Saturday, June 26, 2010

We are Americans Obsessed with Food Now?

Why have Americans become obsessed with food now, over the last three years in particular?

I had a blow to my ego last week when an article that I wrote and majorly revised for a food magazine was firmly rejected. Nine months earlier, when I first pitched the article, the editor had thrown praise at me, saying it was one of the best pitches she had read. After such long process that had started so well, I just felt beaten at the final negative response.

I thought about how food writers are becoming a dime dozen and considered, frankly, moving on from food writing for a while. There's a glut of it anyway. Why should I bother trying to do better what thousands of people are already doing, too? Why would I want to compete in that environment? (Bear in mind that I was feeling really down about the article rejection. I've since cheered up.)

Food readers have exploded in numbers recently, too, and the exercise of stepping back and thinking about the food reading and writing scene in the U.S. sprouted many questions and moments of contemplation.

The other area that I write about, technology, is equally strong from a content perspective. Technology — consumer tech, business tech, academic study — became ubiquitous so quickly, and we Americans (and others, of course; but I can speak most confidently of the U.S. landscape) adopted technological ways and products seamlessly into our lives so quickly. That mass and speedy adoption greatly informs my overall understanding of the modern Way of being, thinking, acting, and interacting.

Then, I think about food, one of the oldest things in our lives, right up there with sex, which has for tens of thousands of years been thought of by the masses as a completely unsophisticated and simple thing. We all have eaten since the beginning of human time. We have been cooking for ourselves since before we had perfected the art of written language to communicate skills and methods.

With the tecnhonogical changes we've seen in our nation and world, why have we turned our attention and thought back to this most simple and basic of things? Small groups of people have followed food and studied it from multiple disciplinary perspectives for a number of years, but it only really took off in a popular culture sense very very recently.

It seems in opposition to our fascination and adoption of technology, though, and things that I'm going to refer to as "sophisticated."

The obsession with food and cooking could be explained as part and parcel of the campaign to fix our nation's health. Health has been a timeless topic for Americans who are also obsessed with purity (clean food, unadulterated or "natural" health) and outperforming others ("my diet is more effective and 'better' than yours"). If you've never seen the movie The Road to Wellsville, do see it when you have a chance. It shows health nuts from 100 years ago; watch for the psychological and social aspects that are still prevalent today.

The one question that I'm still mulling over is why are we obsessing over, or at leastbecoming seriously more interested in, a topic that returns us to a simple past? Despite new cooking methods and high tech kitchen tools (which, by the way, are shockingly unsophisticated compare to techy tools and gadgets in other areas), taking an interset infood, learning and caring about its origins, taking a wholistic approach to diet and wellness, feeds and fuels the mythology of returning to a Golden Age—returning to the land, reconnecting with nature, returning to a simpler way of life (which is necessarily seen as "better").

It all just clashes with the technology movement. On the other hand, my observation that these things don't make sense together is a very dialectical way of viewing the world. I guess my real interest is in wondering how the American Way allows these two things to coexist, or even somehow encourages it.

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