I don’t know how many children my school friends have but I do know what they ate for lunch yesterday, thanks to Facebook. Or what they baked this morning. You are familiar with the food status junkies, of course. “Mmmmm… Tomato rasam.” Accompanied by a random cup of rasam with one inexplicable curry leaf floating daintily on top.
Clearly, this is the age of the foodie. And if you can’t fight them, well, the best thing to do is to join them. So how do you become a better foodie?
Learn how to taste
There’s a difference between flavour and taste. I was at a honey tasting workshop recently, and we were given three jars to try. Now honey tastes different depending on geography, since that dictates what flowers the bees have access to. The first honey was declared to be “fresh in the mouth’ since its fine micro crystals become liquid very quickly. The second lavender honey was pronounced aromatic since you could taste flowers. The third honey, a willow honey, apparently tasted of ‘urea’. Yes. Urea.
The most useful thing I learnt? The difference between flavour and taste. The best way to understand it is with a simple experiment. We held our noses and tasted the honey. All we got was sweetness. The minute we began breathing a complex array of notes were added. That’s what makes the flavour. Try this with cinnamon and sugar mixed together.
At a recent Slow Food conference on ‘how to wean a gourmet’ experts talked about how important it is to teach children how to appreciate the taste of good, clean food. The central question was, why do we have a sense of taste anyway? It’s to read our environment. After all mankind lived in forests, where there were no labels. Taste is a language by itself with a very simple code. We dislike sour or bitter tastes, for good reasons. Bitter often spells toxic. Sour can mean ‘spoilt’. We like sweet, salty and fatty food. And the people who design junk food know that.
Which is why development of taste is important. Food is not just influenced by your DNA. Culture plays an important role. And the taste of health is variety. If you want to bring up your children to enjoy healthy food, what you buy and what you keep in the refrigerator is as important as what’s put on the dining table. The habits people form in the first two-three years of life, don’t change till they are 20.
Do you realise that around one third of the food produced today is wasted. A German friend told me about a movement to counter this. A few decades ago, people in communist East Germany never had enough food, so they learnt to eat everything on their plate. Now Germans waste 11 million tons of food each year. Most of this is from households. So a group of people started organising communal dinners at various locations in Berlin, using unsold produce collected from markets and other food distributors to create meals. Menus are pretty impressive, by the way: tomato gazpacho, sautéd broccoli with a sesame crust and mango-ginger dip. Warm honey melon tossed with penne and coriander. And finally, apple crumble.
Grossed out? Remember edibility is not the same as saleability. When a farmer is told that every apple must have a uniform diameter of 2.5 inches to be accepted at the super market, he has no choice but to reject a large quantity of fruit. A report by Friends Of The Earth, called Supermarkets and Great British Fruit (2002), gives the results of a survey done with 100 apple and pear growers, who said any fruit with minor skin blemishes gets rejected, along with “apples that are either not red enough, or too red”. As a result, fruit is left on the orchard floor or simply dumped. More than half the farmers stated that they have to apply more pesticides to “meet cosmetic standards”. Felicity Lawrence, journalist and author of Not on the Label says, that for every 30 tonnes of carrots harvested, just 10 tonnes are used.
How much of a difference can this make? At the recent Terra Madre, a speaker at the Slow Food Conference on Waste declared that if we can cut wastage by just half this world will have enough food to feed one million more people. This is without increasing production or placing additional pressure on natural resources.