Why Instagramming your Food might just save Civilization

This New York Times article (which we are, inevitably, reading on our phones) is yet another call to put down our phones and EXPERIENCE LIFE!! As is the video that provoked it:

I get it: I’m that person at the restaurant watching my friends watching their phones, simultaneously annoyed and self-pitying. Both for being ignored by them when they ostensibly wanted to have lunch with me, and also because for many years I did not have a smartphone of my own.

But what is interesting to me is that the article brings the conversation back to, of all things, food. Now I would call this inevitable, but I’m a little biased towards the viewpoint that food is the genesis of all things human (I’m not alone: Richard Wrangham, a Harvard anthropologist, has linked the creation of culture to cooking).

Family around TVThe author, Nick Bilton, compares our current phone-obsession to the early days of television, when families rolled the box up to the table and enjoyed the novelty during dinner. Nowadays, we do everything from Instagram our courses to Yelp our opinion of the meal.

Eating around the TV became gauche, and I think many wish the same would become true of phones at restaurants (or concerts or playgrounds or what have you). One LA restaurant has even experimented with giving a discount for those willing to ignore the screen for the duration of their dining.

But here is one interesting idea to consider: while television made food worse, I would argue that phones just might be making it better.

TV is a passive medium and demands attention. When it entered our homes, it required us to stop life and watch. It ledTvdinner to the invention of a whole new food category – the TV dinner – that relied upon quick, easy warming (not cooking) and effortless eating (stab, bring fork to mouth, repeat), all intentionally designed to maximize tube time.

Now we all know what crap is in TV dinners – they are pretty much the foodie equivalent of heresy. And they taste bad. And they look worse. Thank you, television.

So how are phones different? You still stop your life to pay attention to them. True. But they are interactive in a way TV can’t be; they are social in a more real, immediate way than watercooler talk about what was on last night.

Let’s consider what is trendy when it comes to phones and food:

It is showing off photos of what we are eating and what we’ve cooked. I have one Facebook friend who changes her cover photo nearly daily to share whatever incredibly delicious creation she has produced that day (including, of course, a title in a cute font and an old timey wash on the pic).

It is faithfully reviewing restaurants and religiously checking reviews before setting foot in a new one.

It is sharing and evaluating recipes, making cooking essentially a social experience, the modern equivalent of the village firepit where our ancestors swapped ideas and tested what was good – and safe – to consume.

No longer are cooks confined alone to the stuffy kitchen all day – they need only wander over to Chowhound or Epicurious to find like-minded individuals with whom to share tips, substitutions, or hard-won advice. Cooking is once again a communal experience, thanks to our constant access to social media via the handy little devices that are smaller than a cookbook.

Another boon specifically from our phones (with, yes, a good dose of TV’s help via Food Network and Top Chef) is that beautiful food is desirable again. If it isn’t worth Instagramming, it shouldn’t be on the plate. Presentation has always been important to cooks, but now it is reaching into all levels of society, all types of dining experiences. The TV dinner made food into mindless fuel to be consumed with no care for appearances (honestly, it was better if you didn’t look); Instagram has relaunched the aesthetic value of what we eat, and, in turn, woken up a new generation to the visual pleasure of eating. The first taste is always with the eyes.

Steak au Poivre with duck fat fries

Steak au Poivre with duck fat fries

But the next taste (and thereafter) is of course the most important factor. And this is where all those reviewing apps come in handy. We can immediately tweet the location of a fantastic food truck, or post a status to warn friends off a hot new place that’s only about the scene, not the food. BrunchWe can find out about holes-in-the-wall we might never have heard of and the best dish to order there. Together we push up the ratings of the best food, thereby raising the game for all restaurants. We have begun to demand better tasting food, and that is a trend I am solidly behind.

And then the trend comes home – that Facebook friend with all the beautiful food photos? People clamor for her recipes, so they can recreate the magic. Suddenly we want to cook again, and share this food with our families and friends, and we reach for stronger skills and harder recipes and actually practice to become better cooks, as if we were going to be reviewed ourselves. Not because we are putting on pressure, but because we are rediscovering the Joy of Cooking – and eating!

The elevation of lunch at home

The elevation of lunch at home

All of this together – the sharing, the reviewing, the celebration of visual appeal and chefs who please the palate, the home cook elevating her weeknight meal – has reasserted for us the importance of eating well. And if cooking is what makes us human, then anything that promotes a higher level of this art will only make us better as a species.

So post on!

 

All Instagram photos are my own – the pics and the meals!

Super Powers

The other day my doorbell rang and it was my next door neighbor, looking panicked. Turns out she had locked herself out of her house and her 12 mo old was inside. I gave her a hug and my phone and she called her husband, but he didn’t pick up. We tried to think of a way in but our condos are really secure! Then I recalled how my cat visits her balcony by jumping from ours and suggested we try that.
mom_superhero
She was too short to get up over the balcony railing, but I could, so much to her terror I climbed over (apparently my kids were so scared they were hiding) and jumped over to her side. Then of COURSE her screen door that she assured me was open wasn’t, and so I ordered her to go to my kitchen and get a big knife, which I used to slice right through that puppy and break into her house. After I met her and my kids in her back patio she was still shaking, but the baby was asleep the whole time and had not a clue.

Aside from my apparently strong potential as a cat burglar, this got me thinking about how much we do for our kids – or even for someone else’s kids. As much as I’m not a kid person, I do feel a responsibility to watch out for the village urchins, and I hope other parents are doing the same for mine.

So here is a question recently raised by Dr. Yoni Freedhoff on the US News site: if we would gladly die for our children, why won’t we perform one of the simplest and most meaningful expression of love in our quiver – namely, cooking for them?

I’m reading Michael Pollan’s excellent (as always) new book, Cooked, and he frequently makes the point that cooking is what separates humankind from the rest of the animals: it is what created culture; it is how we bond as communities and families. If cooking makes us human, why aren’t we making more of a point to…um…do it? If we want to raise little people – not little brats or animals – maybe, just maybe, we’re missing out on one of the core skills that will civilize them (hey, if it worked for cavemen…).

When I posted my rescue story on Facebook, it got a ton of positive responses. But you know, we deserve just as much praise for the formerly everyday act of preparing a homecooked meal. In this day and age it is practically a superpower to be able to actually cook for yourself (instead of just watching it on TV). I fear that many of us avoid cooking because it seems too difficult, glamorous, expensive, or only for pros. Worse, we pass that discomfort and fear on to our children – and Food Inc will be only too happy to pick up the slack.

cooking with kidsBut cooking isn’t only for corporations or chefs. It’s for everyone. It’s worth learning and it’s worth teaching. My son loves cooking as much or more than any other activity. He begs to help his dad every day in the kitchen (we’re fortunate that he has the male role model doing the cooking).

We drive our children all over to myriad classes and events; we pay a small fortune for the privilege of letting others teach them sports or dance or music. And yet we have, right in our kitchens, a learning opportunity that engages their whole body (and all five senses) plus brain: teaching fine motor skills, patience, turn-taking and sharing, counting and fractions, reading, and appreciation of pleasure. And it doesn’t cost any more than we’ve already spent on groceries, plus of course time (that we otherwise might not have spent with the kiddo – well invested, I say).

Most importantly, when we cook, the aromas and the presentation and the flavors carry our love into the eater’s subconscious, whispering how much we deeply care. If children are part of creating that moment, then they learn love of neighbor on a whole new level. We have taken the time, energy, and resources to create something out of nothing, just for them, just to bring them joy and to nourish their needs.  If food is God’s love made edible, I like to think that the homecooked meal is a parent’s love (or partner’s or child’s or friend’s) sent straight into the body of the eater, to be fully absorbed by their very being.

And that, my friends, is truly powerful.cooking-love

Healthy, Meet Delicious

Healthy, Meet Delicious

Very happy to read Mark Bittman’s new column. He’s not only one of my favorite recipe-writers (How to Cook Everything is opened on a nearly daily basis around here), he’s a fantastic writer. Love to read him wax rhapsodic about a meal or pick apart the foodie – I mean, flexitarian – movement.

Host an Earth Day Dinner!

Host an Earth Day Dinner!

The folks at Rootstock have come up with a lovely, simple list of the Top 5 Reasons to Host an Earth Day Dinner. Check it out! (link above)