Let’s face it, we all have a certain fascination with food.
We like to talk about it. We like to read the food pages of the newspaper. We check out the new restaurants, recipes, and latest trends. And during most of last year when we were stuck at home with nothing to do, many of us became obsessed with food. So we ate ... and ate and ate.
But food today is nothing like the food of years ago. A teenager in our neighborhood who can’t spell, write cursive, and doesn’t read anything, yet has the uncanny ability to fix any device known to man, asked me recently, “What was your favorite fast food when you were growing up?” I had to stop and think. We didn’t have fast food when I was growing up, all the food was slow. I told him that, and the pubescent little twit retorted, “Well, like, where did you like eat?” I had to hang my head in shame and tell him, “We like ate at like home.”
“Did you like order in?” he asked, still not getting it. Nope. “Mom cooked every day, and when Dad got home from work, we all like sat down together at the kitchen table and ate what she cooked.”
“Wow, were you like poor or something?”
No, quite the contrary. I think we were like rich because we had good food, hot and fresh every day prepared with love by someone who enjoyed doing it ... and we all enjoyed eating it. We didn’t wolf it down, heads buried in phones and then taking off in different directions, we actually all made eye contact and talked ... to each other.
Today’s food follows completely different trends and has different kitschy terms, such as “paired.” Today you pair certain foods with different kinds of wine, or different ingredients that “pair” well together. When I was a kid, we also paired, we just didn’t know we were doing it. We paired ketchup with hamburgers, mustard with hot dogs, and tomato soup with grilled cheese; and if you were lucky, and it was a special occasion, you got to pair hot fudge sauce with ice cream.
Today every menu seems to be filled with poke and bowls and avocado toast and dishes finished with chipotle aioli. Back then we had “delicacies” like Chiffon Margarine, Nutter Butter, and Chef Boyardee; chicken a la king, jello molds, and Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Today salads have cranberries and candied currants in them and a multitude of vinaigrette dressings from which to choose. In the ’50s nearly every meal began with a salad which consisted strictly of iceberg lettuce with cut tomatoes and Wishbone dressing. In those days, rice was white. Now it’s brown or basmati or black sticky.
Another fairly new item today is truffle french fries. Truffle oil is supposed to bring out the flavor of truffles — you know, those things that pigs dig for in France that are wildly expensive? What’s wrong with fries the way they always were, flavored with grease, salt, and perhaps ketchup on the side? Or vinegar if you’re born here.
My mother cooked meat well done until it lost all color and fish always had to be well cooked. Never did I hear of sushi or pizza, which was relatively new as a snack. It was called pizza pie, and it wasn’t delivered. But milk was.
Cheese had a few “gourmet” varieties: Kraft American, Velveeta, and Cheez Whiz. Now food experts tell us there are more than 1,800 types of cheese worldwide. Ah, but do they have Velveeta in France? The only fusion I knew of was in science class and involved liquefying, but in the culinary world today it is the mixing of different cuisines. I had an Uncle Phil who also used to mix his foods. He’d load his plate with everything that was on the table, then smoosh it all together. Today that’s fusion. Then, we called it disgusting.
My mother would never think of letting us buy food from a truck, not even at a ballgame. Today people stand in long lines at food truck events to sample everything from Vegan, to Korean, to Mexican street food, and Asian fusion.
The funny thing about it all is many restaurants now have a section on their menu called “comfort food.” It’s supposed to be trendy, but it’s what we ate every night all those years ago.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 19 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-539-7762.