Coming Soon!

I realize things here have been idle for quite some time.  I won’t bother you with the excuses, but there are two new articles in the works. One is, Food in Poetry, and the other is, Food Deserts.  Keep an eye out for those, coming along soon.  Also I am planning a bit of a shift in the direction of foodinculture.com so keep an eye out for new content and options.  Lastly if you have enjoyed any of my published articles, please tell one person about foodinculture.com.

 

It’s not about perfection; it’s about the joy of striving.

~Thomas Keller

Don’t Tell Me This Town Ain’t Got No Heart

Definition of shakedown: According to Miriam-Webster

1an improvised bed (such as one made up on the floor)
2a boisterous dance
3an act or instance of shaking someone down; especially extortion
4a thorough search
5a process or period of adjustment
6a testing under operating conditions of something new (such as a ship) for possible faults and defects and for familiarizing the operators with it

Shakedown Street: According to Wikipedia is the area of a jam band parking lot where the vending takes place. It is named after the Grateful Dead song of the same name,\and began in the early 1980’s in the parking lots at Grateful Dead concerts.Items sold have included food, beverages and alcoholic beverages, clothing (such as T-shirts)and jewelry, among others. Ticket scalping may also occur.

I never got to see the Grateful Dead as the Grateful Dead, I did see some of it’s members in various collaborations throughout my concert going years, not that those are over they are just far less frequent than they used to be, and my tastes have evolved somewhat.  So for you purist touring Deadheads I never saw the real shakedown street.  I did however spend much time on the lot, while seeing bands like Phish, The String Cheese Incident, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, etc.  The atmosphere and energy both leading up to and after the show you could breath in the air, and I’m not just talking about the weed smoke.  While there is a part of the phanbase that can certainly be pretentious, I found the over all experience to be one of acceptance, inclusion, and enjoyment in a Dionysian carnival like atmosphere filled with music, dancing, ganja goo balls and the like, and  plenty of healthy, mostly but certainly not exclusively vegetarian fare, there are some exemplary chefs at work at some of these shows. Of course not all the food was healthy, and a bit later I will talk about one of my experiences with one of the most famous lot foods out there, it wouldn’t be a Phish show without a grilled cheese sandwich.

The American food culture of today was greatly influenced by the Deadheads, and later those who followed Phish. (and I’m not just talking about Ben and Jerry)  They championed, organic produce, farm to table, sustainable food production, vegetarian and veganism, of course all of these were around long before the Grateful Dead or even the USA.  After the industrial revolution, along with war rationing and the need to feed the troops both affordably and efficiently during WWI and WWII, America became a culture of canned foods and TV dinners, just look in almost any cookbook from the 50’s and 60’s.  Alice Waters of Chez Panisse is generally credited with bringing the farm to table movement back to the American culinary scene as many of the Chefs I learned from told me.  I have read some of her work but have never had the chance to enjoy her food.  A lot of these ways of cooking and eating along with the back to the land mentality became popular in America with the hippie culture of the 60’s and 70’s in which the Grateful Dead played a major roll.  Before industrialization in America, and until the vast commercialization and affordability of processed and fast food, in much of the world eating this way of living was a way of life mostly because it’s the only option available.

“Who invented the food truck? Who made the burrito a staple outside the barrio? Who taught white people to stir fry? Who popularized the health food store, organics, farm fresh produce, and the grow- your-own movement? Who spread the good word about vegetarianism, veganism, raw food, macrobiotics, and sustainability long before the internet? Who decried factory farming and rainforest grazing before it was cool? And who, for the record, truly gave birth to haute stoner cuisine?” Read more from this article  by David Bienenstock at Deadheads Forever Changed the way We Eat

I have been working in kitchens for almost twenty years, in a wide range of venues,  from health care to high end restaurants, in small Mom and Pop bars where most of the night is standing around between tickets waiting for that shift drink at the end, to nightmares about the ticket machine that never once stopped printing for your whole ten hour shift.  Those of you who have spent any time on the line know which dream I’m talking about.  In all of my years cooking the most fun I ever had on the line was at a Phish concert in Denver.  My friend Steve and I cut out part way through the encore         (maybe thirty minute in or so) and headed out to the lot to set up.  We had two cast iron griddles, two Coleman camp stoves, 15 loaves of white bread, 5# of American cheese, and 4# of butter.  We snagged a good spot not far from the venue and started grilling.  Within minutes of the show ending we were surrounded by what felt like hundreds of people.  We were selling our grilled cheese for $1.00, all you could see was hands waving dollar bills in your face, we would grab them and shove them in our pockets and make sandwiches, and hand them out as fast as we could without any clue if the person you just handed the sandwich to had paid for it or not, as we went a small pile of messed up sandwiches grew on the ground next to us.  After awhile of this chaos the police started coming along moving people along and shutting down vendors as they went, not by ticketing us or anything, (that’s a whole different story from a show in Virginia, I may relate someday) but just telling us to shut it down and move along.  With all this happening people are still shoving bills in our faces and shouting, I will take that one off the pile there.  As I said it was incredibly fun, good show, great friends, and a pocket full of ones.

That’s about all I have to say on this subject for now,  there are a lot of really fun an interesting articles about The Dead, shakedown street and the food you can find there, that  you can find with a quick google search.  Here is one more link I didn’t use for this article but enjoyed from, The Culinary Cellar.  It’s a review on the book Cooking with Deadheads by Elizabeth Zipern.  I have not yet had the joy of perusing the pages of this book, although I really do look forward to it.  So if anyone needs a gift idea for me. Just kidding. (sort of) Cooking with Deadheads

You just gotta poke around.

 

“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe”

-Thomas Keller

 

caution

Freeganism

Freeganism is a practice and ideology of limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources, particularly through recovering wasted goods like food. The word “freegan” is a portmanteau of “free” and “vegan”.

I came across the term freeganism a couple weeks ago and was intrigued by the idea.  Not as a lifestyle choice for myself but as a concept and something I wanted to learn more about.  I have seen and been a part of some aspects of this lifestyle while not necessarily out looking for free sustenance, I have experienced both lucky finds or “true guidance” as a dear friend of mine refers to it, as well as bartering for food and other supplies.

Some of the ways participants in this practice source food include, gardening, bartering, dumpster diving, and foraging.  Freeganism however is about much more than food, it’s about stepping out of the consumerism culture and reducing the impact we have on the planet, through limited energy consumption, this can be achieved by walking, bike riding, public transportation etc.

Common Characteristics of a Freegan

While freegans are a diverse group, with a wide range of life experiences and interests, members do tend to share certain characteristics. The typical freegan is:

  • Committed to living off the wastes of capitalism
  • An environmental, political, or animal-rights activist or some combination of the three
  • A vegan or meegan—only eating meat that would have gone to waste
  • A strong supporter of his or her community
  • Interested in being or already is free from the restraints of a paying job

The above section title Common Characteristics of a Freegan, is an excerpt from Erin Huffstetler’s article Learn the Fundamentals of a Freegan Lifestyle,  check out this article as well as other links and info. at: The Balance

While dumpster diving and curb shopping may not be for everyone, there are many things we can all do to help limit consumption.  There are a whole lot of us on this planet, and with the ever growing strain we are putting on the environment, and it’s natural resources, we will inevitably cause problems for ourselves as well future generations.  It’s in our best interest to reduce consumption and help keep what we can from becoming landfill.

 

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

 

Me

This is a picture of me back in 2002, looking for good trades, and True Guidance.

My thoughts on Charlottesville

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

Toni Morrison

I find the state of things in America today disheartening to say the least.  I am disgusted by the hate groups that have been emboldened by the president and his hateful rhetoric.  This hate and intolerance is obviously nothing new to the world or to America, and will unfortunately never be eradicated, at least in my lifetime.  The argument of those who are for memorializing confederate history and claim the confederate flag is not a symbol of racism goes out the window, when it is paraded alongside Nazi flags with the Nazi salute and chants of white power.  These are symbols of hatred and racism of the highest degree.  I don’t believe the racist history of the United States of America should be erased.  All of history should be preserved, and studied, and understood, it is necessary that we never forget the mistakes of the past or we will surely repeat them. We should however not celebrate and memorialize the evil parts of our history, there will always be those who do, but the state is not a person it is the people, and We the People should always look forward toward a future in which we learn from our mistakes, embrace our differences, and understand that our differences and our collective memories are going to be what make us stronger better people. We can never go back!

The hate we are seeing does not represent the majority, just as all African American men are not criminals, not all cops are bigots, and the list of not all, goes on and on and on.  The best way I believe to characterize the majority is apathetic, fatigued, and desensitized.  We have been inundated with sensational media stories about this horror or that, good news doesn’t sell and we know that.  It is important that we look at it objectively, we need to be aware of what’s going on, but it is more important to understand that sensationalism is just that.  It’s all a battle to maintain your attention.  Many of us have forgotten that we shouldn’t believe everything we see on TV or read on the internet.  We instead should talk to each other, learn from each other, most importantly understand that we are not ever going to agree on everything and that is a beautiful thing, because that is where we get compromise.  A little compassion and understanding goes a long way.

I believe that freedom of speech is a great and important part of America, even hate speech and especially differing points of view.  However it should NEVER include violence or the threat of violence from any side of any disagreement.  The right to free speech and PEACEFUL protest should be preserved for all people.  There are some very powerful pictures you can find with a quick google search of Keshia Thomas, stepping in to protect the very people who are spewing hate about her.  That kind of virtue is honorable and people like her are heroes.  Lastly no decent leader should condone violence and hate of any kind, especially toward the people they are charged with leading, and any hate speech, and act of or threat of violence should be met with immediate and complete condemnation.  The presidency of Donald Trump has lacked integrity and basic decency from the start, but his reaction here is especially despicable and highly shameful.

 

“What you do speaks so loudly I can not hear what you say”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Food in Religion

Food plays a major role in most religions.  Many religions practice rituals involving food, some dictate what people should or shouldn’t eat, when specific foods should be eaten, even the practice of fasting where someone refrains from eating for a certain amount of time.  It makes sense that  food would play such a big part in religion, eating is one of the main keys to survival, finding food be it from hunting, gathering, farming, picking the shelves of the grocery store or digging food out of the trashcan, we all eat.  Some of us eat far too much, far too many of us struggle to find food at all.  Food plays into all of human history from celebrations, to war, and all points in between.  Through out human history religion has been with us to help explain the unexplained.  The more we discover through scientific research, the more of the world we live in can be explained, yet religion is still with us, our faith has just shifted, the farther we go and no matter how much we learn there will always questions we haven’t figured out the answer to yet, we just need a little faith that we will find the answers to those questions too.  Even scientist eat!

One of the most iconic examples of food ritual in religion is the sacrament of communion among most sects within the Christian faith.  In the new testament of the Bible, Jesus spent his last night on earth eating supper with his friends.  Admittedly this was not under the best of circumstances, but if I get to choose how to spend my last night here, you can be certain that it would be eating a great meal with my friends and family.  According to the Christian faith, the crucifixion of Jesus happened during the Passover feast, on the night before this happened, he had a meal with his twelve disciples where he told them about the betrayal of Judas, then according to Matthew 26: 22-25, “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread and broke it, and blessed it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, take, eat; this is in remembrance of my body which I give a ransom for you. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is in remembrance of my blood which is shed for as many as shall believe on my name, for the remission of their sins. and I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall observe, to do the things which ye have seen me do, and bear record of me even unto the end.”  Wow! What an incredibly dramatic and beautiful end to the lessons you are teaching your flock.  This beautiful ritual is perform in many ways from the simple to the sensational.  I find it an admirable way to give thanks to and celebrate the sacrifice that Jesus gave.

In the practice of Buddhism, all living things are considered sacred, this belief is often honored through the practice of vegetarianism and veganism.  One of the fundamental teachings of Buddha is the four nobel truths.

  1. The noble truth of suffering
  2. The noble truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The nobel truth of cessation of suffering
  4. The noble truth of leading to the cessation of suffering: the eight fold path

In Buddhism  first one has to acknowledge life is suffering, in order to alleviate our suffering we first must know the cause of our suffering. A person is always getting caught up in the notion of I, and needs to understand a connection with everything, and by not focusing on the I, one can begin to alleviate themselves from the suffering of life.  One way living that will help you along is the following of the eightfold path.

  1. Right view
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

There are also five moral precepts that Buddhists follow, by refraining from:

  1. harming living things
  2. taking what is not given
  3. sexual misconduct
  4. lying or gossiping
  5. taking intoxicating substances

These five rules to live by, have a great deal of obvious outcomes as well as some less obvious outcomes when pertaining to food.  One of the most obvious ideas based on the first precept is refraining from eating meat.  It make sense that in order to live by this rule, killing an animal for food would be considered wrong.  One could also argue that a plant too is a living thing and some sects and religions tackle that by only eating fruit that has fallen from the vine.  I will leave those arguments to the philosophers.  Some Buddhists keep a diet of bland food. They read the precept of not taking intoxicating substances as a direction to keep a clear mind, and the stimulation that can result from strongly flavored foods can hinder a clear mind.  I know tucking into a well made pot of jambalaya, or a fluffy stack of blueberry pancakes can certainly be an intoxicating experience for me.  Another way one might follow that same precept is by mixing their food so that no one flavor might overpower another. The practice of giving food is a way to help bring on good karma, and in many countries where Buddhism is commonly practiced, monks will routinely travel with a bowl never taking what is not freely given. Fasting is a practice followed by some Buddhist faithful. Some monks and nuns refrain from eating after noon. To learn more about fasting in Buddhism  check  out, https://www.urbandharma.org/udharma9/fasting.html  

I found it to be an interesting read.  I very much enjoy Buddhist teaching, the idea of following the middle way to avoid extremes, makes a lot of sense to me.  I love the diversity of ideas within Buddhism on the whole.  The ritual and symbolism can be especially pleasing.

Islam is a religion that has a myriad of laws pertaining to food from preparation to eating, including a host of explanations to some of the grey areas such as in the case of a Muslim who is not in a Muslim country and may not know the precise preparations that went into the food they may consume.  Some of the more prominent laws include not eating flesh of the swine, or consuming alcoholic beverages.  Some of the animals that are forbidden include pigs, donkeys, mules, dogs, cats, monkeys, elephant, mouse, rat, wild animals and all predators (animals with fangs).  Many non Muslims people may have heard of the term halal, which means lawful, in addition the term haram mean unlawful, and the term mashbooh means questionable or doubtful.  Halal generally refers to the way an animal is slaughtered.  It must be done in a humane way, and all the blood must be drained as blood is considered haram.  One of the most famous Islamic holidays at least from a western perspective is The Fast of Ramadan.  Ramadan falls during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during the time it is believed the Holy Quran was sent down from heaven.  The faithful refrain from eating of drinking anything during the daylight hours.  During this month according to the Holy Quran, “One may eat and drink at any time during the night “until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the daylight: then keep the fast until night”  At the end of the fast of Ramadan comes Id-al-Fitr (the feast of fast breaking).  The feast last for three days, some communities have fairs, people pray together, and gifts are exchanged.

I know very little about the Islamic faith, and although it is by some considered to be controversial at least, I choose to not judge the many by the few who are sensationalized in modern media, there has been many terrible things done in the name of Islam, just as the there have been many terrible things done in the name of Christ, one thing I greatly appreciate is the poetry of the Quran and the beauty of the call to prayer.  To learn more about Islamic food laws check out these sites.

http://www.clovegarden.com/diet/islam.htmlhttp://www.clovegarden.com/diet/islam.html

https://www.al-islam.org/a-code-of-practice-for-muslims-in-the-west-ayatullah-sistani/eating-drinking

From a western perspective one of the most famous aspects of the Hindu diet is that cows are sacred and therefore are not eaten.  While in some sects of Hinduism this is true, vegetarianism is not a requirement of hinduism although many Hindus choose a vegetarian diet in or to not harm living things. In a couple of quotes from the Bhagavad Gita,

“The saintly persons get relief from all kinds of sins by partaking the food that has been first offered to gods as sacrifice. But those who prepare food for their selfish ends eat but only sins.” (Bhagavad gita 3:13)

“All beings come into existence from food. Food comes from rains. Rains originate from the performance of sacrifices. And sacrifice is born out of doing prescribed duties.” (Bhagavad gita 3:14)

In the Hindu faith some perform rituals before eating food.  These include

  • Cleaning the place. Food is always eaten in a clean place. The Hindu law books proscribe eating food in unclean places.
  • Sprinkling of water around the food. When food is served, water is sprinkled around it, accompanied by some mantras or prayers. This is meant to purify the food and make it worthy for the gods. Some water is also sipped following this act, in order to clear the throat.
  • Making an offering of the food. Food is then offered to five vital breaths (pranas), namely prana, apana, vyana, udana, samanaya and then to Brahman seated in the heart.

There are many Hindu Gods who are worshipped in various forms, many of these include food in some form, be it from sacrifice, charitable giving or celebration.  I hope to delve deeper into some of the specific rituals and festivals on future posts.  To learn more please check out.

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_food.asp

Judaism is another religion that has extensive rules pertaining to food.  Kashrut is the part of Jewish law that applies to food. The common term most of us have heard of is kosher.   The faithful who choose to remain kosher do so year around, during Passover the restrictions deepen and some kosher foods are not kosher during the time of Passover.  The specifics of Kashrut are comprehensive but I will try to break down some of the basic rules.

When eating meat, according to Leviticus 11:3 you can eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud, and Deuteronomy 14:6 specifies that camel, and hare are forbidden although they chew their cud they do not have divided feet.  Kosher options would include cattle, sheep, deer, bison and, goats.  When eating fish, you may eat anything that has fins and scales, Leviticus, 11:9, Shellfish are forbidden.  The standard for birds isn’t as clear, there is a list of birds in Leviticus 11: 13-19 that are forbidden but the reason why is not included.  All the birds on the list however are birds of prey or carrion eaters.   It is also necessary to keep meat and dairy separate, this includes the utensils used to prepare and serve food.  All animals eaten have to be slaughtered in accordance with kosher laws.  The slaughter has to be done humanely, quickly, and they must be quickly drained of blood because eating blood is not kosher.  It is forbidden to eat animals that were killed by another animal or that died of natural causes.  They must also have no diseases.

Another interesting rule I was not aware of has to do with grape products, I knew of the existence of kosher wine but I didn’t know that grape product made by non-Jews are not allowed.

“The restrictions on grape products derive from the laws against using products of idolatry. Wine was commonly used in the rituals of all ancient religions, and wine was routinely sanctified for pagan purposes while it was being processed. For this reason, use of wines and other grape products made by non-Jews was prohibited. (Whole grapes are not a problem, nor are whole grapes in fruit cocktail).

For the most part, this rule only affects wine and grape juice. This becomes a concern with many fruit drinks or fruit-flavored drinks, which are often sweetened with grape juice. You may also notice that some baking powders are not kosher, because baking powder is sometimes made with cream of tartar, a by-product of wine making. All beer used to be kosher, but this is no longer the case because fruity beers made with grape products have become more common.”  To read the quote used here, and gain much more information check out, http://www.jewfaq.org/kashrut.htm

Passover brings its own set of dietary restrictions. During Passover before the Jewish people left Egypt they were instructed to slaughter a lamb without blemish and put the blood on the sides of the door posts, so god will know the houses of the Jews, God will pass through the land and smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt. They were also instructed as to what to do with the lamb.

“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.  Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the pertinence thereof.  And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remained of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s Passover.” Exodus 12: 8-11

Passover also goes along with the festival of unleavened bread, makeing those delicious Jewish bagels not kosher during this time period.

 The Jewish faith has an extremely long and challenging history throughout the earth.  The rules and holidays that are involved among the many sects of Judaism that apply to food are vast.  One thing to keep in mind is that there is no such as Kosher cuisine, all food that are traditionally Jewish can be non-kosher, and that Thai restaurant on the corner could serve food that is prepared according to kosher practices.  Please join me in thankfulness for the invention of the Jewish deli and that heavenly brisket on rye slathered in mustard.

Jainism is an ancient religion that was founded on the Indian subcontinent in the 6th century BC, it was founded as an alternative to orthodox Brahmanism which is an early part of Hinduism.  Jainism has some of the strictest rules about diet in religion.  The faithful who practice Jainism, follow some of these rules found at http://www.jainfoodie.com/jain-food-restrictions/

  • For Jains, lacto-vegetarianism (generally known simply as vegetarianism in India) is mandatory.  Food which contains even small particles of the bodies of dead animals or eggs is absolutely unacceptable. Some Jain scholars and activists support veganism, as the production of dairy products involves significant violence (himsa) against cows.
  • Jains go out of their way so as not to hurt even small insects and other tiny animals, because they believe that harm caused by carelessness is as reprehensible as harm caused by deliberate action. Hence they take great pains to make sure that no minuscule animals are injured by the preparation of their meals and in the process of eating and drinking.
  • Traditionally Jains have been prohibited from drinking unfiltered water. In the past, when wells or baolis were used for the water source, the cloth used for filtering used to be reversed and some filtered water was poured over it to return the organisms to the original body of water. This practice termed as ‘jivani’ or ‘bilchhavani’, is no longer possible because of the use of pipes for water supply.
  • Jains today may also filter faucet water in the traditional fashion, and a few Jains continue to follow the filtering process even with commercial mineral or bottled drinking water.
  • Jains make considerable efforts not to injure plants in everyday life as far as possible. but they only accept such violence inasmuch as it is indispensable for human survival, and there are special instructions for preventing unnecessary violence against plants.[10] Jains don’t eat root vegetables such as potatoes, onions, roots and tubers, because tiny life forms are injured when the plant is pulled up and because the bulb is seen as a living being, as it is able to sprout. Also, consumption of most root vegetables involves uprooting & killing the entire plant. Whereas consumption of most terrestrial vegetables doesn’t kill the plant (it lives on after plucking the vegetables or it was seasonally supposed to wither away anyway).
  • Honey is forbidden, as its collection would amount to violence against the bees.
  • Food items that have started to decay are prohibited.
  • Traditionally cooking or eating at night was discouraged because insects are attracted to the lamps or fire at night. Strict Jains take the vow (called anastamita or anthau) of not eating after sunset.
  • Strict Jains do not consume food which has been stored overnight, as it possesses a higher concentration of micro-organisms (for example, bacteria yeast etc) as compared to food prepared and consumed the same day. Hence, they do not consume yogurt or dhokla & idli batter unless they’ve been freshly set on the same day.
  • Jains do not consume fermented foods (beer, wine and other alcohols) to avoid killing of a large number of microorganisms associated with the fermenting process.
  • During some specific fasting periods in the Jain religious ‘Panchang’ calendar, Jains refrain from consuming any green coloured vegetables (which have chlorophyll pigment) such as okra, leafy vegetables, etc.

Finally I would like to make a mention of one of my absolute favorite rituals associated with church, the pot luck.  I think there is little more important in life than the fellowship of sharing food with each other.  I don’t think I am alone in my love for pot luck Sunday. So please even if you aren’t a religious person, find a way to share food with other  people.  Our world will be a better place if we can all pause for a little bit of time once in awhile and share a meal together. After all, one thing every single person has in common is that we all have to eat.

I am fascinated by religion, and find beauty in the ritual and practices of most forms of religion.  I am however by no means an expert on any religion except my own.  If I got anything wrong or left important details  out about your religion please let me know.  I love hearing about and discussing religious practices, and I would be happy to discuss further these and other religions as well as my own beliefs and spirituality if that is of interest to you.  I am not however using this a forum to share my religious beliefs.  I do hope in further posts to delve deeper into some of these and other religious practices.

“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.”  – Luciano Pavarotti

American Food Culture

“American culture” is of such a broad scope, with so many influences form around the globe, that to pin down a specific definition or blanket statement of what American culture is would be incredibly difficult, and easy to argue about. When you incorporate food into the conversation, the influences broaden dramatically, from Native American influences to the influence of the generations of immigrants who came to America seeking a brighter future, and the influence of the people who were brought to the U.S.A. during the slave trade, it is a fact that the foods we eat in the United States have had so many hands influencing it, a purely American food culture would be pretty impossible to define.

Over time the many regions within the United States have developed distinct food cultures based on those who settled them, were brought there, or were there already, and for many the foods of their home is one they are proud of and rightly so, however to proclaim any of these food cultures are solely of that region would be to look through a very narrow scope, leaving out the many people whose culture influenced that cuisine.  In future posts I will look at more specific American regional food cultures with an attempt at incorporating the influences that helped create it.  If I leave anybody out please contact me, I am a researcher, but by no means an expert.

There are a few food items that have become associated as American.  A common phrase you may hear is “As American as apple pie” although it did not originate here, and if you speak to almost any American who has been out of the country for any length of time a cheeseburger is often very high on their priority list upon returning home.

There are many food items that are associated with the cultures of other countries that were invented or developed in America.  Some of these include General Tsao’s Chicken, Nachos, Chimichangas, Alfredo sauce, and fortune cookies just to name a few. True most were invented by people whose background is from the countries associated with these “ethnic foods” however they are part of the fabric that makes up American food culture.

For many, American food culture is a fast food culture.  This is a rapidly growing culture globally, causing health issues as well as a decline in the beautiful food cultures of the world.  Fast food is by nature convenient and affordable for most, and all of it isn’t unhealthy, but most of it is.  The growth of this cheap convenience food over the last few decades has resulted in the growth of our waistband as well as a wealth of other health issues related to poor nutrition.  Fewer and fewer people are learning how to cook even in the midst of our growing “foodie culture”, especially those in lower income areas. Our children need to learn life skills in school not just math and science, if every child finished school with a basic knowledge of cooking, and a handful of recipes great strides would be made toward fixing the health problems associated with poor nutrition.

Another part of the American food culture and at least in part due to the fast food business has been the rise of the mega farms.  While large scale farming is good from a business standpoint, it does little from a nutrition standpoint.  Don’t get me wrong the many things you can do with corn creates many opportunities that are great for America and the world, but nutrition isn’t one of them.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t eat corn. A nice buttery, salty, cob of corn fresh off the grill is a summer treat that brings me great comfort, but the many ways corn is added into our food provides no source of nutrition. The farm bill while initially a good idea during the great depression has become inequitable, creating a system that pays subsidies to farmers who grow things such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy, and livestock, ensuring unhealthy additives and sweeteners are cheap and widely available in our food system, instead of the variety of fruits and vegetables that were more broadly grown in small scale farms providing a wide variety of healthy options.  I’m do not believe that a full return to small scale family farming is realistic, or that it would even come close to solving the issue of hunger in our world.  I do believe however that a movement away from the commodity system and toward a wider variety of whole food options is necessary.  As with most things there is no easy answer, and rather than being one thing or the other, some sort of a meeting in the middle is necessary. I know this is probably a pipe dream.

One of the side effects of this American fast food culture is the rise of “food deserts” a food desert, is an area often in low income sections of cities, and in rural farming communities where easy access to healthy nutritious food is extremely difficult to find.  It’s ironic that those living surrounded by vast oceans of food have difficulty accessing something good to eat. In the city instead of grocery stores there are convenience stores and fast food restaurants, and what little healthy food is available is often financially out of reach. There are many people and programs who are working to improve health and nutrition nationwide as well as globally.

One organization you should check out is called Harlem Grown whose mission is to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition. Check them out at harlemgrown.org

Another is the Ron Finley project.  Ron Finley “The Gansta Gardener” started by planting vegetables in the curbside strip next to his home.  “Ron envisions a world where gardening is gangsta, where cool kids know their nutrition and where communities embrace the act of growing, knowing and sharing the best of the earth’s fresh-grown food.” This quote was copied from, ronfinley.com/the-ron-finley-project/

Take a look at these two and other organizations attempting to create a better world through food and education, and if you can help them out.

“As chefs, we cook to please people, to nourish people.”

Jose Andres

Food in Culture

We live in an increasingly connected and yet disconnected world.  While we are becoming increasingly globalized, our cultures as well as our subcultures remain an important part of our identities.  Whether it be the country from which we came, the upbringing we were given, or the family we got to choose, food remains a constant. Many of our favorite memories involve food in one form or another.  Food is part of almost all our interactions, be it going out to dinner for a first date, parents night out, a super bowl party, virtually every holiday, or that potluck at church on Sunday, food is involved in one form or another.  For some food is an ongoing struggle whether it be affordability,  availability, or nutritional value.  Food is Life, We All Eat.  All of our cultures share the basic need for sustenance. The possibilities and the beauty of our food, and our culture are what define us and intertwine us.  In this blog I will attempt to delve deeper into the way food effects various cultures historically and currently, to talk about the people and places that are making and impact on food culture in an attempt to provide food to a growing population, food justice, and maybe a recipe or two.  I hope you will come along and enjoy a meal with me.

When we no longer have good cooking in the world, we will have no literature, nor high and sharp intelligence, nor friendly gatherings, no social harmony.

Marie-antoine Careme