I’m sure those of you who live, breathe, and eat food like I do heard about the little war of words between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen – needless to say, it didn’t help the perception of elitism of those who pay close attention to what they eat. Frank Bruni and Jane Black entered into the fray, noting that such disagreements only create a dichotomous and unnecessary divide – one that does not help in ensuring that people – ALL people – have access to and the ability to feed their families healthy, delicious, frank food. The debate should not be about what constitutes a “foodie” or whether being addicted to the Food Network is a luxury of the elite (trust me, Sallie Mae will assure you that I could not experiment with a $500 truffle).
The issue that should have everyone up in arms is how to get food back to the central role of our lives. How do we get back to a place where quality and health trumps the need for cheap food (considering how much time, care, and money goes into properly raising cows and the labor involved, how can a burger cost only $0.99? Should we really be eating 3 burgers?). A place where we all recognize that the cost of food also includes the cost of the faceless people who pick and produce our food, of our long-term health, of our planet’s health? A place where quality food is affordable and accessible to everyone?
Why do we accuse those who live, eat, breathe food of elitism and frivolity during a tough economy?
Attention placed on food and what we eat is neither frivolous nor elitist. Rather, not paying proper attention is frivolous and elitist – ignoring the state of our current food system is to agree with the status quo: that socio-economic status and geography matters in how much fresh produce you get and what your chances of getting diabetes is; that laborers, such as many of our tomato pickers, don’t deserve a respectable standard of living (see Barry Estabrook), and that we as human beings have the right to abuse our planet for bellies.
It’s time to forge a new path.
I love talking about food and make no apologies for it. I, like many people, are particularly captured by food narratives that focus on a person, community, culture, be that a chef, home cook or farmer. Why?
Because food connects us with other people, our soul, the Earth…the very essence of life.
I’m addicted to Master Chef. For those of you not familiar with the show, it is a show where Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliott, and Joe Bastianich put home cooks through a series of challenges and tests and names one a Master Chef. I make no pretense that I could ever compete, but I’m nonetheless fascinated by it. This is the show where ordinary people leave their normal lives, quit their jobs, to do something extraordinary. Their love of food pushes them onto a new path, one where that love overwhelms the rational part of their brain and dries them to follow their heart’s desire. Lawyers, doctors, and construction workers who realize that, while perhaps meeting some sort of society expectation of prestige and achievement, are dissatisfied with their status quo and have decided to do something about it.
Part of the popularity of Master Chef is rooted, not in watching what one can do with a $500 truffle, but in watching what happens when people connect to the very essence of life. This connection with something so raw and simple literally drives these people to tears – they struggle, get knocked down, and they come back with creativity and ambition. It speaks to the resiliency of human spirit, the beauty of what happens when one gets into the “flow,” and the dogged determination of those who dare to follow their dreams. Whenever someone gets cuts, Gordon Ramsey, love him or hate him, urges: “do not stop cooking. Continue on this journey.”
This journey, this road, is the one that detours from the status quo, from the assumption that the attention placed on food is frivolous and elitist. The road that shakes us from our complacency and societal confines. The road that leads us to a world where quality and healthy food and those who prepare it and care for it gets the attention they deserve.
Food, broken down to it most simple form, is about living.
How can that be elitist or frivolous?
Healthy, quality food certainly does not have to be made with $500 truffles (just saw that episode, still on my mind). In fact, since being literally on the road for 35 days on the Camino de Santiago, I have spent little time actually cooking or spending a lot of money on food, yet still feel like I am dining luxuriously. Frank food at its best is simple, fresh, and affordable.
Keep it simple. Get off the road and take the detour.
Sample day of simple, affordable, frank food
Breakfast #1 (yes, I eat breakfast in a series of little meals throughout the morning): a juiced shot of carrots, kale, beets, apples, and pears.
Breakfast #2: Greek yogurt with ginger granola and a tablespoon on chia seeds (for added Omega-3s, thanks, Patty).
Breakfast #3: an English muffin (wish there were crumpets) with Irish butter and natural preserves.
Lunch: cheese, tomatoes, and flatbread or mozzarella with tomato and basil
Dinner: tuna, tomato, avocado and olive salad or pasta with pesto (see Kat’s recipe)
Snacks: chocolate cookies and almond milk, fruit