoy food. So, enjoy! Eating can and should be the simplest joy we all have. Sharing a meal brings people together in a way that little else does. By shopping sustainably, eating less meat, growing food ourselves, cooking, and getting actively involved it will not only give us pleasure, but also the satisfaction of making efforts to protect our environment and the authenticity of our food. Knowing that the food you eat is grown with care for the environment, farmers, animals, and your own health will only add to your joyful food experience.
Gilpin, Kenneth N. “Richard McDonald, 89, Fast-Food Revolutionary.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 July 1998. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.
“The Fat Duck.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2014.