A Foodie Repents

John Lanchester in the New Yorker:

A foodie repentsThe specifics of how my mother came to be interested in cooking are unusual. She’s the only person I know who learned to make beef Stroganoff as part of the decompression process after running a convent school in Madras. At the same time, though, her story is typical: people have come to use food to express and to define their sense of who they are. If you live and cook the same way your grandmother did, you’ll probably never open a cookbook. Cookbooks, and everything they symbolize, are for people who don’t live the way their grandparents did.

Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go—about who we want to be, how we choose to live. Food has always been expressive of identity, but today those identities are more flexible and fluid; they change over time, and respond to different pressures. Some aspects of this are ridiculous: the pickle craze, thebáhn-mì boom, the ramps revolution, compulsory kale. Is northern Thai still hot? Has offal gone away yet? Is Copenhagen over? The intersection of food and fashion is silly, just as the intersection of fashion and anything else is silly. Underlying it, however, is that sense of food as an expression of an identity that’s defined, in some crucial sense, by conscious choice. For most people throughout history, that wasn’t true. The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep: our ability to choose who we want to be.

Read the rest here.