Since Sharon loves Indian food, I prepared a special meal for her birthday a few days ago. As I was pulling the spices down from the cupboard —cardamom pods, saffron, garam masala, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cumin—I thought, “This is not a meal I would have thought to request, and even if I had, my mother would have treated it the same way she would have responded if I had suggested we all practice yoga instead of going to church.” Most of us didn’t even know we liked Indian food forty years ago. There were neither recipes nor ingredients.
There’s a lot my mother couldn’t get. On the other hand, there’s a lot she didn’t have to worry about. She couldn’t have imagined . . .
Aqua M&Ms, anorexia, arugula, asparagus (year round), Atkins, Baby carrots, bagels, balsamic vinegar, bioengineered food, biscotti, basmati rice, bittersweet chocolate, boneless skinless chicken breasts, bottled water, bread machines, brie, bulimia, California Pizza Kitchens, calamari, capers, celebrity chefs, cholesterol, cilantro, Cinnabun, coffee beans, convection cooking, couscous, Diet coke, digital scales, dried cranberries, E. Coli, energy drinks, extra-virgin olive oil, Farmer’s markets, farm-raised seafood, fat-free, foccacia, food blogs, Food Network, food warehouses, free-range, fresh pasta, functional foods, Garam Masala, Garden Burgers, gas grills, goat cheese, granola, green tea, gym memberships, Home chefs, Hot Pockets, Internet recipes, Internet grocery shopping, Jenny Craig, juice boxes, Kalamata olives, kiwi, kosher salt, Lactose intolerant, latte, life-style change, low-carb, Microwaves, microbrews, microplanes, mixed baby greens, morbid obesity, Newman’s Own, nut allergies, Nutella, Oenophilia, organic,100-calorie snacks, 1X, Pampered Chef, Parmeggiano Reggiano, pasta shapes, peeled garlic, Perrier, pesto, pho, pine nuts, polenta, pork tenderloin, professional home kitchens, prosciutto, prosecco, Quinoa, Ramen Noodles, recycling, refrigerated mashed potatoes, rice cookers, rice milk, rotisserie chickens, Saffron, salmonella, salsa, sea salt, smoothies, sorbet, soy products, spiral-cut hams, Splenda, Starbucks, sun-dried tomatoes, super-sizing, sushi, Thai chili paste, Tirimisu, turkey sausage,12-grain bread, Udon noodles, Vegetable cooking spray, vegans, Wasabi, Weight Watchers, white peaches, Whole Foods, wild mushrooms, wine, wonton wrappers, wraps, Yogurt, yellow bell peppers, Zip-lock bags.
The blessings of “progress” are all the same these days: more choices. Choice is the coveted sister of affluence, and compared with our parents, we’re all rolling in it. We have 24/7/365 access to whatever we want. We love our farm-raised shrimp from Thailand and factory-farmed pork from Canada. We feed year round on what were once seasonal delicacies—tomatoes, asparagus, and strawberries. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are as simple as hitting the drive-thru and rolling down the window.
Is this better than Mom’s world? Of course it is. And then of course it isn’t. The more convenient, abundant, and accessible our food, the more obese (bulimic, anorexic) and unhealthy we’ve become.
I wish for a world where most of our vegetables and livestock were locally grown, where we were less dependent on manufactured foods, but I can’t imagine a world without my perfectly picked-over, reasonably priced, pasteurized lump crabmeat from Southeast Asia.
Unfortunately we can’t have it both ways.