Another year has passed in the eternal fight to keep food real for the world. As we are into the 16th year of the 21st century, the onslaught of corporate food aberrations moves us further from the world of real “farm to table” elements which had been the underpinning of our culture in America. When I was kid, in the late 60’s and through the 70’s, “farm to table” was basically how the world worked if you cooked for yourself or your family barring any dumping of crap out of a can and into a pot. The local market had seasonal produce from local farmers for the most part. The meats were basically natural and sourced from local/regional farms. At that time, the advent of “fast food” and frozen entree’s was just starting to pick up steam in the market place. Supermarkets were actually pretty small. There were still local bakeries, green grocers and butchers. Milk was still delivered to the doorstep from a local dairy. I witnessed and wholeheartedly took part in the transformation which really changed in the 70’s. Fast food chains slowly took over the landscape and eventually became the landscape of modern America. Supermarkets really became super. They got bigger and bigger with everything one could possibly image to free us from the drudgery and slavery of the kitchen or so one would believe. Somewhere in all of this evolution of free time, cooking got lost. The kitchens got microwaves, the food options exploded in the freezer aisle of the local megamart. Families slowly started migrating from the dining room to the living room and eventually to their own rooms. The dining room, the one place where the family could be together to break bread slowly disappeared. Meals became quick affairs of pre-prepared stuff jammed into a microwave or caught on the fly at a drive thru window. Cooking became a bad word of sorts.
Back in the day, cooking was considered “women’s work” and an expected duty of any self respecting woman who wanted a man. One thing I’ve learned about cooking. If you don’t like cooking, you should probably not do it. People who have no passion for cooking will not prepare anything remotely “good” in my opinion which would explain some of the miserable meals I experienced as a kid at the hands of women who “had” to cook for their families. What I mean specifically is the many times my parents dragged to me to a neighbor’s house or family friends for dinner. I think the women took their anger out in the kitchen and thus tortured many a soul with bland nothingness meant to satiate the grumbling family. I don’t blame them at all, but I consider this aspect of society as one of the main culprits in the degradation of the art of cooking in America. Women were expected to cook whether they liked it or not; period. Women basically bristled at the idea by the late 1970’s. The 80’s brought us the forward march of the corporate entities feeding the masses with googaw to “free” women of their kitchen enslavement. They actually incorporated the idea into their marketing and thus women took note. The one income home turned into two income homes and the time to cook disappeared and no one seemed to mind. So corporate America took over the job. The butchers, bakers, green grocers started disappearing and family farms were going with them. GMO’s became more common, antibiotics and growth hormones became the normal for stock, fast food proliferated through the country like a rabid social disease. I’m certainly not innocent. I used to be a fast food maven up until about 1996 then I was divorced and broke. I cut loose the demon readily and started cooking for myself again.
By the 80’s, cooking was simply “uncool” for everyone concerned. “Chefs” were people in far flung countries or large metropolitan areas or maybe some fat old dude on a can of crap. The real foodie culture was a mainstay of the upper end of society while low and behold the people who cooked were primarily working class men (mostly) and women (occasionally) ignored in hot, dingy kitchens scattered around the world. Of course, in those days there was Julia Child. She graced public TV in the 70’s and 80’s with an enthusiasm for cooking shared by some male contemporaries of which there were a few like Jeff Smith and the “Galloping Gourmet” Graham Kerr. Aside from my dear mother, aunts and grandmother, Julia was the next connection to cooking I knew but did not understand as she would tackle classic cuisine of which I had never been exposed to in any fashion, but I digress. One guy in particular by the name of Marco Pierre White showed up in the early 80’s and started making cooking cool. Anthony Bourdain the chef and namely writer, damn great writer by the way, specifically speaks about a relatively well known photo with Marco, long haired and cigarette hanging from his mouth as being a moment he took pride in being one the guys in the kitchen. The picture smacks of rock star on every level. You see it and you know the guy is bad assed and on a mission. (I would certainly love to show the picture but copyrighting is an issue. Feel free to look up his site. Its definitely there)
This was the spark, in my mind, which started the fire for the popularity of cooking. The guy was Gordon Ramsey’s mentor which would obviously help unleash Chef Ramsey onto an unsuspecting world. The stories are legendary about his determination to drive food to new heights insofar as making a name for himself and the “new attitude” about cooking which including some ridiculously wild behavior of which I find entertaining. Going from the classic haute cuisine into a new world of creativity which stretched the old ideas if not exploding them out of existence. In the states, the new movement was creeping into the states via metro areas as the guys similar in age were coming to the fore. Slowly over the years, food and cooking have become “center stage” in the states, so to speak with some very important moments. The Food Network came into being of which I have mixed a emotions. Anthony Bourdain writes “Kitchen Confidential” opening the closed door of the kitchen for all to see in modern times. He lays it all out there. The good, the bad and the ugly for the world to experience which becomes a best seller and changing his life forever not to mention the world of food. Alton Brown brings us the incredible “Good Eats” series which is probably the best cooking show I’ve ever witnessed. He connects the dots in the science of cooking on top of exhibiting cooking prowess with great panache with a highly addictive viewing experience. Now we come to the current times. I could endlessly mention the plethora of celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck who is one of the first recognized celebrity chefs I can name off hand from here in the states mainly because of his clientele being the rich and famous of LA and the restaurant Spago which seemed to be everywhere in the celebrity news in the early 90’s not to take anything away from the chef.
Personally, I’ve hated the food scene as I have always felt that there was an unusual tendency for the gourmands to look down their noses at the rest of us who could not afford Michelin star restaurants as though we were wretched peasants. I stayed away from the business on purpose due to low pay, long hours and lack of respect. This is slowly changing albeit still rare that very many who cook will ever be “stars”. Food entertainment is starting to overshadow the real purpose of cooking in and of itself and basically pandering to people who like to “watch” cooking yet not necessarily participate. Now celebrities are cooking on TV to show us mere mortals how it’s done. I really hate these shows with a bloody passion. Aside from these blotches on the food world, cooking is coming back to the kitchens of America. The farm to table ideals practiced for years by dedicated chefs who worked ignominiously in their brasseries, bistros, cafe’s, you name it is striking a cord with those who love food and in particularly love to cook. I see the revolution unfolding. The corporations are taking notice, but this is the issue. I think the Mom n Pops places are more important as are the local farms which have great produce just dying to find customers. This revolution is about us as a people and culture. The fast food dynasties are seeing the change. Personally, if the big burger and slop chains disappeared I would celebrate endlessly. There are too many good local places which respect the ingredients and give a damn about what they serve that deserve business. I am ready to help pour gas on the fire to help see that kids get good food again, the people with little money learn how to make great meals without buying junk to kill them selves, the folks who are scared of the stove get acquainted with the real joy of life known to those of us who love to cook. I live to see the world take on the food revolution and wrest to the tools of despotism away from the corporate giants who have brought us the world of frozen goop, glop and crap. We have the power right in our kitchens.