Even though our newspaper loyalty is, of course, to the Bostonian papers (speaking of which, please do get totally distracted by this excellent non-food-related slideshow from the Globe), we must confess to being inordinately fond of the New York Times Dining & Wine section. The topics are mostly down-to-earth and not at all precious, the recipes are amazing, we enjoy seeing Frank Bruni get into beefs with restaurateurs, and the writers (especially Melissa Clark and Mark Bittman) are fantastic. This week’s Dining & Wine section was particularly interesting, since, whether or not it was intentional, several of the stories shared a common theme, namely, the increasing attention Americans are paying to their food.
Business reporter Micheline Maynard writes on the growing trend of chain restaurants introducing exotic food items. From Panera Bread’s grilled salmon salad with Meyer lemon to the new mojito-flavored gum from Wrigley’s, consumers have more opportunities than ever before to try trendy new foodstuffs. Why? According to Brooks Broadhurst, VP of Midwestern chain Eat’n Park, “people are more interested in their food than ever before.”
That theme is echoed by the Brun-meister in his piece on the truly excellent and enchanting movie Ratatouille. Bruni posits that a movie that glorifies foodies and teaches little ones the meaning of terms like “sous chef” and “saucier” could never have been made in a time other than now, when food is becoming an epic American obsession, when shows like Top Chef are watched by millions, when there is an increasing awareness that food has a function well above and beyond being just plain fuel. It’s a fascinating theory. We’re interested to see if there is sort of a trickle-down foodie effect from Ratatouille. Food snobbery generally implies a fair amount of privilege (foie gras doesn’t come for cheap), but it doesn’t have to. Ratatouille (the dish, not the movie) started, after all, as a peasant food. As awareness of great food grows among the population at large, it’s reasonable to expect that people might expect more from all food purveyors, regardless of price point.
Finally, a brief story by Clark contains a throwaway detail that reveals a fair amount about the new American appetite for adventurous foods. While Clark is eating a lunch of Smucker’s peanut butter on toast, she notices a recipe on the jar’s lid for a Thai-style peanut sauce. While the recipe is ultimately judged to be unsatisfactory, we can’t help but think that it’s a good sign for the epicurian revolution that an all-American company like Smucker’s would put an international recipe on its jars.