Monday, December 05, 2011

The story behind your food (or, what I’m reading lately)

Reading this article about bananas --and how they are stored green and hard in a big warehouse, then gassed to a soft yellow state, and then bought at a fruit cart, and then eaten by me on a peanut butter sandwich—is exactly the sort of food reporting I love. First of all, it’s damn interesting. You know on The Food Network how they have that candy show called “Unwrapped” and you get to see how Tootsie Rolls and Starburst are made? Even though it’s gross, it also scratches a very human itch to know the real story.

With candy, you know in advance that the story will involve wax and plastic and food dye and giant machines. What’s interesting about this here story is the complicated surprise of this simple fruit. This story is about bananas. Aren’t they just picked from a tree and put on a truck and then peeled and eaten? How much could they really need a whole article—or a whole “Unwrapped” episode to tell their story?

That’s why it’s my mission to help people find out the story behind their food. To help people develop critical skills and open eyes about where our food comes from and how it gets to us. Not to believe the simple story that is sold to us. To make informed choices. I still eat bananas (I try to get organic, I look for fair trade), even though I know they have a strange story, and that they have traveled millions of miles and hundreds of days before I eat them. But it’s so important to take the blinders from our eyes.

A few days after reading the banana article, I finally got around to the food issue of The New Yorker, and excitedly dove into the latest Calvin Trillin food piece (always a delicious treat). In his self-deprecating way, he talks about his limited cooking repertoire, how it consists of just a few items and in each case it seems to require little more than just buying or catching something really local and delicious and then just, like, cooking it or whatever. He mocks himself and in the process celebrates the great joke of it all: the simplicity of great, local ingredients and how they make the biggest of kitchen idiots into the most celebrated home cooks.