Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Food Decade

I'm hard pressed to think of much good that happened in the last 10 years. I'm not proud of much except for the election of a black president and the firefighters who ran into the Twin Towers on 9/11.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman best summed up this mercifully dying decade in a column last Sunday entitled The Big Zero.

But I can think of one thing that America got right, that actually got better, between 2000 and 2010: Food.

Yea, obesity hit new heights and junk food reigned supreme. But those severe and growing problems, unlike so many in our society, actually sparked action, actually caused at least some to start asking tough questions and demanding change. Where does that chicken actually come from? Why do my tomatoes taste like cardboard? Is eating mountains of processed food and oceans of sugar really such a good idea? How do you make a pie crust from scratch? Where is my mother's meatloaf recipe?

Where all this will lead is unknown. What is clear, as the decade closes, is that American attitudes toward food, agriculture and eating are undergoing big changes, mostly good ones.

I don't think this is an accident. Food is one of the things that we can always control and in an era where most of us felt out of control, it's no surprise we paid more attention to it. I can't stop George Bush from destroying the country, but I can begin buying organic vegetables and cooking dinner at home. I can't stop Wall Street greed, but I can support local agriculture by buying more regionally produced food.

When I was a kid and young man, all I ever heard was that Americans can do anything. Imagine it and it can happen. We settled the West, won World War II and conquered the atom. We went to the moon when I was 7, less than a decade after JFK set that goal.

But around 1990, we began losing our mojo. By the time Bush II got in, all we heard was what we can't do. We can't develop alternative sources of energy. We can't have environmental protection and economic growth. We can't have expanded, affordable health care. We can't have civil liberties and fight terrorism. We can't have prosperity and government services.

It seems to me that food is one of the last bastions of the can-do spirit that we lost in the last decade. Read food blogs, watch food television programs, open foodie books and anything becomes possible. Innovation, creativity and pushing limits are in. Conventional and safe are out. There are no boundaries or limits. The line cook at a Friendly's can win Hell's Kitchen and become a top chef. We can demand food produced humanely and with fewer chemicals and get it. Everyone can learn and should learn to cook.

Hopefully, we'll get back our groove in the next decade, and it won't be just in food that we see endless opportunities for improvement and innovation. Let's hope so.


  1. Great post! Thanks for reminding us we can vote with our $$, and for highlighting the positive at the end of a dark decade.

  2. Eleanor, thanks for the kind words. Let's hope it's the dawn of a better era.