Thursday, April 2, 2015

Food Culture

I was driving home by myself today after a job interview and decided to stop into Half Price Books real quick and see what they had on the shelves. They moved to a new bigger location a while back and I hadn't been there yet. Only one section was of interest to me today, and after making a couple selections and heading home, I found myself thinking about food culture, and how much my "hobbies" are influenced by it. I asked myself, what exactly IS "food culture" anyway? What does that mean?

So I broke out the laptop when I got home and did a little research. The first thing I found was a definition, from ExperimentalStation-  the cultivation, distribution, preparation, and appreciation of delicious and healthy food. Sounds pretty spot on. The Huffington Post  and numerous other websites have an entire sections on their websites devoted to food culture. I'm obviously onto something here. If I had to come up with a definition of food culture I think I would say that food culture is a combination of food-influenced experiences, from the basic vegetable garden to food-centered travel, education, and entertainment with people of similar interests. 

When talking about cultivation of food we can start right in the backyard of many Americans- in the backyard vegetable garden. Flower gardens are lovely but you cannot (generally speaking) eat them. As an Iowan I can tell you there is nothing better in the summer than a big fat juicy tomato, still warm from the sun and stifling humidity of the August garden, sliced and piled on a sandwich. There is nothing better, except maybe a big platter of steaming hot buttery Iowa sweet corn. I know I have many friends that share just this one commonality with me- we love to garden, and we grow our own food.

My garden, full of tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans 
Another popular summer activity around here that definitely fits into the definition of food culture is the farmers market. I can't speak for every city, but Des Moines has one of the best farmers markets in the country. Every Saturday morning the entire Court Avenue District is transformed into a bustling outdoor market, with dozens and dozens of vendors- fresh produce, ethnic foods, handmade items, baked goods, garden plants, organic meats and eggs- everything you can think of. Food culture at it's finest and definitely fits into the distribution category of the definition. Besides the huge downtown market, many smaller markets pop up all over the city, the suburbs, and small towns across the state. You may choose not to have a garden, or may not be able to, but you still have access to some of the finest fresh produce in the world. For someone like me the farmers markets are a great source for vegetables and fruits that I don't want to mess with growing. I don't need a plantation sized garden AND I get to know some of the growers, meet friends, and before you know it, food culture is once again an influence on my life.

Culinary Fight Night, January 11, 2015
Preparation- in Iowa, be prepared to have your tastebuds rocked. Des Moines has evolved into quite an interesting place for exploring food culture. The city boasts some of the country's most progressive chefs and food professionals, and is home to some out of this world food-themed festivals and conventions. There was once a time when you had to book a hotel and flight to a much larger city to experience food and wine festivals and things of that nature, but not anymore. The state of Iowa has more than a hundred wineries, distilleries and breweries that produce some of the best products in the country. Des Moines is buzzing with them- a winery sits just south of downtown, which isalso home to several cool breweries. You can learn to make your own wine, brew your own beer, attend cooking classes of all kinds. Cooking competitions between professional chefs and home cooks are fun to attend. Des Moines and small towns alike offer some of the best restaurants around, all price ranges, all different kinds of cuisines, casual and kid friendly to starched tablecloth formal. You don't need to visit New York or Chicago for a James Beard nominated chef to prepare your meal- you can get that right here.

Appreciation.......oh I appreciate it alright. My own life is totally immersed in food culture. For me, reading a book means pulling a cookbook off the shelf and reading cover to cover. No sitcoms for me, rather I spend my television time watching cooking shows, documentaries about food, even movies that are centered around a common theme- food. With a chef in my life I am never without a wonderful meal or new way to prepare a dish. It's even grown within my family. One of my daughters gave up a successful corporate career to pursue a completely new career path- restaurant management. Just so happens she works with one of those James Beard Award nominees. She also shares her life with a chef- who has an impressive professional resume as well. For them, travel is to a food destination- weekend in New York City visiting Michelin Star restaurants for chefs' tastings, a quick trip to Austin to explore the food truck scene.

Being so immersed in food culture influences so many aspects of my life. My pop culture icons are completely different than, say, a hardcore sports fan's might be. I will stand in line for the chance to meet and get an autograph from a celebrity chef that I follow. It's actually kind of funny to think about it- how easily my interests morphed into this. I've always had an interest in cooking and certainly my childhood helped feed that interest- my dad was the 70s version of a foodie, always watching cooking shows on PBS, collecting cookbooks, and taking the family to all different kinds of restaurants at home in Minnesota, Iowa, on weekends in Chicago and even all over Europe. Not many elementary kids can say they ate steak tartare at a cafe in Stuttgart, or grilled trout caught minutes before (by my dad) and a catch-your-own place in Italy. It's safe to say, I grew up surrounded by food culture.

Home canning is a food culture all of its own.
It's not a bad thing, not at all. If anything it's a real gift. I feel like I can make informed choices about food, I know where my food comes from and I know how to prepare it so it retains as many nutrients as possible. I love trying new foods, learning new techniques and making new friends who share this passion. I can pickle my own vegetables and bake a dacqouise, bake a loaf of bread and fry chicken. I grow tomatoes in my yard and drive all the way to Kansas City to shop at Dean and Deluca for spices. Goofy? Sure, but why not have a little fun? Come to think of it....I feel like baking that dacquoise.......

1 comment:

  1. Des Moines does have the best farmers market. I love seeing what you cook next and getting inspiration from your kitchen adventures.