Sunday, April 24, 2011

Food for thought: The Beard-Child-Claiborne-Waters culinary revolution

Presented to the Club by Ronald Trabulsi on Monday evening, April 11, 2011

In the last 50 years there has been a revolution in this country. It has been non-violent, but certainly exciting, spirited, and dramatic. It has affected each of us in either major or minor ways, but no one has been immune.

I’m talking about the change in America’s food and eating habits.

Fast food is one branch of this upheaval. But the other direction – and one more interesting to me – has been the enormous increase in the variety of food we now take for granted. An orange in your Christmas stocking (perhaps along with a lump of coal if you had been involved in some misdeeds) was a treat – now we have grapefruit and oranges year round. Salsa and sushi were unknown. Now salsa has surpassed ketchup as America’s most popular condiment and sushi is even in Pittsfield, Lenox, and Great Barrington.

Butter used to be, well, just butter. Now it comes in a variety of butterfat contents. And one writer describes being at a salt tasting, of all things. “The waiter, like some particularly elegant cocaine dealer, gently spooned nine mini-mounds onto a little board, each salt a different hue and consistency from the next – one as fine and white as baking powder, another dark and chunkily crystalline.” This is a long way from the all-purpose Morton’s Salt we grew up with.

It is, in short, a great time to be an eater. And how often do we get to say something as unreservedly upbeat as that? We often complain that things aren’t as good as they used to be: movies, music, baseball, political talk – but food is one area of American life where things just continue to improve.

If we’re cooking at home, we have a greater breadth and higher quality of ingredients available to us. If we’re eating out, we have more options open to us.