I’ve come to the realization that cookbooks aren’t actually meant to be cooked from. They’re meant to be ogled. Look at the bindings. Perfect for sitting on a coffee table, lousy for opening on a counter. Nowhere is this more true than in the books dedicated to “modern cuisine.” This is the food that is usually thought of as being all about foams, “airs” and assorted concoctions made with liquid nitrogen. While that image is true, there is also a fair bit of work with centrifuges, dehydrators, agars, and physical transformations you couldn’t accomplish in your kitchen unless your name is Henry Jekyll. If you’re a pedestrian, fork-knife-chopsticks kind of person, modern cuisine is barely recognizable as food offered at prices that are barely recognizable as reasonable.
In this, modern cuisine is one of those cultural things loved by its target audience while the rest of society – to the degree they’ve heard of it – makes derisive jokes about the effete nerds who enjoy it. It’s a lot like Dr. Who. Needless to say, I am all for expensive dining trends. Wealthy people need inconspicuous things on which to spend the money they worked so hard to inherit. Otherwise, the rest of us would grow fed up with inequality in this country and fritter away our lives forwarding Rachel Maddow clips to each other.
I would be in the derisive joke camp (which is right near fat camp, for obvious reasons) but for one uncomfortable realization. After the talks I’ve listened to, and spending some time poring over the bible of this stuff, the six volume Modernist Cuisine, it dawned on me that some people think modern cuisine is actually the future of food. Not the future of food for the children of bankers, professional athletes, and Williams-Sonoma shoppers, but the actual future we will all live in.
This will be a future where we all eat food transformed beyond recognition by a frightening amount of engineering. Not the bad kind of engineering of the sort that Kraft uses to sell guacamole that’s less than 2% avocado. That’s food tampering for rubes. The future of food is good engineering, where you freeze dry watermelon, inject it with dried pea powder and allegedly make it taste like tuna. This sort of elaborate tampering currently requires a perfectly coiffed crew in fashionably framed glasses and kitchen whites, but in the future highly skilled labor will be free.
Because this future is brought to us by media-savvy buzzword-spewing food professionals in the 21st century, they insist on the virtue of local food. As we know because the guy selling chard at the farmers’ market told us, local food requires less energy for transportation and storage. This will be very important because you’re going to need that all that energy to power the fancy ovens, dehydrators, centrifuges, and sous vide machines required to make modern cuisine. If only someone could discover a way to generate abundant energy from hype.
The other kind of bad food engineering is genetic engineering, which produces the dreaded GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Again, these are 21st century food professionals, so they will tell you that using technology and chemicals to increase crop yields and decrease pesticide use is evil. The best use of technology and chemicals is to make everyday food into balls! Because it’s food and it’s also BALLS. And who doesn’t need that? Also, did you know that genetically modified food causes autism? We know this because both have become more prevalent in the same period. This is also how we know that iPhones cause Miley Cyrus. I’ve noticed a lot of professional chefs have formed their own Bourdainian creation myth in which they were complete failures academically and – aside from culinary school – lack any further higher education, where they might have learned the difference between correlation and causation.
So here we are in the early 21st century, trying to steer ourselves and our kids away from highly processed food while the emissaries of the year 2050 gleefully tell us that tomorrow’s food will make Cheetos look as wholesome as rolled oats. Is high fructose corn syrup going to come back into vogue? Why wouldn’t it? Food wizards took a common and abundant food, processed the bejeezus out of it and made it sweet. It doesn’t taste like you expect corn to taste, and it certainly doesn’t look like you expect it to. They made corn sweet and CLEAR! How has no one sold Karo shots to credulous foodies for twelve bucks a pop? In the future, I’m going to be a millionaire. Of course, thanks to inflation and Obama, that million will be worth twelve bucks, and I’ll have to give six of it to lazy poor people.
I hate the future.
Or I thought I did. Because I also learned that in the future, this will not happen: you will not tell people that you cook dinner for your kids every night, or baked a few dozen cookies for a fundraiser, or maintain a small garden and have them say “oh, who has the time for that?” I learned that thanks to advances in hydroponics and artificial lighting, in the future we will (1)have our own small room dedicated to growing fresh greens, (2)have kitchens equipped with hydrators and dehydrators and powders and potions to make things taste like other things and look like modern sculpture and, (3) we will evolve venom sacs in our mouths. Ok, I made up #3. But it seems no less likely than the majority of Americans changing their hatred of procuring and preparing their own food, something no one in the modern cuisine crowd seems to have noticed.
When they do, they’ll have to figure out a way to bring all of this highly processed carefully engineered food to us in plastic pouches and boxes available at the grocery store. Better yet, maybe we’ll see a future where you can drive your car up to a window and have someone hand you a miracle of food engineering that vaguely resembles ethnic cuisine and contains a fairly convincing replica of meat. One could then take that food home, share it with their family, and provide them with a fairly convincing replica of health.
I can’t wait for the future to get here.
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