Thursday, October 13, 2011

The wait is over!

The snow is here! And I really couldn't be much more excited. When I walked to work I could see the snow heavy in the skies, but they fooled me the other day so I wasn't sure. It was nice, just after lunch, to hear my boss say, "Oh, it's snowing!" I wonder how my cat is taking it? I was sort of hoping it would be like last year, when he spent the hour before I woke up constantly running up and down the hallway, first to check if I was awake and then to check on the snow, back to check on me. But I'm sure he will tell me all about it when I get home, since he's a very chatty cat.
I read an article just now entitled "In Praise of Fast Food". Go ahead, read it. I think it's always important to listen to opinions that might differ from mine, but I still found the article annoying. I think the author didn't really understand (or even try to understand) the slow food movement, and that's most of what bothers me. She also assumes that it's an impossible standard for anyone to truly live up to, but since this opinion is based on a misunderstanding of what the movement is about I can sort of understand that. The author says several times that the ideal people want to return to is a time when everyone ate food that took hours and hours to prepare, starting with the backbreaking labor of grinding the wheat (which you'd grown yourself) and pressing the olive oil, etc, to make a loaf of bread. Then she calls slow foodies the culinary equivalent of Luddites. (And for a historian, might I say that she gets the Luddites wrong as well? The Luddites weren't against technology, they were against technology for the sake of technology. They believed that technology should compliment humans and humanity, not that we should so industrialize processes that any and all humanity is taken out of it. Which is what our food system has become, so I guess the comparison is accurate, but not in the way she meant.)
Anyway, I feel the need to get one thing clear: I'm not trying to make anyone stone grind my wheat. I don't need some "artisan" hand-pressing olive oil just for me. That part of technology I like. Machinery has made lots of things both possible and accessible. I'm not kidding myself that I'd be able to have access to those kinds of foods if it still took so much effort to make them. Think of the price! What I am against are pesticides on my foods. I'm against hormones and antibiotics in my meat because it doesn't do anyone any good. I'm against all the miles my food has to travel because it loses nutrients and the pollution it creates harm my world.
She seems to think that the slow food movement is literally about taking hours to hand craft food and it's not "historically accurate" to believe that this is the way it's always been. I get it. Things like Irish pasties and Russian piroshke were invented because they were quick and easy for men to take out into the fields or into the mines. People have always had quick and easy meals to take with them. The assumption that anyone would be against that is absurd.
She also points out that a lot of the foods we think of as "traditional" to a certain area are fairly recent. (Like the introduction of the potato to Ireland, which she doesn't list.) And yes, people have always done things to preserve foods. That's why we have cheese and beer. But the idea that everything MUST take hours to prepare is absolutely ridiculous. Even within the slow food movement, people make their own fast food. Meals that can be easily frozen and thawed for busy nights. (Some of my favorites of those are butternut squash soup and Alton Brown's squash dumplings. Squash just seems to freeze well, but bread can also be made ahead and frozen. Dinner rolls are handy to keep around when we have freezer space to spare and if you're really time-crunched, they're great for making tiny sandwiches.) We're still busy people. Yes, I slow down and take the time to appreciate things. I love my daily walks, preparing dinner for my husband (still sounds weird to say that), and growing my own food. But I have a life beyond food, so I don't make myself "a slave" to my kitchen as the author seems to assume. Yep, I use canned tomatoes! I just happen to have canned them myself. People still use breadmakers, but it's still homemade bread so they know exactly what goes into that bread. Those things are the difference between industrial food production and the idea behind slow food. She doesn't seem to understand the self-reliance portion of this movement, and she brushes over the idea that chemicals in food are bad for us. And yes, our current food system has given people nearly unlimited options because most of us don't have to spend our days toiling away, breaking our backs to produce food. However, I choose to opt out of that system. That's a choice I can make. The romantic in me wishes that I lived in the mid-19th century. The realist in me knows that I'm damn lucky to live now, with all of these choices the author seems to think I take for granted. (And that my desire to live in the past is simply because I find that time period interesting and I want to know more about it.)
Perhaps that historian should take the nutrition class I'm in right now. Maybe then she wouldn't be so forgiving of fast food. But for a historian, the science of nutrition is probably too new and recent. (It's only about 150 years old.)
Yes, I'm taking a nutrition class! I'm learning a whole bunch. First, there's the fact that I can stop freaking out about whether or not Shane and I eat enough fruits and veggies. I had to track my food for three days and then report on it. Despite the fact that I was sick and didn't eat very much (my calorie intake was really low--like 1300 kcal one day, despite drinking a glass of whole milk and eating chowder!) my vitamins and minerals were almost entirely over 100%. Sweet.
I'm also learning why I couldn't stick to the low-carb diet for more than a few days. Turns out, there's a physiological reason I was cranky and tired! Glucose, which mostly comes from carbs, is the preferred energy source for the brain and the nervous system. In fact, there are parts of the nervous system which exclusively require glucose. And while the body stores small amounts of glucose, and can break down other things into glucose, it's inefficient. You'll probably lose fat, but it will also offset your entire metabolism and that will come back to get you after you've finished the diet.
Also, if you're sick you should up your protein intake. Your body needs more than usual since it uses protein to produce antibodies.
In case you're interested (and if you've read this far, I'll assume that you are) I got the article I was ranting about above off a blog about a family who ate for a year without ever visiting a grocery store. They liked the experiment so much that they're doing it again this year. Sounds neat. I haven't looked through the blog that much, but I will.
If you want to read someone else's far more articulate and grounded response to "In Praise of Fast Food", you can read it at "Dissteration to Dirt", another cool blog I found recently. The author of the blog gives the sort of credo behind the slow food movement, which is that food should taste good, should be healthy for us and for our environment, and should be raised/grown humanely (both to the workers and the animals). How is that a bad thing?
Final rant: one of the other things the historian author failed to take into account is all of the different ways people are doing "slow food". Yeah, it all falls under the same idea and is part of the same movement, but no two families are choosing to do things the same way. No two people are even choosing it for the same reasons! Some cite health, cost, taste, environmentalism, and probably a bunch of reasons I can't even think of. That, to me, is very cool.

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