I watch certain cooking shows for inspiration on how to cook – methods, ingredients, combinations, etc. I bought a cookbook (“Charlie Trotter’s Vegetables”) for the same reason. A problem that I run into with 98% of recipes in the book is that they use ingredients that are essentially impossible for me to obtain. As an example, here’s a recipe that calls for adzuki beans, red icicle radishes, French morning radishes, white carrots, and fiddlehead ferns, among other (more obtainable) ingredients. That is very typical of this cookbook. Tonight I was watching “Mind of a Chef” and one recipe, which the chef called avocado sushi, was described by him as “very simple” and consisted of sushi rice, avocado, a bit of a honey lime vinaigrette…and “salted cod cream.” One may ask how one would make “salted cod cream.” By salting a piece of fresh raw cod overnight, cooking it in cream that has been INFUSED with garlic, fresh thyme, and fresh rosemary, and then emulsifying all of this into a smooth liquid. At this point the liquid is put into a siphon gun with CO2, and then magically placed on a plate in mousse form. After that you add the rice, avocado, and vinaigrette. SIMPLE! That is probably more complex than any recipe I have every made. It does look and sound amazing though. Because of the complexity of following the advice of professional chefs who essentially have unlimited access to any ingredient, I resort to trying to prepare vegetables and other foods simply with very few ingredients in order to maximize the flavor of the original plant.
I have realized that the world of complex preparations and presentations of food is meant for “special occasions” and are done that way for that reason (to be special, artistic, hopefully taste good, etc….). No normal person has or will use edible flowers for their dinner plate. Do they make food look really awesome? Yes. Are they essentially devoid of all practical and nutritional use? Also yes.
Recently I have delved into the world of what I will call “food elitism” as presented by the likes of shows like “Chef’s Table” and food blogs such as “A Life Worth Eating.” It is clearly food elitism for the very simple fact that this sort of fine dining experience is unattainable to 99.999% of humanity. The flavors presented at these types of restaurants will never been known to the general population most of whom throughout the world struggle to get enough micro- and macronutrients. Obviously there is nothing intrinsically wrong with enjoying such food. But…the aversion I have to it (and I will freely and openly admit that jealously plays a part in my aversion) is that I feel that something so good should not be restricted to the highest echelons of society … that it is so unattainable. The very concept of the tasting menu is a little crazy to me because if someone is eating at such a place on an extremely rare occasion (as I assume many who eat at such restaurants are doing), a very rare and amazing food item will only be enjoyed for a split second before it is gone…probably never to be had again. But is anyone at fault? I think the answer is yes. I believe there is an intentional effort to keep such food rare, expensive, and fine…like the makers of private yachts.
The frustrating thing to me as a human and as a doctor is that oftentimes the fancy and expensive foods are healthy foods (I’m not referring to steak here). In that regard one is paying for the work of the chef…and for the experience. But I would like to hope that with proper access and education one can eat healthy food that is also delicious (albeit not “Chef’s Table” caliber) for very little cost. The solution to this is to buy fresh whole foods and learn to prepare them at home. Examples: 1) whole/rolled oatmeal with fresh fruit, 2) romaine lettuce and/or spinach with homemade dressing, 3) spinach sautéed with garlic. Of course, even this recommendation is from a vantage point of elitism, as such foods are not accessible to those who cannot afford it, especially those who live in inner cities and other “food deserts.” And not only is there an accessibility factor and an economic factor, but there is also a time factor. If you are a parent who has to work two jobs, then you simply will not have time to prepare healthy foods. You will be 100% required to eat 100% processed and ready-to-eat foods high in sugar, fat, and refined carbohydrates.
What is crazy to me is that food deserts are not just in inner cities. They are also in Indian reservations and very rural America, which tells me that we have completely disengaged from the land around us and its ability to provide food. Put another way, we as a culture are reliant on the industrial food complex and the food we eat is produced hundreds or thousands of miles away. To me it is completely absurd and paradoxical that a person in poverty in rural Appalachia will be eating a meal of macaroni and cheese assembled from wheat from North Dakota and cheese from cows in California, all assembled at a Kraft plant in Missouri…when that person is surrounded by lush green mountains that sustained their ancestors and Native Americans before them. But the notion of eating foods that grow around you naturally is so completely foreign to our culture…for so many reasons. It is not practical on a daily basis. It unable to feed the masses. And such knowledge is essentially lost and unknowable and unreachable by the general population. To grow native plants on native land is only attainable by chefs with wealthy investors and their food suppliers, at least in the present food climate. Unfortunately I have no proposed solutions to these problems. But the best I could recommend is the adage “Eat the best plants you can afford.”
Here is an old but interesting article by Michael Pollan that better summarizes my thoughts on this issue.
On a side note, Bob Dylan wrote a line in one of this Christian songs that goes
I was eating with the pigs off a fancy tray
I was told I was looking good and to have a nice day
It all seemed so proper; it all seemed so elite
Eating that absolute garbage while being so discreet
But You changed my life
Came along in a time of strife
From silver and gold to what man cannot hold
You changed my life
Do not make food an idol. Do not make healthy eating an idol. It is a reminder to myself more than anyone. One could argue that it is a good thing to enjoy God’s creation by enjoying as many good foods as possible. But these things will not bring ultimate satisfaction or fulfillment. There is a place for healthy eating, but it should not supercede our primary purpose of living.