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Meanderer

Unsettling trends

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According to the Dec. 19, 2009 issue of the Economist, per capita comsumption of rice in Japan is about half what it was in the early 1960s and that meat and bread has filled the gap. In the January 2010 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, the number of butchers in Germany has dropped from 70,000 in the 1970s to 17,000 today as fewer Germans eat red meat and more of those who do buy their meat at large supermarkets. Although I have no source, I recall reading that the French drink far less wine than they formerly did but that imported spirits consumption in France has increased per capita. In 50 years, will we be able to distinguish individual food cultures as easily as we can today?

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It's not just food cultures, surely ... it's almost everything.

When I was a child, to visit France really was to enter a completely different world. Everything and everyone looked different, smelled different (gauloises), tasted quite different. In England you could hardly buy wine ... in France you swam in it.

It's tempting to be upset about this. But consider the trade-offs. In return for our delightful experience of the "other world" across the channel, we got to enjoy unmitigated Englishness. A great deal of watery ground meat tasting distinctly of offal (which was then often included), months of root vegetables, instant coffee. Having sushi and pizza and pasta in London makes the world less varied, but it makes life generally better.

Same goes for "small traders". Of course the ideal is the smiling local artisan butcher, lovingly hanging his delicious beef, or the local greengrocer carefully selecting the best of the season. The reality, I'm afraid was often the sly gouger hiding a huge chunk of gristle in his "best braising" and slipping the rotten fruit into the bag with the rest ... in the few hours of the day when they were actually open. I'm all in favour of slow food and local food, but it's easy to look at the past through rather rosily tinted spectacles.

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I won't argue that there aren't many benefits of globalization but, speaking as an occasional visitor to foreign lands, I look forward to what is distinctive about the visited country, not what looks familiar to me. I would be quite disappointed if I was in a small village in the Cotswolds and the hoary old pub I expected to find had recently been converted into a trendy wine bar, the former fish and chips place was now a noodle shop, and the tea room had become a Starbucks. Some of the locals might prefer the innovations, but a goodly number of strangers to the land would not.

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I agree completely: it's a travesty that foreign lands are trending toward global homogeneity. Stepping out of the beautiful Gothic cathedral, the Duomo, of Milan, you're standing practically right in front of McDonalds - gag!

And the neighborhood boulangerie in France is in danger of being lost forever thanks to 'pain industriel.' I think you’d be shocked at how many boulangeries have closed in France since the 50s.

Whom do we have to blame? No one but ourselves if we allow convenience and/or consistency to replace the things that make us unique.

The quote below actually made me a bit angry:

The reality, I'm afraid was often the sly gouger hiding a huge chunk of gristle in his "best braising" and slipping the rotten fruit into the bag with the rest
.

So your solution would be to NOT support the little guy in favor of the industrially produced characterless products? I’d suggest that a better alternative would be to skip shopping with the ‘sly gouger’ in favor of a merchant who provides a good quality product. Get to know the folks where you shop and you’re far less likely to be ‘gouged.’


John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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The good thing about increasing homogeneity is that I am less likely to feel bad about not traveling due to the ever increasing hassles of doing so.

In all seriousness, that is why I generally refuse to support chain restaurants including high end chains other than the originals.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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...

The quote below actually made me a bit angry:

The reality, I'm afraid was often the sly gouger hiding a huge chunk of gristle in his "best braising" and slipping the rotten fruit into the bag with the rest
.

So your solution would be to NOT support the little guy in favor of the industrially produced characterless products? I’d suggest that a better alternative would be to skip shopping with the ‘sly gouger’ in favor of a merchant who provides a good quality product. Get to know the folks where you shop and you’re far less likely to be ‘gouged.’

I don't see what there is to be angry about.

There is a mood about which simply equates "small merchant" with "high quality". Sadly that is not true.

Consider the high street of my youth (early 1970s). My mother shopped there every day, so as a child I knew it well.

There was a fish monger. His fish was very poor indeed -- a tiny selection of not-very-fresh fish. He would fillet it with a bad grace, and badly.

There were two butchers. One was excellent. One was terrible. I mean absolutely terrible. So bad you wondered how on earth he stayed in business.

There were two greengrocers. Neither was much good. Both of them would certainly make sure that they slipped a rotten apple into the bag. My mother went there every day, almost. He would greet her by name. But that didn't stop the undesired additions. Nor did it extend the range of produce on offer beyond dull staples. Onions, potatoes, apples. No problem. Shallots, parsley, even garlic or chillis in those distant days -- no way.

There was a baker. It wasn't a real baker, but really an outlet for a (smallish) factory with a few shops. Boring dough made into a number of different shapes and the usual dull sloppy sweet English sweet things -- doughnuts, iced buns, that sort of thing. And warmed up pies, and sausage rolls. There was another baker about quarter of a mile away. No different, except that they put a different coloured jam in their doughnuts.

There was a grocer, who sold little packets of plastic cheese, ham in watery packages.

There was a chemist. If you wanted olive oil, that was the place to go, because people bought it to put in their ears to destroy earwax. They didn't cook with it. The mostly cooked with lard, or cheap vegetable oil.

It was all really quite dreary. A million miles away from the ideal of superb artisan tradespeople. It was "local" in a sense, and it had its good points. But it also had its bad points.

Now you say "patronise better traders". Easier said than done then, unless you wanted to drive miles and miles round South London. Which was hardly realistic. Of course, then as now, there were excellent places to buy food in London. If you give me enough time I can find fantastic fish, meat, cheese, bread -- and reasonable fruit and vegetables. But it really takes time and extra effort. It's worth doing for a special occasion, but on a daily basis, I'm afraid, for the average family it is simply not realistic. My harried mother, trying to look after three young children on a tight budget wasn't going to go running up to Piccadilly for cheese, or to Soho for pasta, or to Mayfair for game. She couldn't.

I guess I'm trying to make three points:

1. The homogenization of modern life has its good points as well as its bad points, at least in Metropolitan England. It's not all bad. The "good old days" were not unmitigatedly good.

2. Although I dislike mega-corporate food, I highly doubt that in England (it is certainly different elsewhere) the AVERAGE quality of food -- except probably meat -- has gone down since the 1960s. It was really pretty low. Indeed, the AVERAGE quality has almost certainly gone up.

3. Sadly, small does not necessarily equal good. There used to be many small traders who did not exhibit anything you would really call pride in their calling. Please understand that I don't mean for one moment to deny the existence of many dedicated people who do have that pride.

I'll support the little guy who makes good stuff whenever I can, though I wish sometimes the little guy would make it easier for me. But I don't think it does anyone a favour to pretend that small is always beautiful, or that yesterday was perfect.

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On the surface, homogeneity appears disconcerting. Yet, why should America be the only melting pot on this planet?

If the Japanese want to eat more bread, whom am I to tell them they should not? If the French want to have a drink of Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels, should I frown because they are not enjoying a Bordeaux or Beaujolais? If Germans are eating less meat, can’t we assume they are eating less meat for the exact same reason I eat less meat?

Don’t get me wrong, it is sad to see artisans disappearing and local “food cultures” being blended into homogeneity, but I also think it is quite selfish of us to think these cultures should somehow relegate themselves to their traditional/ancient/archaic/inefficient ways for our touristic amusement.

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Is it just homogenization and industrial food? The other side of culinary globalization is the influx of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines into Europe and hybrids like chicken tikka masala in the UK and currywurst in Berlin.


Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)

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I am sure that there are areas on the Earth that have benefited from homogenization, so it is not entirely bad. On the one hand, I have access to much more variety than if we lived in a strictly local world. The problem with it, though is a tendency to reducing overall variety. Homogenization precludes variety and diversity making the overall world pantry more boring. The problem with the French drinking less wine is the likely effect that will have on the production and possibly the quality French wine. A elting pot is good for developing new traditions, but also has a tendency to diminishing older traditions. Perhaps the worst effect of global homogenization though is the effects it can have on particularly popular food items, such as the impending extermination of the blue fin tuna, largely a result of the global popularity of sushi.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It's not just food cultures, surely ... it's almost everything.

That was my first reaction to this topic's title. As an example, a language dies almost every week according to National Geographic. It is unsettling when something significant ceases to be. There's some cold comfort in that recipes are more easily preserved than species.


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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On the surface, homogeneity appears disconcerting. Yet, why should America be the only melting pot on this planet?

If the Japanese want to eat more bread, whom am I to tell them they should not? If the French want to have a drink of Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels, should I frown because they are not enjoying a Bordeaux or Beaujolais? If Germans are eating less meat, can’t we assume they are eating less meat for the exact same reason I eat less meat?

Don’t get me wrong, it is sad to see artisans disappearing and local “food cultures” being blended into homogeneity, but I also think it is quite selfish of us to think these cultures should somehow relegate themselves to their traditional/ancient/archaic/inefficient ways for our touristic amusement.

I'm not saying that cultures should or should not do anything. I am merely lamenting what is happening, just as I lament that so many people visit Venice, because it impairs my enjoyment of the place. I certainly would not suggest that others shouldn't spend their time there if that is what they want to do.

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Not that long ago, I was in a small Mexican seaside town, chatting with a local. He was very proud of his new cinder-block house. We had gotten onto chatting about tourism and he said something to the effect that, "Tourists don't like our cinder-block houses. They say our fishing village has been spoiled. If they want to come down here and live in a picturesque shack with a grass roof, they're welcome to do it. As for me, I like living in a nice modern house, especially when the hurricanes come. We don't want to be 'Mexicoland' for rich American tourists to visit and then go home to their nice modern houses."


I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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On the surface, homogeneity appears disconcerting. Yet, why should America be the only melting pot on this planet?

If the Japanese want to eat more bread, whom am I to tell them they should not? If the French want to have a drink of Maker’s Mark or Jack Daniels, should I frown because they are not enjoying a Bordeaux or Beaujolais? If Germans are eating less meat, can’t we assume they are eating less meat for the exact same reason I eat less meat?

Don’t get me wrong, it is sad to see artisans disappearing and local “food cultures” being blended into homogeneity, but I also think it is quite selfish of us to think these cultures should somehow relegate themselves to their traditional/ancient/archaic/inefficient ways for our touristic amusement.

I'm not saying that cultures should or should not do anything. I am merely lamenting what is happening, just as I lament that so many people visit Venice, because it impairs my enjoyment of the place. I certainly would not suggest that others shouldn't spend their time there if that is what they want to do.

There is always a notion that things were "better" in the past:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-5-2010/even-better-than-the-real-thing

Evolution happens. Cultures will change.

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Yes, evolution happens. Yes, cultures change. Yes, the past isn't necessarily better than the present. Nor would I quibble with the observation that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence. But if I get enjoyment from experiencing a culture distinct from mine, and if that culture(including food)has, over time, evolved to become more like mine, then things WERE better in the past from my subjective perspective.

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