I’ve been twirling this thought through my head ever since starting Gina Mallet’s book Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World:
- - When a food product tastes good, the “Good Taste” creates a measure of “Demand”.
- - The greater the demand, the greater odds of industrialization of the initial food product.
- - The larger the scale of industrial production, the larger the scale of industrial distribution.
- - The larger the scale of industrial distribution of the food product, the better the odds of someone altering production techniques to either 1) Enable the product to be cheaper to make…and/or…2)Make the product safe for everyone (and when I say everyone, I mean everyone…from youth to the elderly; from the healthy to those who are susceptible to various bacteria that a healthy person can process with no issue)
- - The changes in production techniques alter the taste of the initial product, often to the detriment of the initial product.
My point here is that the success of a food product will often lead to its ruin. That may sound a bit alarmist at first until you consider the following products (some of which were talked about by Ms. Mallet):
- Ground Beef: The production of ground beef have been massively documented. Meat from cows that eat a unnatural diet have a taste which is quite different from a cow that eats hay, grass and other naturally occurring flora and fauna.
- Pork: Pigs have been bred to have less fat, which makes for a dry tasting pork, and a less tasty product. Pork fat tastes good…sorry.
- Milk: Raw milk vs. Pasteurized milk. Most of us haven’t had true milk. Do a side by side comparison of a glass of Raw milk, vs. a glass of Pasteurized. You’ll be surprised at what you’ve been missing.
- Eggs: Oi, what the egg has gone through over the past 30 years. Health issues aside…There’s no comparison between Farm fresh eggs and *shudder* pasteurized and irradiated eggs.
- Cheese: Place a raw milk cheese aside from the bright orange supermarket chunk o’ cheeze. Taste test. Try to prevent yourself from taking torches and pitchforks to industrial cheesemakers.
…and I could go on.
Have there been health benefits to these changes? Most assuredly in some cases (milk), and the jury is still out on others (cheese, eggs). The health benefits (supposed health benefits in some cases) aren’t my point (I’ll certainly discuss these at some future date).
It’s impossible to take a stance against efficiently producing food for millions of people. Feeding one’s citizenry is a difficult proposition, and yet it’s absolutely essential for the success of any country.
It’s the marketing of these foods which makes me uncomfortable. From the fake balsamic vinegars to the Angus Beef title, a lot of these foods are given titles and names that are designed to take advantage of both the desire of the consumer to have better tasting food, as well as their ignorance of what to expect. In short, a fair amount of food producers take advantage of this food paradox for monetary gain. Granted, this isn’t all that surprising, but it does lead to greater cynicism and skepticism of major food producers once you realize what they are doing.
This cynicism is a good thing. The direct result of this cynicism and skepticism are trends new (“slow” food) and old (organics and artisinal foods). Thus the paradox results in the following: Proponents of the initial product go off and try to recreate that initial taste.
This food paradox is a powerful mover of taste, because it relies on how we perceive things should taste. From the marketer tell us that grated industrial parmesan cheese is equal in taste to Parmigiano Reggiano; to those who tell the marketer that he doesn’t know what they’re talking about, the paradox keeps the idea of “taste” firmly in the public discourse. And if taste is being talked about (either around the water cooler, on blogs, or in books and magazines), the level of quality in foods will always play a part in food production regardless if a product is made industrially or by an local artisan or farmer.