Questions and Food Culture: Mine, Yours, and Ours

Trying to communicate to people my full on perspective regarding food is a difficult balance of personal and anecdotal interpretations of life experiences mixed with the empirical data that comes from those who gather such things. All of which provides evidence that helps answer the question of “Why do we eat what we eat?”.

The question is far more difficult than one might imagine. It would be far easier for me to ask “Why do I eat what I eat?”. But, as seven plus years of food blogging can demonstrate, I’m a bit of an outlier. My activities over the past seven years are not typically those of most people. These activities leave me questioning my own motives, and wondering why I give care what the average person from Skokie, Illinois had for dinner and what motivated them to buy that particular brand of potato chips, or sit down at that particular restaurant.

More than any other question, the one that sticks in my head is thus: since my own experiences had led me to several wonderful discoveries that are often easily obtainable, what is it that leads people to purchase crappier versions of my discoveries. Why do people buy Lipton Tea, Budweiser, or Kraft Singles? What made them purchase these items in the first place, and what motivated them to keep on buying them throughout their lifetime?

As I pulled back from looking for an answer from an individual perspective, I found that the answers to these questions often led to bigger questions. How did Budweiser get so big as to influence the beer market in the United States, putting them in the position to influence purchasing habits? What is there culturally that encourages us to over-sweetening our tea? Why, in God’s name, is Kraft cheese such an unnatural color of yellow-orange?

(A quick side note: It’s interesting, at least to me, on how my mind works. Because my intent when staring this post, was to discuss how much my family, particularly my parents, shaped my worldview on food. This isn’t an uncommon approach to food writing. But exploring that avenue seems pointless to me, irrelevant to most, except for myself. I already know how I came to appreciate food and drink, and what influences my parents had in that. What makes me curious is why my father felt the need to buy cake mixes, when his mother was a near genius in the baking department. But I digress.)

Food writing is such an odd vocation, especially at this point and time in American history. Our food culture is a hodge-podge of conflicting ideas and ideals, with different people being motivated to succeed in it for reasons as diverse as trying to do the right thing, to trying to be a celebrity, to out-and-out greed. Then there are the folks who participate in the food culture who don’t even realize they are doing so.

We all eat. Many of us simply want to eat well (with a slightly smaller subset acknowledging that there are different definitions of what “well” means). The ultimate question, to me, is thus: How do we eat well without having to dig through the white noise of marketing campaigns, products that appeal to the lowest common denominator of the consumer base, and processes that sacrifice quality in the name of quantity?

I don’t have an answer, yet. But I’m sure going to have fun trying to get one.