Customs or a Lack Thereof

Richard points out that in my piece on Organics, Ethics and Snobbery I had forgotten a key component when I listed the factors the motivate purchasing decisions. I wrote:

It is my belief that most individual food purchasing choices are based off of the following factors:

  • accessibility
  • cost
  • knowledge of product

Richard, in the comments of that post, said that I forgot a key factor : custom.

He’s absolutely correct, and it was an oversight on my part. But there’s a reason why I had forgotten it. It’s sometimes difficult to see certain behaviors in my own life as custom, evn though that’s exactly what they are. Even though my mother was/and presumably still is a wonderfl cook, by the time she and my father seperated, her role changed from housewife, to breadwinner for her own household. Often times this meant that she didn’t have the time to cook. As such, shopping for meals meant looking in the supermarket for foods that required little or no preperation or skill.

This, too, is a custom; as much of one as passing down the secret recipe for a peach cobbler.

Apparently I’m not the only one that to which this occurred. In the article Amid ‘Food Culture’ Boom, Many Can’t Cook, Beth Wilcox states “My mother was a working woman, a career woman.There wasn’t that transfer of skills or recipes.”

The article goes on to state:

John Nihoff, a professor of gastronomy at the culinary institute who studies food culture, said that as society became more work-oriented in the ’60s, not only was Mom more likely to work outside the home, but workdays for both parents got longer.

With Mom and Dad both out of the house more, families cooked less and relied more on store-bought food. The old tradition of Mom passing on cooking skills suffered, Nihoff said. He notes that Americans now spend $121 billion a year on “home meal replacements” – partially- or fully-cooked dinners eaten at home that are bought in restaurants or supermarkets.

This too, is also a custom that we’re passing along to future generations. The lack of a culinary tradition is still a tradition, just one that people often fail to realize.

That’s partly why the organic and slow food movements are so exciting to me. It’s a rediscovery of traditions and tastes that have never really went away.

Richard made an excellant point, and one that touches upon a larger issue when it comes to American culinary traditions. A large part of the food movements you read about (or are a part of if you happen to write food blogs) is a rejection of past customs, even if they had only developed within the last generation.


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