“Farm to Table” chefs want to connect our food to place, but they are still not really looking at the food they source and prepare from a broad enough human perspective. And now they want to offer an “Ecological Diet!”
Although “ecosystem” is the word now being attached to our food, most chefs are still hanging out without a society, arrogant enough to think they are masters of their own individualistic food styles, and artists above all.
Well, maybe chefs have always been so self-centered. We know in Louis’ court in 17th Century France, they had to please the king or lose their heads.
Regardless, in times past (and maybe just as much now) they have had to contend with a “public.” Further, that public had traditionally been fixed to the earth in place over at least a generation and often many generations. And historically, the people that made up the public with which the chef had to contend, had tastes that originated not out of whimsy or artifact, but in tune to the environments in which they originated.
For thousands of years there was a place on earth with a unique flora and fauna, a special climate, and a way it all went together. Human groups or tribes were part of diverse landscapes (Arctic or Tropic; Mountain, Desert or Swamp; Inland or Coastal).
And just as these societies of humans evolved, they learned from their special environments how to eat or they perished. Some lived almost entirely on meat or fish; others where almost entirely vegetarian. And there are many instances where they got it wrong. (See Jared Diamond, “Why do societies collapse?”)
Growing societies, in turn took their eating knowledge and embellished it with a spirit of consciousness through art and religion; and as they migrated, their special food cultures went with them and were shared. Other tribes adapted the food knowledge – and taste – and passed it on.
Until very recently, we can suppose chefs and cooks were subordinate, certainly to their environments and probably to their spiritual leaders. They knew where they fit (well, more or less).
Throughout history, children developed taste as a part of learning from their elders and they still do.
There was an intrinsic Nature and there were humans as part of that Nature so that even after the birth of agriculture ten thousand years ago, there remained: (1) the special place on earth, (2) unique people, and (3) their food. Until recently, we still recognized that French and Italians and Chinese had foods that characterized them.
But no longer is food so selectively defined. Our modern industrial world order has brought everything to everybody everywhere, for a price. In some respects, it is like “caste” or social status has replaced ethnicity — what one eats is becoming decided by wealth. Still, at least some sensitive historians (really social anthropologists) and maybe a few chefs are beginning to question both the efficacy and sanity of such a food system as we are now experiencing as the “new world order.”
What’s the problem? It’s obvious everything is getting used up in a hurry and with an unbounded world population, and now climate change, one doesn’t need a microscope to see food shortages. But also, what happened to taste? it’s been disappearing too and like with the Romans, we are reaching for the extremes.
How do we really know what to eat? Perhaps it’s environmental. Sure enough! If nothing but markets decide now – and they seem to be careening out of control – and history doesn’t count, everybody can be like everybody else and have any kind of food, then the governor on food exists outside ourselves.
Maybe successful eating isn’t so much a matter of knowing what to eat, as it is regaining a sense of who we are and what best fits. And perhaps the first step in finding ourselves is to reconnect our food to place, good places – not industrial wastelands.
Righteous chefs want to source food from good sustainable environments. All right, but should the chef’s palate be unbounded and the architecture of our food become completely eclectic even if it is produced in a clean, working environment? Isn’t something still missing; a balance with the other part of our evolution lost to us in this industrial age? Our sense of place where everything is not pretending to be the same? Commercial corporate food is ubiquitous; we don’t really want to be like that ourselves. We don’t want to be commoditized; we’re “individuals,” you know!
Before we are sure about a chef and food taste, maybe we need to ask him or her, “Where’s your home?” That is a more serious ecological question involving relationships, not just with a fish and its habitat, but with a person and the fish and its habitat. And then with a community of people (the tribe) and the fishery as a whole – these are the really big questions.
Aren’t we talking all around the center of our food dilemma without really addressing it. Everyone now wants an “Ecological Diet.” But ecology is the study of an organism in its “home.” And we are the primary organisms here. So, look friends, it isn’t the taste of food we are looking for. It’s the reconnection with ourselves that has been robbed in this industrial age. The lack of taste is just a symptom.
What we are really looking for in this modern age of total ubiquity is a reuniting with our home, and as we rediscover it, we will once again know our food.