The Past is Not Prologue

1950s foodWhen I was young, food was fuel.

In my lower-middle class New England family in the 1950’s, a piece of well-done beef or meat loaf, accompanied by instant mashed potatoes topped with canned tomatoes, next to a mound of canned peas was a Saturday’s-only treat. Hot dogs and beans were more common. During the week, TV dinners were enthusiastically welcomed as a symbol of modern sophistication. Our nod to “ethnic” food included spaghetti topped with jarred tomato sauce, meatballs, and cakey parmesan powder poured from a green, cardboard cylinder. An excursion into exotica was accomplished via cans of Chop Suey—hunks of chicken, peppers, mushrooms, celery and “exotic” bean sprouts suspended in a soy-flavored, corn-starch thickened sauce—served over Uncle Ben’s converted rice. Chopped iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges were a salad. If fruit appeared at all it was suspended in Jello. Wonder Bread was indeed wonderful. The dining tables of my better-off friends differed only in the quality of the china.

This is from the introduction to my book on the philosophy of food. That was followed by a book on the philosophy of wine. A book on gastronomy is in the works.

How did I travel from a flavorless past to a delicious present?

I discovered that people really appreciated it when you cook for them. For this introvert, food and wine became the antidote to awkward silences and interminable small talk, a way of being socially engaged without having to feign gregariousness.

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