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Adam Gopnik On How We Eat

New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik on not just what we eat, but how we eat. The meaning of food and sharing.

(Angelo/Flickr)

(Angelo/Flickr)

We’re crazy about food these days.  What we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, how to cook it, where to eat it, how they cook it on TV.  More Americans watch the Food Network on average now than watch CNN.  But New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik says take it easy.

Slow down.  Suspend a little bit of culinary and moral judgement and remember to enjoy the meal.  Your companions.  The table.  The culture and history and above all the taste.  It’s not just vitamins and kitchen technique.  It’s a meal.

This hour On Point:  Adam Gopnik on the meaning of food and sharing at the table.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Adam Gopnik, a staff writer for the New Yorker. He is the author of The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.

Excerpt

A Small Starter: Questions of Food

We have happy days, remember good dinners.
–CHARLES DARWIN

We eat to live? Yes, surely. But why then did the immortal
gods also come to the table, and twice a day?
–LÉON ABRIC

IN THE early morning– six- forty, precisely– of May 24, 1942, a young professor of German, a resistant who had taken the underground name of Jacques Decour (his real name was Daniel Decourdemanche) and who taught before the war at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris, wrote a letter to his parents:

You know that for the past two months I have been expecting what is to happen to me this morning; so I have had the time to prepare myself for it; but since I have no religion, I have not given myself up to any meditation on death. Here are a few requests. I was able to send a word to the woman I love. If you see her– soon I hope– give her your affection. This is my dearest wish. I also wish that you could keep an eye on her parents who need help badly. Give them the things that are in my apartment and which belong to their daughter: The volume of the pleiade, the fables de la fontaine, tristan, les quatre saisons, two water colors,
the menu of the inn les 4 paves du roy.

All these last days I have thought a lot about the good meals that we should have together when I was free. You will eat them
without me, all the family together– but not sadly, please! I don’t want your thoughts to dwell on the good times that we might
have had but on those that we really have shared. During these two months of solitude without even anything to read I have run over in my mind all my travels, all my experiences, all the meals that I have eaten. I even composed the outline of the novel. I had
an excellent meal with Sylvain on the 17th. I have often thought of it with pleasure, as well as of the New Year’s supper with
Pierre and Renée. Questions of food, you see, have taken on a great importance.

Three hours later, what was going to happen to Decour happened to him. He was shot by the Nazis in the courtyard of the prison. Yet there he was, in the last hours of his life, thinking about sending a menu from a little inn near Versailles to his girlfriend’s parents. (They must have eaten there, once.) His last thoughts turned to his best- loved meals. Of course, he’s nobly trying to ease the horror for his parents, but he’s also trying to find something to hang on to. Questions of food, you see, have taken on a great importance.

Questions of food seem to have taken on a great importance for us now, too. An obsessive interest in food is not a rich man’s
indulgence, confined to catering schools and the marginal world of recipe books. Questions of food have become the proper preoccupation of whole classes and cable networks. More people talk about food now– why they eat what they eat and what you ought to eat, too– than have ever done before. Our food has become our medicine, our source of macho adventure, and sometimes, it almost seems, our messianic material. Good food, or watching it get made, anyway, has become, in the age of Rachael Ray and Food Network, a popular sport, and even the many who still prefer fast food to fancy or fresh get to prefer it loudly.

But if our own obsession (and the obesity it fathers) keeps increasing, its spirit seems at odds with that of Jacques Decour’s
last thoughts. Not just the gravity, but the pathos of the feeling he evokes, and its humanity, seem very far from the questions we ask about food. We do feel a kinship to him beyond our pity at his end and our wonder at his courage. A kinship because his sense of food–of the rituals of the table, the memories of eating, even as the noise of our cross-talk and cable clatter increases– still shares in our own sense of what makes us human and what forms the core of our memories. For us, as for Jacques Decour, what makes a day into a happy day is often the presence of a good dinner. Though we don’t always acknowledge it enough, we still live the truth Darwin saw: food is the sensual pleasure that passes most readily into a social value.

Yet our questions of food are very different from Decour’s. We tend to argue about matters of taste, about the health of the planet, about the rights and wrongs of vegetarianism– all questions, finally, about what to eat. And we ask these questions expecting material answers: the right way to cook or eat. Decour’s questions are posed in a different key, one we can only call humanist: a view that life is a whole– that we can live fully, and that we ought to, with our pleasures as much as with our principles. He is talking about what goes on around the table as much as what’s on it. We can’t help feeling amazed at the sense of his letter but also a kind of unease, even a certain guilt, in his presence. Our questions of food, even the most high- minded, seem so small compared with his.

Why do we care so much about our food? There’s a sociological explanation (it’s a signal of status), a psychological explanation
(it takes the place of sex), and a puritanical explanation (it’s the simplest sign of virtue). But all these, while worth pursuing, seem to be at one side of Decour’s questions. Thinking about questions of food an hour before his execution, Decour wasn’t thinking virtuous thoughts about his health, or even the planet’s health. Thinking about meals he was thinking about something else, about that inn near Versailles, about Sylvain and Pierre and Renée and about the parents who had raised and were now to lose him. Food represented for him the continuity of living, and what gave form to life.

Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject. When “gastronomy” was on
the margins of attention it seemed big because it was an unexpected way to get at everything– the nature of hunger; the meaning of appetite; the patterns and traces of desire; tradition, in the way that recipes are passed mother to son; and history, in the way that spices mix and, in mixing, mix peoples. You could envision through the modest lens of pleasure, as through a keyhole, a whole world; and the compression and odd shape of the keyhole made the picture more dramatic. Now the door is wide open, but somehow we see less, or notice less, anyway. Betrayed by its enlargement, food becomes less intimate the more intensely it is
made to matter.

I love to eat. I love to eat simple food and I love to eat fancy food. I love to eat out and I love to eat at home. I love the Grand Véfour in Paris, where the banquettes are made of velvet and the food is filled with truffl es, and I love the coffee shop down the street, where the eggs all come with greasy potatoes. I’ve loved to eat since I was little, when my mother, a terrifi c cook, would make all the dishes, large and small, near and far. I learned early on the simple path between eating well and feeling happy. And, as all eaters do, I also early on learned the short, sudden path between desire and disappointment: my fi rst strong taste memory is of taking a deep bitter swig of vanilla extract in a dark closet into which I had sneaked the bottle, sure that something that smelled that good had to taste good, too. (It doesn’t.) If all my pleasures are gathered around the table, all my disillusions
taste bitter, like that vanilla.

Getting older, with children of my own, I was trained enough to cook for them– my wife’s feminist mother had purposefully neglected her daughter’s kitchen tuition. And, over the years, I wrote a lot about cooking and eating, as a writer is bound to dwell on the things he loves. But though I had written happily about what food tasted like and what it looked like and also about the odd personalities of the people who made the best food, I was left, decades on, wondering: what did it really mean? Why did we care? What was, so to speak, the subject of food? The attempts to make food “art” I found embarrassing, and the attempts to make it adventure I found absurd. I recognized sexual politics in that effort, the result of traditionally women’s work now being done by men, including me. Men being men, they had to assert themselves by trying not to seem too obviously feminine, pretending that cooking was really just as macho as NASCAR, and so producing the taste for rattlesnake testicle ragout. And with the coming of Mr. Perfect, something more insidious happened: the sheer brunt and dailiness of women’s real lives– the everyday dance women still must do for family life to go on–was subtly undermined by the cooking husband, or host. (Putting on an apron and making a sauce is the easiest of household chores, and a neat way to escape doing the others.)

In place of Decour’s Big Questions, we had many small ones. Should we eat locally? Stop eating meat altogether, and if so, should we do it out of humanity or for our health? All questions worth answering–and yet, weren’t they still to one side of what we really felt when we came home to share dinner and felt happy when we did? Certainly within the new rites there were intimations of a new order, and of a new table, of a larger meaning to our questions of food. I could see, for instance, that in the past twenty-five years, two big things had happened in the world of fancy food. One was the growth of the pure- food movement, best captured in the name “slow food,” and which encompasses localism, seasonal cooking, farmers’ markets, organic produce–a whole host of interlocked activities and styles that spoke to the old, the past, the lost, the sustainable, the recoverable, heritage breeds, and forgotten peasant wisdoms. The other was the growth of “techno-emotional” cooking, as its founder, or anyway its first pope, Ferran Adrià, likes to call it, more often referred to as “molecular gastronomy.” Adrià and his apostles use gels and foams and aerations and freeze-dried powders, outré rearrangements and deconstructed plates: the gleeful appliqué of new technology to cooking. This doubleness suggested a kind of ongoing confrontation between two forces in life, the eternal-natural and the techno-inventive–a confrontation, so to speak, between Hestia, Queen of the Hearth and Home, and Willy Wonka, King of the magic mountain. (Hestia had nymphs and rustics on her side; Willy, an army of Oompa- Loompas.)

I wanted to imagine an apocalyptic final battle for the fate of food. But actually, though often opposed to each other in principle, the people who supported one didn’t fight much with the people who practiced the other. What were they really after? What was really going on with these questions? What did it all mean? We shouldn’t intellectualize food, because that makes it too remote from our sensory pleasures; but we ought to talk as intelligently as we can about it, because otherwise it makes our sensory pleasures too remote from our minds. The knowledge that our senses are part of our intelligence is what makes us human. We alone know our fun. The sweetness in our morning coffee is at once a feeling, an idea, and a memory. Eating is an intelligent act, or it’s merely an animal one. And what makes it intelligent is the company of other mouths and minds. All animals eat. An animal that eats and thinks must think big about what it is eating not to be taken for an animal.

Copyright © 2011 by Adam Gopnik

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  • Yar

    It wasn’t all that long ago that most Americans spent most of their days producing food.  Our agriculture history shaped us as a people.  In a few short generations we have lost much of that history and our memories of gathering around the table to celebrate the harvest.  We have replaced the hearth with the electronic screen, replaced conversations with grunts of disapproval at the radio or TV.  

    The table is the stage for learning life skills, understanding the community, introducing a new members to the family, a place where love is shared.  So much more than taste of real food is missing from today’s diet, we have abandoned our soul, we have lost our values, we have cheated our children, we are destroying the fabric of our society, simply by not breaking bread together. 
    I care deeply about recapturing what has been lost in our society.  I am cooking a meal each Wednesday night for my church, in an attempt to create space where the community can come together.  My logic is, feed it and it will grow.

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      Well said.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    It seems like there are at least two aspects to this:

    1. Families making the time to sit down together for a meal no matter where the food comes from (home-cooked, take out, etc.)

    2. Food preparation and cooking.

    When you slow down enough to put these two together it can have a profound effect on many things: family life, communication, enjoying food, enjoying a family ritual, and more.

    Much of this may be an urban issue: folks in cities may be more likely to use takeout and eat on the run than folks in rural areas where there is no take out and there is no city center to hang out at.

    But, it’s also a both parents working issue: if both parents get home late it’s tough to put a lot of time into food prep and cooking, let alone take the time to have a slow dinner around the table.

    A good start is to have one weekend meal together where the food is home cooked and everyone takes the time to enjoy it and one another.

    One problem for this making the mainstream is the snobbism of “foodies.” I have no problem with people going crazy with their own food and cooking, I love eating it, but let’s not turn it into a religion where that’s all we talk about.

    • Brett

      These are very practical and down to earth ideas! I like the “one weekend meal together” part; I think any family can manage that.

      An unfortunate trend in rural areas is that many chain restaurants crop up in strip malls (the ones with a Radio Shack, carryout Chinese or Japanese, a pizza delivery place, a dollar store, etc.), and fast food giants reign supreme as civilization meets the wild, so to speak. Add to that, a commute (which passes the aforementioned take-out places), all adult members of the family working long hours, no one wanting to eat at 9:00pm and a recipe (pun intended) for family togetherness gets sliced thinner and thinner, like so much white bread (okay I’ll stop).    

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        Absolutely Brett. But, the way to eat an elephant is a forkful at a time (so to speak) so one meal a week is a starting place.

        If that ritual works out, then try a second meal. Start with Sunday dinner, add to it Saturday breakfast (make pancakes from scratch with real *Connecticut maple syrup).

        Obviously in a bad jobs market the working odd hours piece of this is going to affect getting together for group meals but again, start with one, see if it sticks.

        *meant to start a food war between us maple syrup producing states.

        • Brett

          Here, here! Especially pancakes from scratch! 

  • Ellen Dibble

    It seems to me when most people were farmers, before there was electricity, it was a necessity for everyone to sit down together, because food couldn’t be refrigerated; you had to eat at the same time, the hired help, the family, and all.  A sound tradition, that.
        I think of that partly because I hear statistics that something like a third of American dollars go to food eaten outside the home, in restaurants.  And statistics that show ever higher numbers of  Americans not living in extended family farms, or even nuclear families, but maybe alone with a TV and a poodle.  What now?  
        We can either be servers and cooks at soup kitchens, or be among those served, and/or find common places where the restaurant creates a kind of congregation.  I was thinking of this yesterday stopping at a new restaurant, Sips, featuring tea, but having salads (there were two, pre-made, “one of each,” and sandwiches (very nice) too.  Out on the street a mother was trying to get her daughter to go there with her.  “It’s most convenient.”  The girls said, “We’ve been there already.”  Inside, the young manager, an ex-corporate lawyer, and his first hire, an actress, with magazines like The Economist in hoppers.  Seats arranged a bit like a living room, someone with a computer perched on a tall bar stool on a pencil-shaped high table about six feet long.  People being together, not intrusively, but not segregated.   The window, with bamboo slats to about 4 feet, and essentially a window seat, rather than a display.  A few tables for two, all taken, and places to look away, or look towards.  There is another restaurant coming in a week, run by the son of friends.  I hope he brings competition.  I left my “business” card; “it’s extra.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

    How can we expect all American families to try and follow this when we have millions of families in both urban and rural areas without the means to buy enough fresh vegetables and healthy foods to properly feed their familes? Copple that with the number of families in these situations without someone who can cook and all you have left is a concept that works for those who can afford it and not those who need it.

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      This is very true Dan but you have to start somewhere.

      How about buying a few better boy tomato plant starts, putting them in a pot and putting it on the deck in summer. In late summer they’ll start producing and then you can get the taste of a homegrown vegetable which is very different from store bought.

      Add another outside pot with basil and  you have the basis of a lot of cooking where all you’d need to buy is some garlic, onions, and some decent pasta, all of which are relatively cheap.

      That’s one meal. Start there and add more as time and money allows.

    • Nutricj

      it’s true, but so many urban gardens are popping up all over the country now- rooftop farming is a big movement and now most of them take foodstamps

    • Sam, Buffalo, NY

      Education is key.

      Those that have access to fresh food, sometimes are not willing to learn how to use it.

      Why!? When you can get soda and Cheetos on food stamps?!

      I believe it comes from families.
      And when families fail (to educate) their kids, communities, churches, schools and government needs to step in.

      • Sam, Buffalo, NY

        I like what Jaimie Oliver is doing in his program, in the schools and communities.

        A lot of people don’t use fresh veggies because they don’t know what to do with them and how to cook with them.

        Maybe cooking classes?
        I should see what my CSA owners think about this.

        • Nutricj

          yes, and there really is no faster food than fresh veggies and whole fruits.

          • Ellen Dibble

            Nowadays you can also put your fresh veggies in a juicer and eat those even if your teeth have fallen out.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Another important point to be made is how being too critical of the cook can lead to less cooking and other problems.

    In our house we’ve always had a rule: If you don’t like dinner, no problem, make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We never forced our kids to eat their vegetables nor did we stop serving vegetables or smother them in butter.

    Our other rule is, the cook doesn’t do the dishes unless he/she wants to voluntarily.

    Both my wife and I tend to enjoy doing the dishes because the warm water feels good on our slightly arthritic hands. During the day, I like doing dishes because I have a large bird feeder outside the kitchen window and I get caught up in the bird action.

    And, of course, one can always cook and/or do dishes with a radio on. One’s local NPR station works wonders.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      It’s “Talk of the Nation” for me when I’m washing dishes.

      • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

        My dinner dishes usually get the end of ATC or Marketplace but if the NewsHour is on TV then no radio, just listen from the kitchen or put off dishes until it’s over.

  • Yar

    What should I do with 9 bushels of peppers?  
    I picked them to avoid losing them to the first frost.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

      can them or lots and lots of stir fry.

    • Nutricj

      and pickling them makes them wonderful for sammies, salads, garnish, apps

    • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

      Buy some bulk carrots, cut it all up in large chunks, put in large jars with a bit of garlic and onion, pour some decent vinegar over it, seal the jars and let sit for a bit in the refrigerator.

      We love making this kind of pickled finger food and it goes great with beer!

      • Ellen Dibble

        Visiting Prague, I think 1987, Christmas week, I found out their winter veggies are all pickled.  Before canning, there was pickling.

        • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

          Ellen: it’s super easy and incredibly tasty. Try it with carrots, onions, garlic alone. Killer good.

          • Ellen Dibble

            I know, but I can’t have anything with vinegar (or sugar of any kind).  Or turmeric, or various other spices, actually. I have bicycled to the next town to enjoy a meal with friends wherein all I have is coffee, such is the importance of sitting down together.

          • Nutricj

            how are you with salts? and fresh fruits without sugar added? you can make a raspeberry puree (or other berries) with salt. honey really helps as it is naturally anti-bacterial and does not go bad.

          • Ellen Dibble

            No, even fresh fruits (or tomatoes) that are slightly overripe are very bad.  I am finding out it’s from heavy metal toxicity that my body doesn’t fight off certain molds like various Candida, and in my muscles, skin, eyes, nose, joints, and notably brain, there are something like colonies that get kicked up where allergies (or something) make big trouble.  Supposedly if after a few years I get the metals out, my body will squelch the rot, and the allergies can begin to be treated.  If I were living with this in an earlier time, where I couldn’t have fresh vegetables all the time, I would be to all intents and purposes permanently insane, wild and miserable of nervous system and of physiology.  Salt is okay, and potassium.  Stevia is okay.  Hopefully someday I can eat with others.  Meanwhile, there is a drug for athlete’s foot, Diflucan, which can preempt a reaction, but is bad for the liver.  

          • Nutricj

            if you are with a naturopath, ask about colostrum supplementation. this can really boost your GI tract immune abilities. it actually repairs your lining that has most likely suffered unser the toxicity.

          • Ellen Dibble

            Thanks.

    • Ellen Dibble

      My refrigerator is full of sealed plastic bags of shredded zucchini, I think.  Raw.  I put a chopped fresh tomato and salmon from a can on it, and eat.  I was wishing they had green, red, yellow (any) peppers sliced and in bags like that.  They’re much richer in nutrition.  I would eat all those 9 bushels of peppers if there were a way — speaking as one who gets seriously sick from plenty of foods.  But peppers are like holy communion to me; food without any week-long disabling factors.  I hope you find a use. The company is Mann’s, 1-800-285-0690 or http://www.veggiesmadeeasy.com. Actually, I have broccoli, cauliflower hearts, carrots, and red cabbage.

    • nj

      Things like ratatouille and chili can absorb significant amounts of peppers. Cook large pots and freeze in dinner-size containers. Easy heat-and-eat winter meals.

      • Yar

        We are having chili for supper.  I have been cutting up and freezing marconi peppers all day.  I have processed a couple of bushels so far. I also have a bushel of jalapeno peppers, I may dry some of them in the oven.Thanks

  • Emily

    Food and sociology resonates especially strongly to people with eating disorders. You’d be amazed how much food-anxiety leads to social isolation.

    • Yar

      How do you define eating disorder?  
      Look around, 1 in 3 adults will develop diabetes. We have childhood obesity at astounding levels.  We eat too much fat, salt, and processed sugar.  Our nation has a eating disorder.  Food addiction can’t be solved through abstinence.How does a nation change its relationship with food?  Certainly not by ignoring it, but by taking time to prepare and savor the qualities of what we eat. 

      • John Myers

        Fat and salt are not contributing to the rise in type 2 diabetes. It’s the convenient processed foods and the sugary drinks.

      • John Myers

        Fat and salt are not contributing to the rise in type 2 diabetes. It’s the convenient processed foods and the sugary drinks.

        • Yar

          Easy access to foods containing high fat and salt content, contributes to our eating disorders as a nation.  Our bodies crave these which when limited by environment worked to keep us alive, but today are killing us.  There is still much to learn about the interactions of taste, nutrition and our hormonal responses. 
          Eggs for example, get a bad rap, but the cholesterol in an egg may actually help prevent diabetes.  Another essential component of nutrition is physical activity, we need more physical activity as a nation.  We talk about reducing calorie intake, maybe what we really need is to increase the number of calories we burn.

          • Nutricj

            great point: and eggs are one of our only natural food sources of vitamin D3 as well as the fact that only about 15%-20% of Americans are dietary cholesterol sensitive- meaning most of us eating cholesterol are not affected by it. our livers produce more serum cholesterol boosted off high saturated, hyper high sodium and the newer research shows likely dyes and chemicals (AKA- processed products). we limit eggs and we cut out vital nutrients when the Vit D we miss would HELP keep our health profile in check. as humans, we are A BIOLOGICAL MACHINE meant for movement.

          • Nutricj

            great point: and eggs are one of our only natural food sources of vitamin D3 as well as the fact that only about 15%-20% of Americans are dietary cholesterol sensitive- meaning most of us eating cholesterol are not affected by it. our livers produce more serum cholesterol boosted off high saturated, hyper high sodium and the newer research shows likely dyes and chemicals (AKA- processed products). we limit eggs and we cut out vital nutrients when the Vit D we miss would HELP keep our health profile in check. as humans, we are A BIOLOGICAL MACHINE meant for movement.

          • John Myers

            I don’t mean to be some contrary jerkwad, but eggs have so little vitamin D3 that it’s really not a viable solution if you’re vitamin D deficient. But ya eggs are great for a lot of reasons, no doubt.
            Herring and sardines are great sources for Vitamin D. I love pickled herring and make sure I eat plenty of it in the winter.

          • Nutricj

            True true, fish liver oil is much abundant….I often have a hard time getting people to eat those though ;-)

          • John Myers

             I’ve been on a high fat/low carb diet for about 5 years and I don’t get ravenously hungry anymore.
            It’s the insulin that spikes when you eat flour/sugar (which is the mainstay of processed foods) that makes a person hungry.
            When they first discovered insulin they found that when they injected it into anorexic patients it would literally compel them to eat.
            It’s all about the carbohydrates in the diet.
            A high fat diet

          • John Myers

             …is very satiating.

  • Drew You Too

    How do we eat? Fast and cheap. Yes it’s tragic, yes it’s detrimental to our health, yes it’s detrimental to our economy. Hope we manage to change it.

  • Please

    Yes!

    Lets all send transitional bread, locally sourced zucchini and fair trade coffee to the famine victims in Somalia. I’m sure they will all appreciate it.

    • Guest

      and lets not forget the lamb testicle ragout and the organic micro greens.

    • Sam, Buffalo, NY

      Sending food to starving countries is an absolute worse way to help.
      It’s like sending water bottles in container from Michigan to New Orleans.

      Expensive and inefficient.

      I donated money to Red Cross, how about you? Did you send a chunk of pot roast?

      • Republican$forprosperity

        I was going to donate until I saw a picture of a boy with a huge pot belly and who was supposed to be starving. I’d say that they had enough.

        • illJill

          Are you kidding!!? Look at his arm, you can see his ribs! The “pot belly” is due to severe lack of protein throughout the body, and in particular, the bloodstream, there is less osmotic force to keep fluid in the vessel, and it escapes into the tissues, causing a bloated, swollen belly (there are tons of blood vessels in the gut region, and hence, an abundant supply of blood vessels from which fluid can be sapped). In other words, it’s not what most people consider a “belly” in that it’s not due to fat at all–it’s due to excess fluid. 
          You make me sad. 

    • Anonymous

      How can you ship something that is locally sourced?

      • D_U_H

        You put it on the luggage of deported illegal aliens from Somalia

  • Jeremy from Danville

    Hi Tom,

    People need to think about what’s on their plate beyond the immediate. With the majority of Americans living in city’s, people need to understand where their food comes from and the destruction of soils, plant, animal, bacterial species. The industrial agricultural systems we have in place are not sustainable and will destroy the world.

  • Nutricj

    he is so right, i worked harder in all the kitchens i have cooked in than i did as a grunt in the first gulf war by far! it is absolute exhaustion- but the reward is just awesome: feeding everyone is ultimate joy. it is manual labor and when you talk to farmers that love their work- they too get off on the thrill of feeding people in their glory

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    It must be pleasant to have the time to do what Gopnik is describing.  Can we get an injection of reality sometime?

    • Yar

      It is not as difficult as you think, I have found cooking meat as soon as I purchase it and freezing it makes daily cooking much simpler.  A few vegetables and a starch with a small serving of meat, I can usually get a meal on the table in less than 1/2 hour. 

    • nj

      One has the option of creating one’s reality. One makes the effort to do the things that one finds important.

  • Lucy Johnston

    Re: democracy in the kitchen.  My mother’s family, from Massachussetts is extremely democratic in the kitchen and I challenge anyone to find a better spread when we get together.  Each person is the master, the ruler, of their own contribution.  But we all contribute, and often cook simultaneously.  It makes for a fantastic combination of flavors and dishes that no single person could orchestrate!

  • Nutricj

    Yes, and we know that powerful food memories begin in toddlerhood- there is work currently being done on taste memory in-utero. so much of the moral food preferences and taste memory preferences deveolps/stems from cultural influence.

  • Tod Dimmick

    I thoroughly agree with this theme – I would add that there is a “two way street” here – food tastes better when we share it.  Eating together helps change the perspective from food as fuel (yuck) to a meal together as a destination in and of itself. 

    Food writer Marion Cunningham wrote an article for Saveur years ago (“The Shaker
    Table”) where she notes after a meal
    that “coming together at the table is a reminder that you are part of something
    bigger than yourself.  Your are
    exposed to your family in a very real way, sitting at a table, facing one
    another.  It’s a metaphor for
    life.  As a platter is passed, you
    learn to take only what you need and leave enough for others.  We
    were not born civilized, eating together civilizes us.”

  • Eric

    A movie beautifully illustrated the role that cuisine holds in French culture just mentioned by Mr Gopnik. It is actually a Danish movie from the late 80′s: “Babette’s Feast”. Late 19th century in a small Danish village a French lady refugee from the 1871 revolution and former chef in a Parisian restaurant is welcomed and hosted by a local family. Years later she wins some lottery and decides to use the money to make to the village’s inhabitants the very best dinner she ever cooked from her Parisian past. The moving is going through all stages of preparing, cooking and sharing around a same table this special food. The community coming out of this dinner is never the same afterwards. As a French citizen this movie made me understand for the first time how this aspect of my culture was different from other places’. This movie really says it all.

    • Nutricj

      ooooooh, thank you for movie title!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1816544 Dan Trindade

    Holiday meals are truly where my family comes together these days. All of us are spread out across the Northeast and rarely get to spend much time together but come the holidays we all join in and create some sublime dishes. Recently my mother and grandmothers have abdicated there kitchen dictatorships and my sibling chefs and I have taken up the throne with bacon-wrapped tenderloins and four layer lasagnas paired with fresh vegetables, squash bisques, and cider jams. Whatever we cook these are always the best family memories we have when we seperate again and go back to our respective lives.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The ideal world in which people had time to sit around a table eating excellent food every day comes from a time when the well to do had servants.  That, or the matriarch of the family worked only at home.  How does this apply to today’s world?

    • Nutricj

      Sociology and food history in America proves your claim false- it is actually the middle class and lower income immigrants to this country that are really responsible for the cultural dynamic of “the family” meal. for one thing- generally speaking over the last couple hundred years- there wasn’t enough food for lots meal seatings. One large meal would be prepped for over the whole day in between big chores than the family came together to share the bounty of what little there was. also, even if one would suggest the “eliteness” of the family meal from say England, as one example- “High tea” that we now equate to a habit of the wealthy comes from the facts that women would have tiny amounts of food for breakfast, tea and small bisquits (crackers) for afternoon “lunch” to stave off hunger until they could finally have their one family meal in the dark of evening after the daylight work hours passed.And, there are many examples of this in Japan, Ireland, France, etc. with similar circumstance for the working classes.

  • Sam, Buffalo, NY

    When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile!
    Especially when it comes to dark chocolate. :)

  • Escott

    I like to cook, but my husband lost quite a bit of weight and now doesn’t eat dinner, afraid he’ll gain a pound.  I am continually surprised at how emotionally connected I am to the preparation (as evidenced by how annoyed I get that he doesn’t eat!).  Luckily, my 13 year old son still likes to eat, as long as nothing on the plate touches anything else:)  I just wish I had more time…

  • Sam, Buffalo, NY

    I belong to CSA, vegetable and get 1/4 share of meat CSA.

    It comes out to about 85/month. I get 1 weekly distribution and it’s enough to feed 2 adults and 1 child.

    I only buy: chocolate, bread, eggs, sugar, grains, pasta and milk products.

    No prepackaged and processed foods.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Casting Society of America?  Confederate States of America?  Please avoid abbreviations.

      • Nutricj

        Community Share Agriculture

        • Sam, Buffalo, NY

          Community Supported Agriculture

          • Nutricj

            Yes, and Greg, you can use both support or share interchangably because as a community we support our local farmers by buying shares of their crop each season

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            I’m not a farmer.  Will they take grammar advice?

          • Nutricj

            i am going to a Michael Pollan lecture tonight….I will ask him ;-)

            (and just for you I did not write MP)

          • Sam, Buffalo, NY

            I think all three are correct.

            Community Supported Agriculture
            Community Share Agriculture
            Community Sustaining Agriculture

            The point is that Mr Camp likes to be difficult and point out people’s grammar mistakes, his area of expertise, on these boards.

          • Nutricj

            yes you bet!!! the more the food movement has come along, sustainability has definitely found its place in the name. Even cynical Greg should appreciate that the foundings of CSAs are actually stemmed from Rudolf Steiner’s educational ideas about sharing agricultrual responsibilities in a community and his early works on biodynamic farming. It was a Euro teacher’s idea to begin with! ;-)

          • Sam, Buffalo, NY

            Wait till he replies with “communist” or “socialist” label … :)

            I for one, LOVE being able to participate in a CSA.
            There are several CSA’s around where we live, all with different pick up and distribution rules.

            I love that my CSA lets you come in and exchange your labor for shares of veggies and I wish I would have been able to do that.

            Or being able to bring urban kids out into the field and show them how farms work, how “food” is grown, what it takes, etc.

            Growing up, we had a piece of land that my family tended. We spend every weekend starting in April and all through October, growing all sorts of food. Everyone helped out, including kids. Weeding, watering, picking, etc. In the summer mom and grandma made jams and in the fall it was pickling season. Whole family got together and we canned tomatoes, pickles, cabbage, etc.
            We stored our own sacks of potato and other roots in a cellar or garage, and that’s what we mostly lived off of in the winter.

            Again, we only bought meat, eggs, grains, milk, etc, things we couldn’t produce or make ourselves.

          • Nutricj

            that is wonderful! i dream of starting an edible schoolyard program where we are now- recently relocated to the northeast. the CSA i was with in WA let us come in and learn on the farm too. i honestly have a “black thumb”, a chef that can’t grow anything, LOL, but i still contributed to the composting, seeding, harvests and the seasonal get togethers where we had a party and everyone brings something they made from the farm. coming together over our food is a primal need for joy!!

          • Nutricj

            that is wonderful! i dream of starting an edible schoolyard program where we are now- recently relocated to the northeast. the CSA i was with in WA let us come in and learn on the farm too. i honestly have a “black thumb”, a chef that can’t grow anything, LOL, but i still contributed to the composting, seeding, harvests and the seasonal get togethers where we had a party and everyone brings something they made from the farm. coming together over our food is a primal need for joy!!

          • Anonymous

            Community [Something] Agriculture

      • Ellen Dibble

        I’m thinking Community Sustaining Agriculture.

      • Sam, Buffalo, NY

        let me google that for you, Mr Teacher.

        Isn’t ability to find answers, something you should be teaching, Mr Camp?

        • Sam, Buffalo, NY

          see, education IS key

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

          No, I teach clear writing, not lazy obscurity.

          • Sam, Buffalo, NY

            of course you do

            Clear Writing 101. Line to sign up, I bet, is out the door.

            Just because YOU didn’t know what CSA stands for, it doesn’t mean that I am lazy.

            But it’s ok. I’ve become familiar with your wonderful comments on these boards, and expect nothing less than negative, criticizing and useless opinions from you.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Text Speak isn’t English.  Abbreviations need to be spelled out the first time they are used.  That way, everyone can participate in the discussion, rather than just those who are already on your side.

          • Sam, Buffalo, NY

            Sorry, I didn’t take Clear Writing 101 and not familiar with the rules.

            I am still in the ESL (English As a Second Language) 101.

            Thanks for clarifying.

          • Nutricj

            we aren’t penning our memoirs, we are just chatting

          • Plushkin

            More like diet has had its adverse impact on Sam’s manners. I would steer clear of this CSA just for this reason.

    • John Myers

       bread sugar and pasta aren’t processed foods?

      • Sam, Buffalo, NY

        Apparently to you they are.
        But one has to save time and effort somewhere. :)

        I am not a stay at home parent, with plenty of time to spare to make my own bread, butter, cheese, yogurt and pasta.

        If you have those kinds of resources, great for you!

        Maybe you can create a niche where you cater to those like me, who would be willing to buy those kinds of services of home-made bread, cheese, sour cream, butter, etc from you. :)
        And pasta.

        • John Myers

          Sorry – I’m projecting here a lot. Bread, pasta and sugar (and any starchy foods) don’t agree with me – I put on weight very quickly with those foods. That one third of the population that is obese are most likely in the same boat. Insulin resistant and pre-diabetic.
          Anyway I just look at it this way: Bread and pasta are just vehicles for the good stuff. If you eat spaghetti, what’s the star of the show? The pasta or the sauce that’s on it? I like the sauce, so I just replace the pasta with another vehicle (such as sauteed broccoli). It takes about as much time to saute the broccoli as boil the pasta.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What?  Enkidu is civilized by knowing the temple prostitute.  A meal was involved, but that wasn’t the sole part of the change.

  • john

    Chalmers Johnson observed the similarity of ancient Roman culture and our own in the rise of importance of the kitchen slave to celebrity chef as the sign of an empire in decline.

  • Roger

    Born in Paris in early 50′s. Parents eastern european refugees from war. Mamman admitted not knowing how to cook. Learned on the fly because of need to feed the family with no money. I remember wonderful meals and dishes – fresh (from daily visits to the marche), simple and delicious. She also did wonderful things with leftovers – no waste. Very fond memories of a food-centric family, culture. met us after school with food in the park. I still love those memories but my American family does not understand that. They understood a little better when they saw the movie Ratatouille ;-)

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Turn in the vegetarian direction?  My parents raised me as a vegetarian, and now I love meat.  Train up a child in the way that he should go, and in the end, he’ll run away from it as fast as he can.

    • Brett

      Hey, I hear what you’re saying. I think we all can have a defiant, rebellious nature when it comes to personal choices, and I know self-proclaimed curmudgeons need to sound quippy, but isn’t that just a tad simplistic? I mean, based on your reasoning, better we should raise kids to do drugs and commit robberies because they will then run in the other (more desirable) direction? 

  • Anonymous

    someone ought to tell tthis dude several things: first, in fact, his so-called US, European ability to enjoy good, nutrional meals is based on exploiting the resources, including the labor, of the rest of the world.  Second, no matter how much he tries to distort the history of hunger by referring to the fact that much of the world suffered famine much of the time in the past, in fact, today even in the “advanced” worlds of today a tremendously large number of children go huingry as a matter of course.  In facxt, so many do so that the US is forced to have a (totally inadequate) food prgram for school kids who come to school hungry and go to sleep hungry. Of course it might be true that in the west that fewer people starve to death today than three hundred years ago.  However, a much more honest comparison would be to compare the hunger rates between economic classes today as copmared to the past, including how much of the available food is provided per person per class. 

  • Anonymous

    “Eating is an intelligent act, or it’s merely an animal one. And what makes it intelligent is the company of other mouths and minds. All animals eat. An animal that eats and thinks must think big about what it is eating not to be taken for an animal.” – Adam Gopnik

    If eating is an intelligent act, then other animal species eat much more intelligently than most human beings do. As soon as people have enough money to spend on food they (we) tend to eat way too much for our health, and much of what we choose to eat isn’t even food, if by food we mean nutrition.

    In addition, other animals, especially social animals, enjoy food-gathering and eating together. These activities are not uniquely human. I’ve kept chickens for 25 years and have read and written about them extensively, and I can tell you that foraging, calling to each other when food is found, eating together and conversing amongst themselves — all this is for these birds a very holistic, social and sociable undertaking with much joy and enthusiasm on display.

    Another thing about chickens and relevant to other animal species is that chickens have been scientifically shown to have the ability, in a truly sustainable environment, to select not only the precise nutrients they need for their health and wellbeing and the wellbeing of their chicks: they have the ability to select the precise balance of nutrients they need among thousands of plants and bugs and soil micronutrients.

    While there may be value in Adam Gopnik’s discussion of food as a human socializer, lumping together the entire non-human animal creation as “just animal” compared with humans in regard to eating and related behaviors is nonsense and mean. Gopnik should argue his thesis without invoking the tired old formula about “what makes humans better/higher than (other) animals is blah blah blah.” This formula has nothing to do with real animals in the real world who differ amongt themselves as well as sharing characteristics and interests with one another and with ourselves.

    Karen Davis, PhD, President
    United Poultry Concerns
    http://www.upc-online.org

        

    • Brett

      enjoyed that comment.

  • JRB

    Quick comment on Tom Ashbrook’s supposition that one doesn’t eat while doing Zen meditation: to the contrary, Zen practitioners aim to bring meditative awareness to all actions and eating and food preparation are given particular weight in the Zen tradition. Eating during a Zen retreat is a somber, ritualized activity. Dogen’s (13th century Zen master) “Instructions to the Cook” makes good reading on the subject, or, for a more modern take, Edward Espe Brown, head cook at the Tassajara Zen Center in California.

  • JY

    I absolutely loved this show! I particularly liked the discussion relating to the meaning of food. This has meaning for me because I began a food blog approximately a year ago when some catastrophic events occurred in my family. In one of my first entries I described wanting to essentially heal my family through the food that I prepare for them. I haven’t had very much traffic on the blog (granted, it’s pretty shabby as I’ve come to realize after perusing what else is out there), and I’ve started to wonder if I was insane to try and connect the idea of food with finding peace after a traumatic event. So the ideas presented in the discussion of the meaning that food has were completely validating, and expressed much more eloquently than I have on been able to on my blog what I have been feeling. So thank-you!
    http://thepeacefulcookingexperiment.blogspot.com

  • Steve Elliott-gower

    My last meal? Something healthy.

  • JEI

    We prepared his favorite meal of Peking duck in preparation for his death. Ducks were hung to air dry in the heated garage. Sauces and marinades were prepared. I was in charge of carving chrysanthemums out of radishes to garnish the plates. My chrysanthemums were more like cheerleaders’ pompoms. We worked as a team with my sister barking orders to offer a gift of love to her husband.
    My sister’s husband was dying of cancer. Friends opened their home for a celebration of life with English country dancing accompanied with harpsichord, flute music, and a caller. Gerhardt sat at the end tapping his cane. After the music and dance, we sat at long tables to toast his life and share what was his last supper.

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  • http://www.swimtwobirds.com Isabel Healy

    The Raft of Our Lives
    http://www.swimtwobirds.com

  • Mary Finelli

    Is Mr. Gopnik saying that those people who do not realize that “our senses are part of our intelligence” are not human? Clearly, he should not pontificate on matters of which he is plainly ignorant. What is the basis for his claim that other animals do not have ideas and memories about food? 

    Just because we don’t understand others’ languages does not mean they do not exist. For example, just last night I happened to read (in the Feb/March 2010 issue of Birds & Blooms), Backyard Bird-Watcher columnist George Harrison explanation:

    “Birds [who] flock together in search of food are more successful than solitary birds. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers, for example, travel together in winter to look for food.
    Communication with these birds is always verbal. When one of the birds in the group finds food, it is not stingy about it. To ensure group survival, one bird will call to the others to announce the discovery. Then they all eat the food and move on to their next stop.”

    Humans need to get over themselves: we are no more special than any other species – at least not in a good way. We are just far more destructive.

  • Jasoturner

    Love this guy’s writing.  Adam, if you’re reading: How about an anthology of your columns and other works?

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  • Slipstream

    I’ve never been a big Gopnik fan, not sure why exactly.  Always thout he was overrated, altho I have gotten to like his writing more as time has gone by.  So now he is an expert on food, I guess.

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ONPOINT
TODAY
Jul 31, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin heads the Cabinet meeting in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 30, 2014.  (AP)

The US and Europe face off against Russia. Are we looking at Cold War II? Something hotter?

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