Recipe-Free Zone

When I first started writing about food – and by “writing” I mean talking about it on a message board – I shared recipes, gave and received advice, and commiserated in general about the joys and aggravations of cooking. Talking about red sauce and how to marinate a pork loin was all I needed. It was fun and silly and everyone (with one or two annoying exceptions) got along. We made fun of Sandra Lee. We had built a community.

I occasionally brought up subjects such as the difference in the number of grocery stores in the suburbs and the number in inner cities; or how the possession of food is as powerful as the possession of money and information. She who has it has power over she who doesn’t. I was usually greeted with a screaming silence. I get that now, because the point of that discussion thread was pretty much “Food – Ain’t it Fun?” On a website full of discussion threads that were hotbeds of vitriol, this thread was a haven of camaraderie. They didn’t want controversy. They didn’t want fighting, which is why one poster ended up being pounded into a pulp for nastily criticizing another poster’s request for advice on a Paula Deen recipe.

But how many times could I post my recipe for red sauce before it started feeling redundant? I was getting bored. I had already been reading and watching Anthony Bourdain, and his persona excited me and made me laugh. Then somehow, I found Michael Ruhlman. Through Ruhlman’s blog, Bob del Grosso found me. Bob sent me here.

What I found were people who write about more than recipes. They write about food – about how fun and beautiful and messy it is. Bourdain made me want to eat beef cheeks. Kate writes about the politics of food and posts pretty, pretty pictures. Bob raises and slaughters pigs and is humbled by the process. Ruhlman suggested that we all be willing to pay more for higher quality food, and someone around here got very upset with a few of the subsequent comments.

After reading Ruhlman’s post, and responding to (some people might call it “ranting about”) some of the comments, it hit me like a ton of bricks that what’s important to me about food, and what I want to write about, had changed. I want to know what role food plays in other people’s lives – what it actually means to them. What does it say about us as individuals, and as a culture? When I say we shouldn’t rely on so many machines in the kitchen, what does that say about me, other than I have the time to do almost everything by hand?

What I’m most interested in is how our socio-economic situations affect how we think about food. Food isn’t just about dinner anymore. It’s about huge farms and food conglomerates and animal rights and knowing where our food comes from. It’s about farmers’ markets and using locally and organically grown food and packaged food vs. homemade and making choices. Always making choices.

How do these issues resonate with single parents who struggle to feed their kids; with two-parent households who have had to cut back; with people like Logan and me, who have some of the trappings of a middle-class life – a nice, little house, a decent (paid-off, eight year old) car, three cats – but are in fact no longer even keeping our heads above water, because of health problems and being underemployed and dealing with a monthly health insurance premium that’s so outrageous it should be illegal? How do they resonate with poor people? Forget resonate. Do they even register?

I want these issues to register with people like me. I want buying locally to matter to them, not only because we could all afford to be healthier, but because I don’t want food activism to be full of people who don’t get that advice like “just stretch your money more” is condescending and a sure sign of cluelessness. I want it to matter to poor and middle-class people because, if it doesn’t, food activism just becomes a luxury for dilettantes and the privileged. I want it to matter because being told “then don’t do it” by a commenter on above-linked post by Ruhlman made me want to punch someone. I can do something. I just can’t do everything.

I’m still curious about what gadgets people love, and which ones they think are useless. I like to know how people learned to cook, how often they cook, and how their lives influence their cooking. I like knowing what other people think is fun about cooking and what’s a purely dreaded task. Next week, I’ll probably be blathering on about Thanksgiving and our plans are and how excited I am that it’s almost here. But I won’t be posting any recipes.


Lest you think that I look down on bloggers who mostly post recipes and photos, check out two of my favorite food blogs. They’re in my bookmarks and I visit and comment on them regularly. They have great recipes and pretty, pretty pictures.