I have been writing and ruminating on food now for just over eight years. That would be, if I live an average life span, over 10% of my life. That’s a fair bit of thinking on a topic that everyone in the world deals with on a daily basis, and yet for whom many, it is given little more consideration beyond looking for an answer to “What’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner?”
As I passed my eight year blogging anniversary, I struck by several things. First and foremost, that I am still here. Typically, I have the attention span of a goldfish on cocaine, but for some reason, thinking about food has stuck with me, far longer than I would have guessed back when I started this here blog back in 2004(!).
I’m also amazed that I keep learning things that affect my worldview in both cynical and/or wondrous ways. I have been taught a lot over the past years, and all of the lessons learned have enriched my life in some manner or another. For example:
- Patience: The best example of this? Making coffee and/or tea. The instant versions of these products never seem to live up to the 8-12 minutes of time that they save. I now have no problem in waiting ten minutes (five to let the water boil, five to let the tea steep) for a good cup of tea.
- Rituals are Important: Related to the above, my morning routine seems lost if I don’t set aside time to make the tea. When there are days when the morning tea ritual is disrupted, the rest of the day seems off.
- Quality is as Quality does: There’s a huge difference between talking about quality versus actually thinking about quality from start to finish. I’ve seen examples of this in brewing, candy making and restaurants. The best example I can give is the quality of White Dog, the un-aged whiskey that can either be consumed or put in a barrel to age. While the barrel imparts some measure of flavor (depending upon several variables), if the base spirit is poor, inevitably the final spirit will be less than perfect. The best producers of food know this and pay attention to every detail.
- Politics: A dollar spent on any given product is a vote for that product and a tacit approval of the practices used to get that food to market. This fact has given me more fits in the food world than any other lessons learned.
- Money: Tom Douglas told me once that, in the end, it’s all about if you can make money at it. Restaurant owners, chefs, and entrepreneurs are all dependent upon one simple question: can they make a living at what they do?
- Moderation: In the end, moderation is always the safest bet. This is the hardest lesson for me to learn, for a variety of reasons (although not with alcohol, oddly enough).
- Taste is variable: What I like differs from what other people like. There is no “World’s best beer” or “The ultimate dish”. People, even those who have extensive experience in exploring food or drink, rarely agree on anything. Therefore every opinion is relevant – even those to which I vehemently disagree. “Taste” as a signifier of “class” is rarely anything more than extended experience.
Food Culture does not mean Food Lifestyle: Anyone who has had a food blog for longer than three months could tell you about the amount of PR e-mails sent to them on a daily basis. The PR machinery that goes on behind the scenes of many of your favorite books, magazines, and television shows is both vast and scary. And what many of them are trying to sell to people simply doesn’t exist. One doesn’t need to go to Scotland to enjoy Scotch. The best chefs in the world aren’t necessarily in New York, and the only thing that I can see that differentiates the skills of a Tyler Florence or Bobby Flay versus Seattle’s own Ethan Stowell is the PR machinery behind them.
Yet this Lifestyle they’re selling rarely take into account things such as the supermarkets where the majority of us buy our foods, the supply chain that gets food from farm to shelf, or the thousands of local restaurants who survive from year to year without nary a peep from the national press. That diner down that street that sells breakfast burritos and homemade pie, or the immigrant (legal or otherwise) working at the industrial farm speaks more to who we are than anything a PR firm can fathom.
Food is a medium, not a message: Obsessing over recipes, food history, collectible whiskey bottles, or whether you’ve hit every local restaurant with a Zagat rating above 25 is fine and all. But sharing these moments with your friends is far more valuable.
Over the past eight years, I’ve had many memorable experiences. What made these moments memorable wasn’t the quality of the food or drink consumed, but where I was at, and who I was with.