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Precious Food, Not Precious Thinking

I always enjoy browsing the latest issue of Bon Appetit, despite the nagging sense that I’m not part of the hipster generation the magazine seems to be courting. The pages brim with fanciful slogans and casual bravado, rendered in fonts worthy of a ransom note, which seem to go right over my (not-yet-graying!) Gen-X head. Must we really Slurp, Sip, Lightly Stalk to prove we are obsessive about restaurants? And will canned tomatoes really taste so much better if we follow the directive to Slow-Roast for the Most? Flipping the pages, I cringe inside, the way my kids do outwardly when I try to use the adjective “lit” unironically, or boogie to Brockhampton. #lit

I was paging through the March 2019 issue when I came across a dish that appealed just fine to my middle-aged sensibilities: Date Night Pork Chop (p. 22). A quick and easy, if prosaic, recipe with spare ingredients – lean pork, a bright salad of endive and apple, crunchy hazelnuts – that could go easy on my ever-slowing metabolism. And what long-married soul doesn’t pine for a practical dinner that still carries the whiff of romance – we CAN still muster a date night vibe, with a meal that teenage boys will also enjoy. Win-win!

But something about that recipe stopped me in my tracks. It was the utterly ridiculous instruction to thinly slice 2 out of the 3 “lobes” of the “small Pink Lady apple” and to “do as you will” with the remaining one-third of the apple. #foodwaste! When I checked the web version of the recipe, the instruction differed slightly: “snack on the remaining piece if you like.”

Now, I’m a big believer in treating recipes more as roadmap than gospel. This tendency puts me in good company historically (for most of human history of cooks used recipes, often lacking specific measurements and instructions, more like mnemonic devices than strict formulas). #foodhistory It also makes me a pretty terrible baker, my past littered with failed, improvisatory desserts no amount of sugar could redeem. So even before I got to the part about the apple lobes, I was thinking about changes I would make, like making the salad bigger and the meat portion smaller, a minor leap in imagination but an urgently-needed shift in our collective paradigm toward more climate-friendly eating#foodandclimate

But I also know that I am a bit of a rebel, and that many people follow recipes to the letter, like my friend Susan who demands measuring spoons with charming insistence when we cook together. So, I was not just confounded, but mildly outraged, by this instruction to “do as you will”, wondering how many readers might end up composting that third lobe, or even worse, sending it to landfill where it would contribute to climate-warming methane. Of course, I’m sure many cooks who followed this recipe to the letter did snack on the extra apple, just out of common sense. But still, what did the test kitchen have in mind? Why would the amount of apple used in the salad need to be so precise? What culinary or dietary calamity would befall my fellow heretics who decided to throw caution to the wind and just toss in that remaining third?

I think this instruction reflects a kind of precious thinking to which we are all susceptible, born of a mindset of casual abundance. #preciousthinking In an affluent (if tragically unequal) society where apples are easy come, easy go for so many – even heirloom Pink Lady ones for upscale Bon Appetit readers – this cavalier mindset creates the backdrop to a stark reality: the average American family wastes roughly $1,500 in groceries every year, along with the natural resources and labor that went into growing, producing and distributing those groceries. All this while 46 million of our neighbors turn to food assistance each year. #foodinsecurity

So let’s all be rebels #foodrebels. Let’s remember what’s really precious – our food, the nourishment it provides, the scarce natural resources it contains. And let’s defy the kind of precious thinking that can undermine that knowing.

Precious produce at a market in Luang Prabang, Laos

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