Tonight I spent more time taking photographs of my dinner preparation than I took eating my meal. On the spur of the moment, I was inspired to grab the camera, take advantage of the late afternoon sunlight, and snap photos of the raw ingredients and prepared dinner of tilapia with lemon, onion and fennel steamed on the grill, grilled baby new potatoes, and a tomato salad with fresh basil and minced garlic. After I ate the meal and quaffed a bottle of Cathedral Square Brewery Belgian-Style Abbey Ale (quite delicious, by the way) from Weston, MO, I thought, “Oh geez, have I become one of those people?”
If you’ve ever visually grazed at a food blog, then you know the type of person that artfully arranges food to perfectly capture the colors and freshness of their seasonal locally sourced and/or made-from-scratch dish. They are the type of person that will describe the food with just the right balance of first-person charm, fresh-scrubbed enthusiasm, wide-eyed wonder and adjectives to make the reader hungry before they reach the punctuation at the end of the sentence. That food blogger will consume time to upload photos, type text, compose layout, edit and publish a post that documents and shares their experience. Yes, that type of person.
I know people that have posted their culinary and/or food acquisition adventures to some extent, myself included. And I have subscribed to or browsed a fair number of food-related blogs as a detached form of food voyeurism. From my friend Molly’s blog My CSA Adventure (http://mycsaadventure.wordpress.com), where she visually records food received from her weekly CSA and documents meals prepared with the produce, to the spot-on Thai home cooking blog She Simmers (http://www.shesimmers.com/), where blogger Leela writes thoroughly and definitively about Thai cuisine in honor of her deceased mother who was a cookbook addict, I’ve seen all manner of high-end and off-the-cuff blogging about food, beer, desserts, gourmet cooking and ethnic foods ad nauseum.
So why add to the proliferation of food blogs already out there? Is it really that significant that I document what I buy and gather, grow and prepare, eat and savor? I don’t really know the answer to this question, but it’s not what I really set out to do with this website. What really inspired the thought behind this blog post was examining my low-key urge to document my food and preparation in the first place. It’s quite a non-Slow Food thing to do. [Disclosure: I’m a board member of the Slow Food Kansas City convivium] Photographing the baby potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and fennel from my garden removed me from the experience. Arranging raw filets of tilapia, slices of lemon, pieces of onion and other ingredients to be more photogenic in the fading afternoon light transformed the food I was about to cook and eat into objects. The action was antithetical to my cooking, a distraction from my communion with food.
Without camera or video, I can concentrate my senses on the food before me. I pay attention and respond to the scent molecules emanating from basil picked fresh from the herb garden and the crushed garlic clove that perfumes my fingertips. The scent of tomatoes picked by my hand from the garden triggers memories. All five of my senses are engaged as I think about flavor, aroma, texture and presentation of my food from start to finish. Trust me, it’s not meant to sound like a holy or orgasmic experience merely an attentive one. Often, I liken cooking to composing music although I have never done the latter. Sometimes I think of the many elements of food as notes and attempt to compose flavors with a careful balance of tones, harmony, and even rhythm over the course of several dishes.
Photographs, video and the emphasis on how I am going to describe and portray what I’m doing as I’m doing it changes the nature of the beast. It’s the problem of the observer changing the outcome of a quantum physics experiment because of the observation itself. Perhaps that sounds elevated and remote as a comparison, but the nature of food blogging can feel remote. Not always but sometimes. After all, many reasons exist to document a person’s relationship to food whether it is a heartfelt tribute to a relative or a fun experiment to note what’s for dinner.
I sat outside on the deck and ate my dinner in the slowly fading heat of a summer day. I drank a new-found beer made just north of Kansas City. I smiled at my dogs while they sat patiently at my side, hoping against hope that they too might savor a bite of steamed tilapia dressed lightly with olive oil, fennel, thyme, salt and pepper. Not a chance. I noted how two-thirds of the food on my plate came from the modest garden in the backyard that has suffered like a prisoner of war in relentless heat. But I didn’t feel high and mighty about that self-sufficiency. Ever so briefly, I contemplated that my local food was complemented by olive oil from Italy, tilapia likely raised in a fish farm in Argentina and clearly packaged by a company in Seattle, Washington; subsequently, the state of origin for the cherries I ate for dessert.
These many thoughts and more coursed through my brain during and after my meal, especially once I decided to set aside the camera. That’s not to say I won’t take more photographs of food, resort to writing about food like a lurid romance novel or invest spare time in the future to read and ogle some food blogs. After all, I suppose I did set up a website for just this purpose – to record thoughts, words and images about food and other subjects. Also, I get paid to write about food for publication in a way that attracts and retains readers, sultry adjectives and all.
We live in a golden age, at least most of us do. We have access to food near and far that we don’t have to pay exorbitant prices for unless we choose to do so at an online boutique, specialty store or restaurant. We use social media to spread our mediated experiences like dandelion seeds dispersed across a digital landscape to land, germinate, take root, grow and replicate elsewhere. We have the luxury of ingesting so much data about us and what we put into our bodies (food and information) through words and photographs and videos and song and illustrations and…you get the idea. Yet, this Golden Age of Here and There and Being Connected to Everywhere isn’t golden because of the abundance, the impossible accumulation of and access to data, or the sheer mind-boggling means of connecting to each other even while remaining physically apart.
The value of our Golden Age, the currency that you and I possess, derives from scarcity. How little time we have. What will we do with it?
I’d like to spend more time cooking, eating and spending time with family and friends. And maybe I’ll write about it once in a while.
Sign up for a weekly dose of inspiration.
Get links to new stories and photos on food, craft beer and adventures delivered to your inbox every week.