Someone recommended that I see the film, One Hundred Foot Journey, a film set in an idyllic village in France that revolves around two restaurants--you guessed it-one hundred feet and a million miles from each other. It's a sweet film, nothing that profound, a light-hearted exploration of cultural difference, racism, bigotry, traditions and the benefit of learning from each other. An Indian family of cooks moves across the street from a Michelin-starred bastion of French culinary tradition-sparks fly and food is the medium.
As I watched the camera linger over eggs, the sheen of the yolk captured in a transcendental light and watched over and over as characters argued about, tasted, waxed lyrical about mushrooms, the five sauces of French cooking and the delight of Indian spices--I realized that I was watching a 90-minute food porn film! Now, I'm ok with food porn, although I must confess, much of it is lost on me, not sure if it is my lifelong fish-allergy or what, but when it comes to food it is probably the least adventurous part of my life-caution always prevails with me when it comes to food-I'm happy eating a very narrow set of foods, so food porn is watchable and enjoyable, but I am not that turned on by it and hardly a full-on particiapnt and not even much of a voyeur. I have a friend with whom I occasionally go to restaurants on her 'hot-list' and I love her reaction to the food she tastes as much, if not more than the reaction of my own taste buds.
But the film got me thinking about this love affair we are having with food. It's been building for years and in the past decade has poked above the surface of the culture and gone mainstream. it's not just the Food Channel, Cooking Channel, celebrity chef culture, there are magazines, there is a food-truck craze that shows little sign of abating, and so many other avenues down which our culture celebrates, no revels orgiastically, in food. One Hundred Foot Journey is at least the second film this summer that trades in food--Chef, Jon Favreau's homage to food truck eating opened the summer.
I have no issue at all with it, and in fact, I enjoy going to eat with people because it tends to mean that one is with people for whom you care and who care for you in return, and the occasion is usually a really enjoyable one, because food brings us together. I am just wondering what the current giddiness with food reflects about us and about culture at present.
There is no doubt in my mind that foodie-culture is connected to other shifts in our culture that are moving us more and more away from the modern world of utility and convenience. Food isn't just fuel, it is something to take delight in-it's about community, connecting with ourselves and others, connecting with the earth and with the material world in general. Cooking at home has become the new 'going-out,' building a list of go-to restaurants has become de-rigeur for many.
Slow-food movements, the increasing expansion of health food and organics into middle America (and middle-Britain for that matter), farmers markets, all these things point to a new relationship with food in our culture. And it is globally fuelled-food comes from anywhere and everywhere and the rules are broken almost everytime you go to a restaurant-in the 21st century, anything goes-old school, new school, in-between school, no school.
The other side of the equation is the counter to all this. We hear talk of food deserts, of large portions of our cities where there is little access to good food--processed and fast food remain the main diet of many poor and disadvantaged people, particulalry in the inner-city and un-gentrified parts of the urban landscape.
As always, a complicated picture, on the one hand you have a large section of the public enjoying food and exploring new eating and diet horizons in a manner that is mind-boggling, and on the other, people struggling to get access to affordable and healthy food. Food is always about access and economics-it's not that there isn't enough food to go around, it is that food, like everything exists within an economic horizon of profit and loss and it goes where the money is.
So what to make of it? Well, a couple of thoughts. Firstly, I think our new found devotion to food has something to do with a desire for a home, a sense of home anyway, that we have never had. I mean 'home' in the sense of a time in which everything felt ordered, organized and laid-out for us, in a way that we simply cannot experience in our digitally interconnected, globally shaped pluralized world. I think our time is longing, yearning even, for a rootedness and an anchoring--think about our retro-fascination for instance, and that food is a galvanizing place--all this cooking, eating, preparing, it reeks of home.
Secondly, I think it is about re-ordering the new world we find ourselves in by thinking about things that we haven't thought about for years. And food is central in that. Again, think about the 50s and 60s--processed food-tv dinners-fast-food culture-food on the run-colouring, additives, chemicals, dyes, living with little sense of where food came from, what it might represent beyond fuel for our working lives (work being another element of our world that we are reviewing). Now we are starting to think about food, enjoy it, savour it, prepare it, celebrate and take time with it.
As the modern worlds loses its grip on our lives, we are, as I just mentioned, taking the time to re-think many things and this is indicative of a huge cultural shift that we are all experiencing and we come toward the middle of the second decade of the 21st century we are beginning to re-frame our lives, our worlds, with new perspectives and ideas, letting go of ways that shaped us for much of the 20th century and finally finding our way into the 21st.