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”.
I edited and uploaded the images for this post almost four weeks ago. In my ongoing, not always successful, effort to squeeze as much as possible out of each day, I had mis-assumed that I could complete 12 hours worth of “to do” items in 6 hours, including writing about our late summer garden. I recently returned from three weeks spent outside of Oregon, flying into Massachusetts, then out of Massachusetts and into Italy, and finally out of Italy and back to Portland (by way of Newark. I hope I never write “by way of Newark” again).