The Schizophrenia of Today’s Food Culture

I’m not entirely sure what was Michael Hill’s point to his article “Young foodies more exhibitionist, less highbrow“; That the new generation of food fans out there are far more knowledgeable than the previous one?

“The twentysomethings right now are probably one of the most educated food generations ever. And by that I mean they can talk to you about foie gras or cooking sous vide or the flavor profile of a Bordeaux,” said Cheryl Brown, editorial director of the popular website Slashfood.

Or are they less knowledgeable?

“But what they can’t do is truss a chicken or cook a pot roast. So there’s this funny balance of having an amazing breadth of food knowledge but not having the kitchen basics to back it up,” (Brown) said.

Or is it the irony of the odd juxtaposition of having trivial food knowledge, but not practical?

…many young connoisseurs are kitchen amateurs.

Or perhaps it’s that this new generation of folks in food media approach food in a different way?

Cooking enthusiasts traditionally had shelves groaning with cookbooks, maybe old reliables like “The Joy of Cooking” mixed with a Moosewood offering. David Kraus, a 24-year-old from Albany, N.Y., loves to cook but has only one cookbook.

Or is it that this new fascination with food is nothing more than narcissism writ large?

“I don’t really have cookbooks, probably because in our generation we’re more for the dynamic media,” Kraus said. “We want people to have a comment on our recipes.”

I have a thought. Instead of picking on a group of individuals who are simply exploring foods in ways and means that are comforting and familiar to them, perhaps the better approach is to recognize that this schizophrenia in our approach to food is indicative of the failures of the past generations.

Within the last sixty years or so, we’ve lived in a world where…

…the biggest revolution in the kitchen came when the microwave oven allowed for families to make meals without understanding what went into them, and then facilitated the decline of family meals.

…dual income homes became prevalent, cutting back on families investing time in cooking in the kitchen, allowing the foundational knowledge of cooking to reach fewer people on average.

…drive through lanes became de rigueur at restaurants who highlighted convenience.

…we’ve put faith and infrastructure in place to allow agri-business to provide cheap meals to all.

…major food media promoted ingredients and restaurants which were inaccessible to a great majority of their readers.

…school districts cut back on classes such as home economics.

…major food media focused more on selling a lifestyle image than relevant food information.

…regionalism was sacrificed in place of uniformity.

…people began to eat out more, and cooking at home less.

…convenience of food was highlighted more than quality of food.

…quantity of food was mistaken for quality of food.

…the term “celebrity chef” was said without irony.

…chefs are just as likely to succeed due to investing in a PR apparatus as they are for providing quality meals.

I could go on. And as my friends can attest, I have.

My point here is that today’s schizophrenic food culture that people in the article (Michael Hall, Cheryl Brown, Joe Pompeo, and Laura Shapiro) are lamenting in today’s generation, is, in truth, a greater reflection upon the previous one. If you want to bitch about today’s food culture, my questions to you are this :

Where were you ten, twenty, or thirty years ago when the foundations of today’s culture were being established?

And more importantly – what are you doing today to address this schizophrenia?