The Good Food Fight
A SCOBY is a necessary part of brewing kombucha, an ancient fermented tea product that tastes of acid and vinegar. The SCOBY culture is added to a tea-and-sugar solution. After a week or two, the culture feeds on the sugar and ferments the tea. Kombucha makers claim the drink provides a number of health benefits. The drink itself can be found in glass bottles anywhere from health stores to CVS, packaged in psychedelic wrapping with flavors like “cosmic cranberry.” It sells for upwards of three to four dollars.
Post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida coined literary deconstruction, and now many chefs employ a culinary equivalent of the technique. To deconstruct a text is to highlight how the meaning of its words is determined by experience, reference, and context, and how those words have no intrinsic meaning. To deconstruct food is to take its component parts and reassemble them in an unexpected or novel way, challenging our assumptions about the proper way to prepare a dish or a drink. To deconstruct food is to play tricks on the taste buds.
Saloon, in Somerville, Mass., is one of many new bars and restaurants embracing the feel of the Prohibition and pre-Prohibition era. It is all part of the experience—today customers are seeking more than just tasty food or creative drinks; they are seeking a full interactive event. The décor, the menu, the restaurant staff, the customer—all contribute to a theatrical reenactment of the food culture of a distinct historical period. And what better way to build community than through this form of art, a staged dining experience based on customer participation?
Today, the term foodie describes a way of thinking rather than a way of acting. A foodie is someone committed to increasing his or her knowledge about food and—in this era—someone who sees food as art that can be produced by ordinary people rather than by a culinary elite. In the 1550s and onward, the higher classes of England spent their wealth commissioning artists to create large sugar sculptures. Whereas this increasingly cheap commodity only became the primary source of energy for the masses later in the industrial era. It is clear to see how the idea of food as art became tied to notions of elitism and excess. But the foodies of today are of the postmodern era. They, of the internet age, demand information disseminated through a non-hierarchical network. When choosing a food item, they ask: What is its source? What are the ingredients? And who controls the means of production? They reject the authority of large corporations, such as McDonald’s, who reproduce foods based on standardization—a mere focus on the final product rather than the production process. The plated food is only one part of the story—even the high-end French restaurant is suspect for the modern foodie.