"The advantage of industrialization is that you get consistency," Shaun Winter stated succinctly on a hot summer afternoon outside of The Fresh Pot in North Portland. With a sentiment like that, we could have been talking about anything, from the cups of coffee in front of each us, to the qualities of the neighborhood we sat in. Beyond its mix of one-of-a-kind stores, this stretch of North Portland contains more than a few Portland-area chains like Laughing Planet, and yes, The Fresh Pot.
Have you ever thought about your most vivid food memories? I’m talking about the ones you recall again and again, in conversation or while alone, unexpectedly reminded of a dish at a restaurant or friends’ house, the flavors suddenly transporting you away from the present moment to last year – or even decades ago. My food memories don’t seem to follow a logical path: they’re not a collection of the best meals I’ve eaten, though a few are, and they’re not always about the company I was with, though that plays a factor, too. Rather, they seem to be clustered around the perfect representation of salt, sugar, and fat. Though I have happy, content memories of cooking dinner with seasonal, fresh eggplant, squash, okra, peaches, of canning and preserving, of a kale salad lovely in its simplicity, if pressed to recall the food memories that can transport me exactly back to a specific scene, chances are butter and salt, and copious amounts of it, played a prominent role.
Talking about food is best on a full stomach, as the resulting discourse, often fraught and conflicted, flows best when not hindered by hunger-induced crankiness. Not only is eating a political and agricultural act, it’s also a cultural one. What, when, and how you eat – even how you digest – begins with a history and tradition much greater than you, the individual. Even more than parental preferences, monetary limitations, or family philosophy, your country’s food identity shapes your own. In The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin argues that food production and consumption are tied to national identity and culture. Brillat-Savarin’s book, published in 1825 and strongly influential in the philosophy of Italy’s Slow Food movement, argues that gastronomy ( the practice of choosing, cooking, and eating food) is the science of “all that relates to man as a feeding animal”.