In Praise of Good Food

A few friends of mine recently started a food club of sorts—a casual excuse to get together and investigate Latin American restaurants in the Twin Cities. One of them actually came up with a great title for the collective: Friends of Latin American Nourishment or FLAN. My husband and I went to the first “meeting” at the Puerto Rican restaurant Puerta Azul in St. Paul (great title—I think it means Blue Gateway) and though the food itself was a little disappointing, it reminded me, as eating out always does, what a complex beast food can be.

The chicken was dry, true. But even as we must value taste most when it comes to food, surely a good meal appeals also to our eyes, our sense of smell, and the texture of it on our lips? The beautiful plates that the food at Puerto Azul came on, the wonderful sensation of a liquid mango salsa on a meatier chicken breast, the chatter of forks and knives touching their plates all around me—all these added to the sense of the meal.

What occurs to me more and more is my growing anxiety about food. Not in the calorie counting way, which obviously has taken over the world, but more in the “what does food mean to me” sort of way. I love to cook, and I love eating, and even my moniker is really a sort of rice dish (the source, by the way, of the subsequently bastardized “rice pilaf”). But I often wonder, what should I cook? How should I make it? When I have friends over to dinner, am I obligated to cook Indian food? When friends ask me for a recipe for something I’ve just cooked and hasn’t followed a set of instructions itself, and I give said recipe to them, am I then responsible for what unfolds in their kitchen?

In some ways, these anxieties remind me of my mother. For a period of about seven months, my father was in England, my brother had just started college in Mississippi, and my mother and I were by ourselves in Delhi. Many mornings, my mother’s first question to me would be what I wanted for dinner. I laughed at her then for making me think about meals so far in advance, and now I ask my husband Kris days ahead of time what he might want for dinner, and find myself sorting out leftovers in my mind, and mentally organizing ingredients in my pantry and fridge into meals.

Two other things about food:

A) There’s a great story by Kazuo Ishiguro called “The Family Supper” (listen to it here) that not only makes food literally an issue of life and death, and not in the obvious food-is-nourishment sort of way, but also has it stand in for cultural alienation, sibling rivalry, and other good socio-psychological stuff.

B) There’s a word for an attitude like mine. This is from OED:

foodism, n.

orig. U.S. Brit. /fudz()m/, U.S. /fudz()m/ [< FOOD n. + -ISM. Cf. FOODIST n.]

A keen or exaggerated interest in food, esp. in the minute details of the preparation, presentation, and consumption of food.

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