August 31, 2018

The evolution of Chinese hybrid cuisines and the definition of "authentic"

Chinese food culture magazine The Cleaver Quarterly moderated a panel at Happy Family Night Market in Bushwick that discussed the evolution of Chinese hybrid cuisines and the definition of “authentic.”

What is “authenticity” in food?

  • The concept of authenticity in food is often limited to referring to a chef whose background matches that of the food they’re cooking.
  • Others value tradition and judge based off of personal recipes that have been passed down.
  • It’s measured by the reverence a specific group of people at a given place and period give it.
  • It respects a culinary heritage of a given dish or cuisine that was established or upheld by some formal body.
  • It comes from a base of training and appreciation for how dishes were cooked historically before trying to move forward with new concepts.

The “authors” of a cuisine
While hybrid foods help to bridge gaps that divide cultures, they also make it easier to “divorce a culinary tradition from the culture of its origin.” Food culture continually evolves. Older chefs might choose not to share traditions out of fear of losing their livelihoods to the “new guard”. The public is also responsible for understanding food history and learning the stories behind food culture to balance out blind enthusiasm for trendy concepts and ingredients.

The short, sweet, and possibly sour
Education will hopefully change mindsets about a given region’s cuisine (such as Asian flavors meaning the use of soy sauce) and bring awareness to established but comparatively unknown hybrid cuisines like Chinese-Dominican food. A younger generation of chefs are fighting against lowering the prices of their dishes compared to the historical culinary darlings of French or Italian cuisine. It will take time for Asian food to expand the same recognition of pricing tiers (hole-in-the-wall versus fine dining) like ubiquitous favorites such as pizza.

In this case, it’s no longer about if something is authentic, but whether authenticity is being fairly compensated enough to survive. If a cuisine has a chef with the same years of training, the same quality ingredients from the same supplier, and the same number of labor hours to produce a close relative of another cuisine, a greatly skewed consumer expectation on price stems not from any judgment of the food itself, but of the people that made it.

March 8, 2018

The future of food as imagined by Ikea

The data’s a bit dated, but a few years ago, Ikea was reported to be approaching over 150 million of their iconic Swedish meatballs. The company has become known just as much for their (controversially disposable) furniture as a tasty option for a quick bite on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

The Ikea meatball has become its own sort of cultural icon and was subject to a modernization three years ago under the project name, “Tomorrow’s Meatball.”

Enter “Neatball,” a continued evolution of Ikea’s fabled meatball
New insect and root vegetable meatball variations were recently unveiled by Ikea’s innovation arm, Space10. These new options join the existing pork-based original meatball as well as newer vegan and chicken options introduced in 2015. The neatballs were part of a broad exploration of familiar foods reminagined with new and sustainable ingredients. It all forms part of Ikea’s desire to push the boundaries of deliciously sustainable food for the future.

Could Ikea play a pivotal role in shifting consumer perception?
Ikea’s forward-thinking approach has seen it move past just being a furniture purveyor. Progressive collaborations have allowed it become a future-proof lifestyle company. Its ability to tackle the looming problem of food availability poses an interesting solution. Ikea seemingly has a confluence of important factors including mainstream visibility, distribution, and vision.

In the next three decades, the world is anticipated to increase its supply needs by 70%. Let’s hope visionary and well-capitalized brands like Ikea shift away from easy-to-build furniture into solving one of humanity’s great challenges.

February 27, 2018

Food history and politics in America with Michael Twitty and Eater's "Eating Out Loud"

Michael Twitty is an author and culinary historian who tells stories about his family, food and politics. All of his work ultimately reveals something about the current situation in the United States. He seeks to show how food connects people while also revealing all the emotions behind food that most people don’t think about when they eat.

In a series by Eater called Eating Out Loud, author and reporter Jessica Valenti sits with Twitty to discuss how to express curiosity about food and to delve deeper into the history of food. Twitty works at Colonial Williamsburg as a culinary interpreter to bring to life the moments food was created in history. In telling the story of African-American food he helps form a more accurate history of American food as a whole.

Key points in their conversation:

  • Twitty on appropriation and how much Southern slaveowners and Confederate generals enjoyed African-American food: “Some folks have no problem hating on you, but they also have no problem eating your food.”
  • Twitty on facing up to the difficult history of some of the foods we eat: “Food is always political and food is always personal.”
  • Twitty on connecting food and justice: “It’s important for people to educate themselves. It’s about learning, it’s about asking people questions. People have to sit down with their friends, family, coworkers and say, ‘I want to understand this. Why do you get mad when white people make this food? What does this food mean to you?’”

Twitty expresses this idea in his conversation with Valenti that is elaborated on in his book The Cooking Gene that “food is my flag.” His concept is that the food you grew up eating and that you serve to your family is emblematic of yourself as an individual and what you stand for. Twitty suggests that to grow up in one geographic area your whole life and not know the history of the food you regularly eat is to be missing out on a complete understanding of your heritage. Food as a category seems to be often overlooked when learning about the history of a people, passed over in favor of information about wars and political leaders. But since we eat everyday, it’s this kind of lived history that could be more rewarding to our understanding of ourselves and others.

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