If you have been a reader for a long time, it should come as no surprise to you that, while I eat simply at home, I have a fondness for food and the artists who create it. I take an unhealthy interest in the happenings in the food world, following all the latest trends, fads, and disasters. Many of these lately involve taking global ingredients and throwing them together to form new creations, some of which are downright crazy and others, actually, deliciously clever. This movement caught the eye of Toronto-based writer, Navneet Alang, who wrote a wonderful and thought provoking essay in Eater titled “Stewed Awakening.”
… We are living in the age of the global pantry, when a succession of food media-approved, often white figures have made an array of international ingredients approachable and even desirable to the North American mainstream—the same mainstream that, a decade ago, would have labeled these foods as obscure at best and off-putting at worst. This phenomenon is why you now see dukkah on avocado toast, kimchi in grain bowls, and sambal served with fried Brussels sprouts.Eater
Alang’s essay raised valid questions about who is currently getting to do these things with regard to food. After all, those who control the narrative control the profits. Essentially, food with global ingredients is having its yoga moment. Allison Roman (the subject of Alang’s considerable deliberations) is doing for global food what Eugenie Peterson — a.k.a. Indra Devi — did for yoga. With one caveat: Peterson, a westerner, actually spent time in India and learned the art. I am halfway through Michelle Goldberg’s The Goddess Pose, and learning more about her. Fascinating.
In our hyper-connected society, I am not surprised that Roman exists — or that Bon Appétit’s YouTube channel is such a hit. Before the pandemic hit, we all had these dreams of a seamless society, a globe without borders. We would be a world of influencers, shuttling out suitcases in and out of Airbnbs, working from hip cafes, eating our way through the planet, and sharing our fabulous lives on Instagram. The self-crafted bullshit we called reality needed some new food creations to match our nationless utopia.
When I read Alang’s piece, my initial feeling was that it was refreshing that someone finally wrote a piece from a perspective other than the one that typically dominates the narrative. I also liked the fact that someone else recognized the ridiculousness in paying $10 for essentially haldi-dood, a drink I associate with treating cold, flu, and other maladies. (You may know it as a turmeric latte.) However, there also seemed to be an inevitability to much of this.
Ultimately, the Eater piece made me revisit an old favorite: the “everything is a remix” theory.
I was first introduced to this concept in 2001 by my dear friend (and former Red-Herring colleague) Peter Rojas. We would often talk about the notion that remixing of ideas would define the future. It was not just about remixing music but culture in general. The network was going to be the catalyst of this change. Whether it is Deadmau5 or Tumblr or TikTok, we are living that remix dream. Peter went on to start Gizmodo, Engadget, and Gdgt, before settling at Betaworks, where is now an investor and resident sage.
Those early conversations made me appreciate Kirby Ferguson and his work— specifically a series called “Everything is a Remix,” a name which largely speaks for itself. If you have not watched it, you can see all the videos on his website.
[Today] anybody can remix anything. Music, video, photos, whatever, and distribute it globally pretty much instantly. You don’t need expensive tools, you don’t need a distributor, you don’t even need skills. Remixing is a folk art — anybody can do it. Yet these techniques, collect the material, combining it and transforming it, are the same ones you use at any level of creation. You could even say that everything is a remix.”Kirby Ferguson
Food is also culture, and so it is part of the remix — and has been for a long time. This is an old song. As the novelist Robin Sloan pointed out, tomatoes and chiles have different origins, but they became core elements of many cuisines, including Indian food. That too was a remix.
It made me think about tomatoes and chiles, and about how food culture changes not just over weeks or years but centuries and longer.Robin Sloan
It may have taken centuries for tomatoes and chilies to become part of global cuisine, but the pace has been picking up. The nacho, which was created on an accident to please some American military wives in San Antonio, Texas, and turned a Italian-American entrepreneur into a millionaire, took just a few decades to become America’s favorite ballpark snack.
And then there is the culinary creation that has essentially become the tie-dye equivalent for the millennials: avocado toast. While some say the origins of this toast are found in Australia, where someone put avocado on toast in the mid-1970s, and another narrative traces it back to 1937 Los Angeles, it wasn’t till the financial crisis hit America not that long ago that avocado toast became an internet phenomenon, a meme that kept growing and growing. From centuries to decades to just years, things are really moving. In today’s Instagrammable reality, trends spread faster still.
And because everything moves so fast, we are constantly addicted to the new and the novel. Whether it is the fast fashion, Yeezeys, Billie Ellish, or exotic remixes of food. I don’t see an end of this, only more of it. Our jet-setting utopian existence may have been put off for a while, but no matter what happens, this pandemic hasn’t cured us of our addiction to being amused, entertained, and always on the lookout for something new.
Read: Eater/Stewed Awakening
Read: Robin Sloan/Blogging the Global Pantry
May 27, 2020. San Francisco.