Sunday, October 4, 2009

The 00s

Cooking with a conscience

Welcome to the third millennium, a sober time marked thus far by war and economic uncertainty –– never mind competing values in our lives. Although generally pleased with the instant communication available to us via the Internet, many of us welcome the opportunity to slow things down when we can. Yes, we appreciate having good take-out at our fingertips, but we also like the idea of planning and creating a meal to share with those we love.

The slow food movement, for example, is a growing worldwide trend that links the pleasure of

French breadImage via Wikipedia

food with community and the local environment each food type support. Consider the plain and simple act of breaking just-baked bread along with a salad of just-harvested greens over lunch (remember lunch?) with someone you love. Or someone you’re just getting to know. News is broken over lunch. Questions popped. In-laws introduced or losses grieved. Deals brokered. Honorees feted. A meal, with its conventions, rituals and promise, creates a moment in which a relationship can flourish.

No surprise that these days more of us busy folks are finding time to cook for self, family and friends. Some of it is belt-tightening; most of us are eating out less and when we are, we’re doing so on a less-grand scale. But also something about the 9/11 tragedy has brought us together –– in a crazy way, even alerted us to the humanity, culture and cuisine of the Middle East whose millions got dragged by a violent comparative few into the tragedy that has affected us all.

Organic vegetables at a farmers' market in Arg...Image via Wikipedia

Now when we cook, we invest our American and international creations with fresh produce and organic products. Since 1990, the demand for organic has grown nearly 25 percent a year. We’re buying locally, often creating a feast around a seasonal crop or market. All-you-can-eat fat-and-carb-laden meals where quantity overshadows quality seem to be a thing of the past. Most fast food chains now offer an array of salads and nutritious meals, which means we can choose to stay on the diet straight-and-narrow when we need to eat fast.

The super-size mentality still exists, of course; everything from food to the square-footage of homes will always be subject to the concept in our collective unconscious that “bigger is better.” But as global warming and political unrest rises, as the roller coaster economy barrels towards the next decade, many are choosing non-processed, in-season food not only for pleasure and nourishment but as the answer to world hunger, as well.

It’s all about the comfort to be found in food. That’s why we call the best of it “comfort food.” We master a recipe, then alter it to our taste. In the same way, we style our hair any damn way we please these days: short, chic and highlighted like Senator Clinton or long, dark and glamorous a la Governor Palin.

New ground is being broken –– some of it in our lives, some in the kitchen. Busier than ever,

Facebook, Inc.Image via Wikipedia

we’ll text invitations to dinner and the next day e-mail over the recipe that got raves. We’ll friend each other on Facebook and faithfully read each other’s blogs. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing like the face-to-face conversation we’ll continue to share over a great meal.

So strap on your food GPS system and let’s take a tour of the most popular foods that have defined the first decade of this century. Happy eating!

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