Aug 6, 2017

Forkways #8: Momo Fuk What?

Umami is the new black. In the culinary world funk is foodie gold. Those interested in the lifestyle of food desire the most intense version of any substance. Stephanie Danler talks about this experience in foodservice as an adrenalized lifestyle. Since I have started studying food I have heard these sentiments reflected in foodies, chefs, and waitstaff.

Danler writes in her novel, Sweetbitter:
“You will encounter a fifth taste. Umami: uni, or sea urchin, anchovies, Parmesan, dry-aged beef with a casing of mold. It’s glutamate. Nothing is a mystery anymore. They make MSG to mimic it. It’s the taste of ripeness that’s about to ferment. Initially, it serves as a warning. But after a familiarity develops, after you learn its name, that precipice of rot becomes the only flavor worth pursuing, the only line worth testing” (44).

Umami, fermentation, and funk are about the intensity of food experiences. You may be wondering why I am bringing this up now, and I am not going to answer this quite yet.

A new restaurant experience can have several factors in play. For me Eating David Chang's food was a pivotal moment. It is a balance of hype, expectation, and reality. Food has had many iterations and layers for me over the years. But David Chang was one of several gateways. The way he talks about food is addictive and I was sipping his Kool Aid. In that moment Momofuku could never be more than a pipe dream.

The Food at Momofuku was as intense as promised but not as enjoyable as expected. The flavors of Korean food are couched in spice, ferment, and funk. Chili, garlic, and pickle are the icons of Korean ingredients. The reality of these culinary aspects proved to be a challenge for me. This was actually a known entity when we were waiting at the bar for our table. But there was this other element sneaking around the corner, making different assurances of my experience. Embodied by one single word, it is a terminology that had haunted many of my culinary exploits. Fusion.

Fusion comes with a promise.

How will the funk of Korean be transformed by blending it with other types of food? My reality confirms that it won't be. The ingredients and techniques might not always be tradition but the Korean spirit will always remain intensely in the forefront. Because when you fuse tradition cuisine with something else, what is the goal?

Pickled vegetables were plucked up happily with chopsticks while a woman at the table next to us talked too loudly. She felt too close and was encroaching on an experience we had been pining for. She kept saying, "but the smoke. So much smoke. Too much smoke." She was talking about ramen that quite possibly created my obsession with coming to this restaurant. I had not tasted it yet, but it was all I could not to roll my eyes at her lack of respect for this reverent experience.

A few dishes later, my own ramen arrived. Meant to be a culminating experience of expectation. But after a single sip I found myself sputtering in disgust. Either one of two things had happened. This broth was not made correctly, or the intensity of the experience was too much for me and I would have to turn in my foodie card.

Excluding the smokeception that was ramen broth, a fact Chang is very proud of, the food was delicious. But the reverence I had been holding for the experience started to evaporate with the understanding that the establishment was not about the savor or the slow. We were in a money producing churn and burn. The women was talking too loud because she was sitting much too close. Intimacy was never the goal of the establishment. No matter how slowly we went and how many dishes we ordered we were done in forty minutes. The model is based on creating food good enough to keep every table filled hour after hour. And it was good. It was funky. And it was intense.

Momofuku is not now nor has it ever been about reverence. The seeds of which were first planted for me by David Chang himself during the first season of the PBS show The Mind of a Chef.

We ate with chopsticks the entire meal, though our waitress offered additional utensils on more than one occasion.


Pickled Vegetables - cauliflower, lotus root, pear, carrots, radish, and cucumber.
Togarashi cucumbers with marcona almonds
Porkbelly Buns
Shiitake Bun
Chicken Karaage Bun
Pork Ramen
Spicy Sichuan Rice Cakes
Sweet and Sour Long Beans

The heat built through the entire meal and there was very little that decreased that for me. Yet another level of intensity I was not prepared for. Traditional banchan was transformed by Chang into composed dishes.

Jul 3, 2017

Forkways #7: Nutritional Influences of Indviduals, Communities, and Schools


Individual, Community, and School Influences on Childhood Nutrition in Iron County, Utah.
The world is evolving. Through the globalization of society combined with broader access to information, people encounter difficulty with data overload. Certain cooking practices, health techniques, and ideas about nature and agriculture are being overlooked, lost, or outright forgotten. As our access to information increases, our desire to maintain knowledge decreases. Skills are rarely mastered and often left to a Google search on demand. The availability of technology is inspiring for some, a hurdle for others. One of the greatest casualties of the technological age is the decentralization of local communities. Technology provides humans with so much, as individuals find more connections online than they do in real life; where people stare at their phones and look for their next pleasure fix, it still can’t solve many of the world’s problems. In some cases it is making them worse.
Hunger is an issue faced throughout the world. One of the greatest sorrows of the international food system is that in a world of plenty, more people are unsure about where their next meal will come from than ever before. While starvation is rarely an issue in the United States, connecting individuals with quality foods is often a challenge. Unhealthy calories are cheap and easy to find. Those of a low socioeconomic status have to work hard to afford and utilize fresh ingredients. As geographically local community structures begin to breakdown due to globalization and the access provided through technology, traditional orders and institutions break down resulting in a community gap.


A knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAP) survey was utilized for this research because of the lack of an existing study in our area from which organizations and future projects can inform their work. The research question was: What are the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to food and nutrition held by parents and caregivers of elementary school children in Iron County? This research is important because it investigates the nutritional attitudes and meal practices in Iron County. This research helps community organizations and research teams understand what parents and caregivers know about nutrition, what their nutritional priorities and goals are, and how they actually feed their children. AmeriCorps Vista supplied the research team with food insecurity statistics. These are based on reduced and free lunch qualification throughout the school district, but these numbers don’t connect information on an individual level. The Iron County Care & Share provided a snapshots of hunger in the state, again using compiled statistics that were concerning but disconnected from the human component. Like many previous endeavors, the research for this project is based on a small, local sample but is one of the first known to be done in this area. Because a nutritional KAP survey had not been produced and distributed for this area previously, the existence of one allows for a baseline understanding of childhood nutritional understanding in our area. Though hunger and food insecurity statistics for the county are accessible, this survey provides a better insight into the individual anonymous respondents, and allows connections to be drawn between knowledge, attitudes, and practices and demographic data. Inspired by existing research, there is hope to implement similar programs locally in order to collaborate, build, and improve the sense of community.
Previous research often focuses on low socioeconomic status and childhood nutrition, and this is also a concern for the local demographic, but focus on only these populations fails to consider the scope of community influences on childhood nutritional practices; including exposure to fresh produce, livestock, and food growing practices in a social setting. The results of this survey are critical for identifying issues where knowledge can be increased and practices can be improved, but also to understanding how this survey failed to connect with some of the most needy local population. These results expose multiple paths to assisting the community and will allow for customized research-based solutions to the problems of hunger and nutrition in the community. Which may include a broader participation in existing community practices, including the local culture that is involved in homesteading, gardening, and food storage. Many families have private gardens from which they eat frequently and can or otherwise preserve. But these practices often take place in only a familial and occasionally religious settings. When done privately these practices can lack context to impact the individuals involved and the greater community as a whole.


    Through this research I hope to understand how nutritional habits might be impacting our local community and attempt to identify or develop resources that might be able to fill the knowledge and practices gaps. In the local area there are many services and programs available to residents of the county. These support systems are already helping many in need, but the breakdown of local community creates both an issue with utilization of programs and the volunteer, funding, and donations that are needed to keep the programs running. Each local program faces different issues, but lack of collaboration was echoed through most existing programs. How can our research team be an instrument for bridge building throughout the community? We need to translate larger goals into small, easy to achieve steps with motivated individuals ready to commit to projects for extended periods of time.  
Connecting children with healthy food can be a challenge because of the series of gatekeepers. The best way to gain access to and through these gatekeepers was to work on a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) project. The research team helps identify problems and uses research techniques that provide solutions to those problems. The goal is to empower community members and support local institutions. One of the primary concerns I have for this area is the breakdown of a cohesive community. We live in a community that is intent on moving from one place to the next. Few are here to invest in the longevity of this place. Jobs are a huge factor in people leaving this area. It is hard to make a living wage. My goal was to create a project that would allow the members of our community to have access to education on food and nutrition and possibly better understand the resources available to them. Through the KAP survey the hope was to connect parents of elementary school children with education and resources that would allow both the family and child to make better nutritional choices. Because most children are reliant on their parents for nutrition, a combination of education works best. Brainstorm programs to increase knowledge of nutrition, bring nutrition education to public school settings, and connect schools with local produce. Especially because food habits created early in life will stick with most people throughout their adulthood.



Jul 1, 2017

Forkways #6: Authenticity



The desire to seek out and identify the authentic is a primary motivator behind many aspects of American life. Perhaps it is the focus on the individuality that is key to the American spirit that pushes us to celebrate the purity of creation by a single individual. Many studies have examined (1) the desire for the authentic, (2) the definition of authenticity, and (3) who is the ultimate judge. Every time we interact with food we have an opportunity for culinary tourism. Eating food can transport us to different places and expose us to different cultures. Culinary tourism is also the experience of traveling to another country or region and partaking in their food culture. Whether the food is a framework for the tourism experience or not is up to the eater, but there is no denying the way in which the two aspects of eating and travel are often linked. Authenticity, at it’s core, is essential to the sensation of transportation. But is authenticity a true marker of ethnic and regional cuisine or is it merely a social construction aimed at confirming socioeconomic stratification?
When searching for ethnic or even regional cuisine, authenticity can play a large factor in the choice of establishments for consumers. Authenticity plays a complex role in our framework for understanding food and identity. Food can be an informative way to sort people, even at the most basic level of similar to us or different from us. The concept of authenticity has been explored through various disciplines. Through these examinations, multiple frameworks for understanding and defining the elements of authenticity have emerged (Fine, 2003; Heldke & Thomsen, 2014; Johnston & Baumann, 2015; Long, 2013; Molz, 2007; Perales, 2016; Stowe & Johnston, 2012). Many sources also look specifically at the role of authenticity in cuisine. Whether it is about unadulterated ingredients or staying true to traditions, purity and authenticity seem to be on the minds of consumers.
Consumers take on many roles, but one is most commonly assigned to those who seek out certain culinary experiences; these people have been deemed foodies. It was Johnston and Baumann (2015) whose sociological analysis of foodies first introduced me to the construct of authenticity, and it fascinated me so much I decided to continue the exploration they started by defining my own framework for authenticity. The goal of this paper is to understand the desire for authenticity, to define and defend the six indicators of authentic cuisine, and to express the problems and concerns associated with the authentic quest. Part of this paper will focus on tourism and the concept of culinary tourism because it is the context in which authenticity comes up most frequently. I will also look at the tension between outsider and insider understanding and culinary knowledge.

Understanding the Terms
Authenticity can be viewed from many angles, but I will define authenticity through six indicators. Beyond a definition, the power of authenticity in food culture is unmistakeable. As Monica Perales (2016) writes, “Authenticity is the holy grail of popular food writing and foodie culture; it undergirds tourism and attendant ideas about region, race, class, and culture” (690). As a society we expect authenticity to carry so many qualities. It defines our culinary and tourism experiences. It helps with the understanding of region, race, class, and culture. But it also brings uncertainty. Authentic ethnic cuisine is a confusing topic for some, because the traditional origin point of a dish or meal is difficult to locate. Authenticity can vary by culture, identity of the eater, identity of the cook, and the intended identity of the establishment.
Ethnicity is often a difficult topic to understand and define. For the purpose of this paper, ethnicity is defined as being related to a subgroup with a common cultural tradition. Regionality has one foot in the understanding of ethnicity and the other foot in the understanding of cuisine. Cuisines are defined by the food subsystems often indicated by the agricultural ecology that creates access to ingredients.

The Desire for the Authentic
    Why do consumers have a desire for authenticity and what are the benefits of authentic cuisine besides as a status marker after consumption? Authenticity plays a complex role in our framing of food and identity. Attempting to pursue an authentic culinary experience comes down to the way that the meals is “evaluated and valued” (Johnston & Baumann, 2015, p. 61). This evaluation of an authentic experience can often be more important than the enjoyment of the experience itself. The quest for authenticity can become a fetish or a celebration, and sometimes both. It could be the lack of an American cuisine that calls us to seek out authenticity in the traditions of others (Mintz, 2007, p. 98). Authenticity carries with it many influences on the culinary experience. First to consider is the relationship with the consumer to the self. Sometimes this aspect of the authentic experience is disconnected, but mindset in which the consumer approaches the situation is a key influence on the authenticity of the experience.
    Along with any person goals an individual may have seeking out authentic cuisine, they might also have the mistaken understanding that once the ethnic food is consumed a complete understanding of the culture will emerge (Abarca, 2006; Long, 2013). Heldke (2014) calls those that see out this single point of understanding “cultural food colonizer” (p. 85). These colonizers forget the historical context that created these ethnic traditions and authenticity as a single transformative act. The lack of context is an oversimplification of both ethnicity and cuisine. The colonizer is often looking to have an experience that is more about status which can be used to establish a culinary capital among peer groups. Those who seek an authentic meal; colonizers, tourists, and general consumers, become enchanted with a romantic nostalgia that authenticity can represent for them. Monica Perales (2016) explains that  “the obsession with authenticity is problematic because it sometimes celebrates a food past that never existed” ( 691). Obsession with the authentic creates a disconnect from the self and the ability to fully embody a new experience.

Indicators of Authenticity
Through the exploration of authenticity, I identified six indicators use to qualify authenticity of ethnic cuisine. Each of these indicators plays a role in both the exploitation and celebration of ethnicity and regionality of culinary experiences. These six indicators are simplicity, translation of self, sincerity, concept of historical origin, uniquely nonindustrial, and lack of training. How do these factors play into the understanding of authentic and what are the social implications of each indicator?
Simplicity requires use of basic ingredients. Straightforward is the best way to  understand simplicity in ethnic cuisine. Because the food and establishments lack distractions the purity of the food is fully experienced. Simplicity should be embodied by the food, the establishment, and those that prepare the food. The marker of authenticity is effective because it plays off of the expectation of the consumer. This also requires that the establishment not get in the way of the food. The food is served and the consumer is left to enjoy and analyze it. Another benefit of basic cuisine is that consumers may believe that they can more easily gain an understanding of both the culture and their gauge of authenticity. The social implications of simplicity are ripe for exploitation. The word simple connects consumers with a lack of financial understanding and true knowledge other than as representatives of ethnic traditions. An emphasis on simplicity may create a lowered expectation of ethnic cuisine as a whole. The expected price points and experience will never rise to above a specific level. For consumers simplicity comes with a set price, if the price goes higher than expected the experience can no longer be identified as authentic.
Translation of self is the requirement of the ethnic cook to transmute their ethnicity into the food itself. The food must embody culture, love, and self. Without this translation of self the consumer cannot be connected with the true historical and cultural implications of the food. The food is seen as one of the limited opportunities the cook will have to express themselves and be understood by the world. When attempting to find authentic food that is a translation of the cook, the consumer is seeking out an artistic expression, seeing the food as folk art. The issue with authenticity of the Other is that it requires an individual to be the full representation of a history, culture, and ethnicity to the consumer. When the foodie or tourist expects the preparation of the food to create a dish that will impart a knowledge that can be incorporated (Fischler, 1988) through osmosis of a single experience, an immense amount of pressure is put onto the creator of the food to make sure that accurate translation happens.
Sincerity as a requirement of authenticity is about a consumer interpretation of the experience. There is a belief that no deception is being presented and that the food will carry with it the true weight of historic transition. Sincerity is also extending the requirement that the self be translated through the meal; it needs to be translated with honesty and a pure heart. For the foodie or tourist sincerity is a quality that is important in all aspects of cuisine and hospitality. The social implication connected with sincerity is the obligation of the food and the establishment to owe something to the consumer. Sincerity can be an important element in the enjoyment of food. But when connected with the other indicators of authenticity, the expectations of sincerity might be too high.
The historical origin of ethnic cuisine provides the destination for cultural food colonizer. Upon arrival the foodie does not always have a clear context behind the origins of the culture and food, but they still require the authenticity to speak of true historical origin. It should be up to the consumer to come to the ethnic experience either informed or ready for adventure. The establishment may provide historical context for the dishes being offered, but proving authenticity should not be required. The desire for historical origin from consumers can push ethnic establishments to pre package their experience and only appear to be providing a sincere and historically accurate experience. Combined with this is the expectation for the cook or chef to be the same ethnicity of the establishment in order for the food to be truly representational. Authenticity can require a stagnation. Innovation and breaking from tradition is discouraged by both the insider and the outsider. But the problem with tradition is that it doesn't usually have an identifiable origin point.
An indicator of authenticity is the food and the establishment should be uniquely nonindustrial. In order to understand authenticity it is sometimes contrasted with elements that seem to the consumer to be inauthentic. Commercialized and industrial kitchens that do not produce handmade items are of limited interest to foodies and culinary tourist. The concept of nonindustrial combines also with the indicators of simplicity and translation of self. Authenticity rests in the small batch, personalized, and individualized experience. When considering the authenticity of an establishment, a consumer might appreciate that the cook have a lack of training or be informally trained. This lack of training allows for the self, sincerity, and simplicity to shine through because training can influence the purity of the culinary experience. The issue that can arise because of the desire for this indicator is the assumption that the owner of the establishment or cook is generally uneducated and to undervalue the information and experience they may be able to provide. The lowered expectations can often create a false sense of authenticity because the expectation was so low in the first place.

Ultimate Judge
After examining the desire for an authentic culinary experience and looking at the six indicators of authenticity, it must now be determined who is allowed to proclaim a dish or establishment as authentic under which circumstance. It has already been established that foodie might not be the best judge of culinary authenticity. It may be a challenge for a foodie to get out of the cultural food colonizer mindset. So then, who gets to decide the authenticity of ethnic food? Often when a foodie enters an establishment they look for representatives of the culture or ethnicity of the restaurant there are consumers. This seems to be a confirmation of authenticity. Perhaps only a person of the specific ethnicity can speak on the authenticity of the cuisine.  When an individual is looking for an authentic culinary experience, it is possible that they forget the multiple regions within a country. Regionality is clearly defined within the context of American food, but this insight is overlooked when looking at other countries and ethnic subgroups.
Consumers have the ability to identify what foods they enjoy and to share that knowledge with others. But they do not always have to knowledge to gauge the authenticity of a dish or establishment. Abandoning the obsession with authenticity pushes consumers “to question what it means to engage, authentically, with a meal, or an experience, or, indeed, with a culture” (Stowe & Johnston, 2012, p. 474). This shift allows foodies and tourists to explore and celebrate the food of other cultures. Foodies must experience their culinary authenticity with respect, and not merely as a vehicle for status progression. Food consumption is layered with experience, but “the concern with authenticity starts with a recognition that food consumption, in addition to being about sustenance and visceral pleasure, is also about status” (Johnston & Baumann, 2015, p. 82). The key to shift this is understand the context of the history, place, and individuals who own and run the establishment.
    An individual of a said ethnicity may provide great insight into authentic establishments and experiences, but it is important to remember that any individual has only ever had a limited number of experiences. They may not know all of the regions of the country with which they share ties. These individuals may more easily judge authenticity but sometime get their own set of blinders when food does not align with their unique, individual experience. Both insider and outsider culinary knowledge can bring different levels of enjoyment to an ethnic food experience.
    Those that produce and prepare ethnic food often should have a say in the true authenticity of the meals they prepare. This is where sincerity and simplicity come into play again. Consumers are often willing to take an establishment at their word. If they have a sign stating that something is authentic, many consumers do not question the truth of that statement. Foodies, more specifically, might be more apprehensive and try to find something with a more genuine presentation of ethnicity. Authentic experiences might not always have the ability to be replicated because they rely on the mental state of the consumer, the indicators of authenticity, and an openness of experience to come together in harmony. Especially when combined with the sense of self the consumer brings into the experience. But at the end of the day, if the food was enjoyed does it matter if it was authentic?

Bibliography

Abarca, M. E. (2006). Voices in the kitchen: Views of food and the world from
working-class Mexican and Mexican American women. College Station: Texas
A & M University Press.
Fine, G. (2003). Crafting Authenticity: The Validation of Identity in Self-Taught Art.
Theory and Society, 32(2), 153-180.
Fischler, C. (1988). Food, self and identity. Social Science Information. 27(2), 275-292.
Heldke, Lisa & Thomsen, Jens (2014). Two Concepts of Authenticity. Social Philosophy
Today. 30:79-94.
Johnston, J., & Baumann, S. (2015). Foodies: Democracy and distinction in the gourmet
foodscape. New York: Routledge.
Long, L. M. (2013). Culinary tourism. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Mintz, S. W. (2007). Tasting food, tasting freedom: Excursions into eating, culture, and
the past. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press.
Molz, J. (2007). Eating Difference: The Cosmopolitan Mobilities of Culinary Tourism
Space and Culture. 10(1), February, 77-93.
Perales, M. (2016). The Food Historian's Dilemma: Reconsidering the Role of
Authenticity in Food Scholarship. Journal Of American History. 103(3), 690-693.
Stowe, L., & Johnston, D. (2012). Throw your napkin on the floor: Authenticity, culinary
tourism, and a pedagogy of the senses. Australian Journal of Adult Learning,
52(3), 460-483

Forkways #5: Food Memory

When I was in preschool I went to a private school taught by nuns. In the cafeteria we could not leave until we were dismissed. Sometimes but not always it was required that all the food on the plate was eaten. This food was not high cuisine, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and on one day tuna fish. I was three or four and at this time in my life it was already very clear I was a picky eater. Usually I could eat around the foods I didn't like and clear my plate without much issue. But how does a child, age four, eat around a tuna fish sandwich when one does not eat tuna? I sat quietly and peaceably staring at my plate. I was concerned slightly about the events that may follow. My fellow preschoolers began to leave and, the crowd thinned and thinned until there was only one child left in the room. One child looking at a tuna fish sandwich on a plastic plate a color directly between blue and green but not fully qualifying as either.

Canned tuna between slices of white bread mocking me because of my inability to determine how to eat around the offending food. The nuns began to notice me. At first one, who tried to cajole me. Then two discussing what to do. And then more. I remember staring at the white square on that plate with the almost indescribable color. I stared at the white bread like we were having a starving contest. I was determined not to lose.

A voice told me I had to eat it. But I stared and stared.

In one movement my hands rose up and swept the food off the table and onto the floor. I think I was testing an intricate logic puzzle. If I am not allowed to eat food off of the floor, as most children have been warned against since birth, perhaps I could override the demands of ingesting my food. The plate clattered to the floor and soon I found my face surprisingly close to it. The nuns had decided almost as quickly as I had that my logic was faulty. The floor was no boundary to their cruelty. My hands were pressed behind my back, my head was pressed to the floor and I was instructed to eat off of the floor.

Tuna fish is not improved when consumed at floor level.

Despite the aggression I was able to escape with only a few tainted nibbles of white bread. I was made to sit in the corner for the rest of the day.




This is not my only food memory, but it sticks out more than the others. Good or bad, food does transport us. Which is why I have vowed never to eat canned tuna again. (I have added the modifier of canned since I lifted the embargo on tuna in general when I started eating sushi. But really fresh tuna and canned tuna have very little in common.) Do you have any significant food memories? Are they good ones or bad ones? Or maybe one of each. Because I was a picky eater, there is no shortage of bad food stories. Though some good ones also emerge out of the kindness people who loved me showed when they made efforts to work around all my weird eating ways.

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