Friday, July 11, 2008

Food, society, and culture: musings, part 1

The other night, we went over to Julie and Steve's for dinner. The meal was simple, yet delicious, with fresh, healthy ingredients. I helped Julie cook and listened to her latest life update while Dan and Steve chatted in the other room, and when it was all finished (the pasta, the sauce with fresh veggies and lean ground turkey, the garlic bread and the salad), the four of us sat down to enjoy the meal together. This is something I love, to make food with friends and to eat the food together while we enjoy one another's company and nourish our bodies at the same time. Cooking and eating with a group of people is one of my very favorite things to do, whether it's midnight sushi with Leah and Simon, fondue with Sara and Ron, or Julie's latke party - the sharing of food with friends is wonderful.

I find it fascinating how different cultures view food, and the role that food plays in social gatherings around the world. The act of preparing food and/or eating with other people is so intrinsic to the way Americans relate to one another on a social level. Think about it - going out to lunch with coworkers, or attending a work-related social function. Dating. Making food for a significant other, or a child, or an ailing parent or friend. Funeral-baked meats/casseroles. Wedding cake. So many times when it's so important - you share this food with me, therefore we have a common bond. We celebrate our holidays with food, dishes only associated with certain holidays and so become celebratory in themselves - in my family, lasagna and enchiladas are Christmas treats, just as much as Christmas cookies. Barbecue for the fourth of July. Ham for Easter. Thanksgiving is pretty much a holiday solely focused on food - the celebration IS the meal, and we have special foods to commemorate it - the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, foods that many people only eat once a year. Food is so important to Americans on so many levels - and not just food, but abundance of food. It's hard to view food as what it really is in our society, fuel for our bodies, when so much of our culture focuses on food as sensual pleasure, food as societal bond, food as love.

As I've been writing out these recipes for the first bit of this month, I've thought each and every time about that particular food, and who I have eaten it with. Particular foods remind me of particular events, and particular people - food associations, I guess you could say. I've also thought a lot about which foods I should write about - should they be the ones I like best? The ones that are easiest to make? The dishes most people would be interested in trying to make themselves? It's a difficult thing to decide, a difficult balance to tread. If anyone out there is reading this and has suggestions, please, by all means share!

There are so many ways to think about food, especially when you're me and you're trying to fit into a bridesmaid dress in a couple of weeks and your leg prevents you from losing that winter layer and the heat makes you not want to eat anything but your blood sugar begs to differ and summer in Colorado means so many good things to eat that are difficult at best to get the rest of the year. So I write about salads, about simple dishes, about things that I cook because I enjoy them and things that I cook because they are good for me, and things that I cook because I have always cooked them. There are things that I would like to eat, but don't, things that I restrict from my diet because they are not good for me (white foods, made with processed flour and white sugar, are horrible for keeping my blood sugar stable) but also because they are not good for my waistline. I attended a bridal shower for a work colleague yesterday that took place in a local restaurant. I brought my own lunch and ate it ahead of time, so while everyone else ate sandwiches, soups, and salads, I sipped water, and when everyone else exclaimed over the chocolate cake, I sipped more water. "Couldn't you have had just a little piece of cake?" asked Dan when I mentioned it, but I told him I'd rather save the calories for a little bit of chocolate after dinner, which in the long run is better for me anyway. But I'll tell you, I felt like more of an outsider than ever. Being the only one in the room not eating cake isn't the easiest thing I've ever done, but that's who I am - I'd rather take care of me than fit in with the rest of the group. And I'm sure as hell going to eat cake at my sister's wedding in a few weeks. But only a small piece.


Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I'm going to actually attempt it sometime next weekend but do you think you could do a basic baking post 101 (it's my Achilles heel) at some point?

I'm thinking of making my muffins, but using silken tofu in place of the eggs, and adding unsweetened cocoa powder as well. This probably means I'll have to up the splenda-I'll be doing a batter taste test to get a sense of whether it's likely to be edible.

Specifically-what's the diff btween regular unsweetened cocoa powder and dutch processed? Do I need to use baking powder AND baking soda in a muffin recipe? What's the diff between cake flour, regular all purpose and whole wheat? I cook my regular muffins with whole wheat and I'm happy enough with that but I'm curious as to the diffs.

Figure a) good blog fodder b) google brings up conflicting reports and c) I'll link to your post when I finally make them.

Anonymous said...

I like your stories so much that I say more stories with the food entries. Hearing about why you love something, or when you first had it or who/what it reminds you of, is a great way to get both recipes and Classic Emily in the same entry.