Yes, if I had to do that, I would probably be a vegetarian. But not if I had been raised to think that it was not only okay to do this, but the only way to know that what I was making was truly fresh. There is probably something very hypocritical about being willing to buy meat in those plastic packages and pretend I had nothing to do with that animal's death. Better, probably, to be honest about it all.
Anyway, blood and guts aside, there was something beautiful about the way food was treasured, produced thoughtfully, and enjoyed with friends and family. People took time for food. When Bourdain marvelled at the idea of a businessman taking time to make his own olive oil, his wife chided him. "In America, it's all about work. Here we like to have a life." A few of the people were a little chubby, maybe, but none of them seemed to be fat. It seemed that people were enjoying tastes of a lot of dishes without overeating any of it. It was interesting that Bourdain said that Sardinians saw it as a "personal failing" if you couldn't eat well at your own house and had to rely on restaurants.
During the show there were, of course, commercials for the other kinds of shows on Food Network. There was an ad that showed a child sticking his whole face into a sundae. There was a promo for a "Man Versus Food" episode where the host was going to try to eat a 48-ounce steak. You might think it is sickening to raise and then kill a chicken, but I think it's more sickening to eat 3 pounds of meat as some sort of a stunt. Which do you think is more likely to result in any kind of respectful treatment for the animal? I'm sure quality is not much of an issue when you're trying to just "get through" a huge hunk of meat, so who cares how that animal was raised? There were also, of course, ads for fast food and ads for highly-processed supermarket fare like Pillsbury heat-and-serve rolls. The message of mainstream American food seems to be "Bring on the crap and lots of it!"
There is, of course, an alternate voice, the voice of "No." I was reading an article in O Magazine yesterday about a woman going through a 60-day Bikram makeover in which she took her yoga instructor to Whole Foods with her to tell her how to eat. The instructions were all about creating food outlaws: No white flour, no sugar, no chickpeas, no cereal. Cheese is singled out as particularly evil:
"Cheese has a happiness protein in it," Lori says, explaining that, like refined sugar, cheese comforts with an immediate (and ultimately false) chemical lift.Which makes sense if you are eating 3 or 4 ounces of cheese at a time (like on most restaurant appetizers), but just about all of Europe seems to be able to eat cheese with no ill effects, probably because they're eating the good stuff in moderation, and savoring it. If we had a little happiness protein, would that be such a bad thing if we could find other ways to make ourselves happy?
I felt sad, deeply sad, after thinking about the childish American food culture of either gorging ourselves on mass-produced sweets and fats or "being good" and sticking to an externally-approved list of "safe" foods, one that seems to change constantly. It's either food porn or food prudishness. Why can't we grow up? (We seem to, by the way, have similar attitudes about sex here, but that would be a whole post of its own if I ever felt like tackling it).
I know this is going to sound extreme, but I felt like someone had stolen my birthright. After all, my grandparents had grown up with real food. My dad was a picky eater, though, and my mom didn't want to cook two meals, so we usually ate the kind of food he liked: Meat, potatoes, lots of bread. And lots and lots of Pepsi. When I went to my grandparents' house, most of the food looked weird to me so I only picked at it. I don't think it was my parents' fault. They grew up when advertising really hit its stride. Restaurant food and packaged food was "cleaner" and "more normal." It kept longer. It showed that you were successful to buy brand names. It took me years to learn to like real food, ironically, when I started trying to watch my weight. But I also got caught up in the "no" food culture and had all these bizarre rules about food. I feel like I'm just finally learning how to be more balanced about it all.
Last night I decided to make a meal like the ones we had seen on the show. I bought some aged sheep's milk cheese. I bought a small loaf of good bread and a bottle of Chianti. I bought two lamb chops (sorry, I didn't have the time or knowledge about how to go out and get lamb any other way) that were less than 4 ounces each. I got vegetables from the produce market. It was good food and we enjoyed it, with one glass of wine each. When food feeds the soul as well as the body, enough is enough.