Well removed from the fast times of the start of the millennium, it was through a gradual and necessary coming-to-terms that we’re about to arrive at an entirely fresh eating culture.
By Cailen Ascher
Tastes are always evolving. But, talking strictly within the confines of our eating habits, it’s felt, for some time now, as though we’re hurtling toward a watershed moment, where we’ll be presented not just with the next generation but an entirely new way of existing.
Just how much have we changed? We don’t need to venture any further back than the turn of the century for a telling sample. With the dawn of the millennium, we began to embrace in earnest the worlds beyond our own in true American fashion: We adopted unfamiliar tastes and tried to make them our own, authenticity be damned.
Fusion cuisine—hybrid meals created through Asian flavor profiles, revered French preparations and curious, but cautious, American sensibilities—grabbed hold of our taste buds.
At first glance, the comfort food we sought out in the wake of 9/11 seemed like a step backward by comparison. But much like life as a whole at that time, imaginative chefs seized the opportunity and created a new normal: an aged cheese-and-lump lobster meat mac ‘n’ cheese, for example. Pizza underwent a bit of gentrification, too, the renewed interest producing pies topped with edamame, ricotta and goat cheeses, caramelized onions, fresh mint and a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette. Even cupcakes were elevated to gourmet fare. They would be the first signs of an artisan-type meticulousness and pride in cooking.
Just before the bottom dropped out of the economy, we learned our new favorite word: organic. In its earliest usage, it was tied to indulgence because it was cost-prohibitive for daily use by the masses. But as we began our gradual retreat inward, placing more and more value in the idea of sustaining our own community, and farmers markets, in turn, morphed from novelty to legitimate resource, organic hung on and started to inch toward mainstream acceptance. Natural was OK, if inconvenient at times.
We accepted—are still learning to accept—that eating with the local seasons can be limiting, especially now, and more expensive, but more satisfying in so many ways. Straightforward farm-to-table dining, in turn, is less about exploring a new frontier, the path that progress typically follows, and more a means to humble ourselves, to get back in touch with our roots, figuratively and literally. It’s about taking ownership of and finding pride in our own foodstuffs, incorporating them into our identity.
Reinvesting in our smallest circles does not come at the cost of a global perspective. The inroads are too deep. If anything, it’s encouraging our budding interest because here it turns out that that’s how much of the rest of the world lives, out of want and necessity.
Where locally-sourced eating may have remained on the fringes here in a booming economy, sustained by the wants of a few, it became a rallying cry when our operating system froze. Then, just like with the comfort food, we realized it was ripe for the picking all along.
The question before us now, and what truly makes this an on-the-cusp moment, is not, what comes after farm-to-table cooking, but, how do we lift the lifestyle from a subcommunity to the community?
Cailen Ascher is the founder and writer of the blog, www.lifestylemaven.org. Follow her on Twitter at @CailenAscher.
Category: Vegetables & Vodka