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The Food Our Great & Grand-Parents Would Recognize


Anna Blume
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Michael Pollan's new book, In Defense of Food, has recently revived a topic dedicated to Omnivore's Dilemma. I don't know if any of us have had a chance to read this year's publication, but one of the author's criteria for distinguishing "food" from the consumer goods he condemns is whether or not our great-mothers or grandmothers would recognize it.

The observation is also a sticking point for many critics.

Since some of us come from families whose grandfathers prided themselves on their tomato sauces and way with meat or puff pastry, I've used a more inclusive term for relatives. However, one of the major differences between earlier generations and our own is the fact that home cooking, from scratch, was more of a norm than it is now.

I am guessing the point is implicit in an argument I look forward to reading since one of Pollan's enemies is the list of nutritional information one finds on boxes of processed foods.

Meanwhile, I am interested in the kind of anecdotal evidence we might gather here. What do you know about the foods your great-grandparents and grandparents cooked and how they prepared them? How do they compare to those of your parents? You?

(If you've written about this elsewhere, please feel free to provide a link here.)

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While I think it's generally a good guideline, I'm not sure I'd really want to eat only foods my great-great grandmother would recognize as food. The elder of my two grandmothers was born in 1876 (the other, I believe, was born in 1898). I don't know when my great-great grandmothers were born, but their food choices were far more limited than those of my relatives who lived in the twentieth century.

While I was interested in Pollan's concept of nutritionism when I read the Unhappy Meals article, I wonder how much it is a 20th-21st century version of the 19th century ideology/ies espoused by Graham, Kellogg, and their health-promoting contemporaries. I can't really say too much more without reading the book.

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Meanwhile, I am interested in the kind of anecdotal evidence we might gather here. What do you know about the foods your great-grandparents and grandparents cooked and how they prepared them?

Frighteningly little. As a second-generation immigrant, I'd expect that my tastes have evolved in radically different ways from theirs, but there are also the issues of distance, loss of contact, and the turmoil of their place and time. Plus, I understand that one grandfather had a butler and a cook from at least the time he went to college, so I'm guessing he didn't do a lot of food prep.

So it falls to the parents. Recently we've begun to actively work on filling the gap, by trying to cook with mom once a week. It's been strangely fulfilling...the familiar flavors are mostly there, but mom's repertoire (and occasionally her ability to judge salt) have obviously changed over the years.

Thanks for starting this thread; it's thought-provoking.

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My grandmother (and since I'm 54 my grandmother's generation would be the great grandparents' generation for many-most?- of Pollan's audience) made an awful lot of fried food in her kitchen in Talladega, Alabama.....and I don't remember much in the way of pasta except elbow macaroni, in various casseroles and of course macaroni and cheese....there wasn't much money so there weren't any steaks, mostly fried chicken and pork chops and fried fish and "Salisbury steak"...ham of course....fried pies for dessert was one of my favorite things she made...

I just googled "fried pies" and came up with this: http://www.texascooking.com/features/feb2000friedpies.htm

which isn't much different from my grandmother's except my grandmother would have used fresh, or canned-herself fruit, cooked down with a mountain of white sugar...

This can't be good for you especially when served after a meal featuring her fried chicken and biscuits full of crisco and butter.....but there were always green beans and english peas and squash and cukes and corn and fresh or canned-herself tomatoes, all of the veg coming from her garden or canned herself from her garden and stacked in rows in her pantry....in any event she lived to be 96.

Watermelon and canteloupe in season, which is long in Alabama....peaches of course and apples, both from trees in the yard. Blackberries we'd pick when we went out into the country. Or people would bring them to her. Pecans from a tree or two in the yard....

I think maybe the fruits and vegetables fresh from her own garden, or canned in her kitchen (she would have thought buying vegetables that she could grow, from the grocery store, to verge on the immoral or at least to indicate some character flaw, sloth or extravagance in particular) also from her own garden, somehow cancelled out all the Crisco, and white sugar.... beats me. Maybe it was just genes and she lived to be 96 in spite of this diet.

She never worked "outside the house" as they say today--- but gathering, preserving, and cooking all that stuff was a full time job. Time equals money, and land to grow all that equals capital, such that none but the most dedicated or, maybe, wealthy (5% of the population? 2%?) today could (or FEEL they could, perhaps the point) afford to do it her way.

Which is funny because she couldn't have afforded to do it any OTHER way.

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Just a guess here, as I haven't read either book or article, but I think some people are missing the point. My Lituanian grandmother surely never made pollo en pipian rojo, but she would have recognized chicken and sesame seeds and maybe even chili peppers as foodstuffs. The way I interpreted Pollan's dictum is: Doritos, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, etc are out. You know, highly manufactured foods. Things that are so far removed from their source material (yeah, I know, flour is manufactured from and doesn't look like wheat, let's not get all pedantic), that someone transported here from a hundred years ago wouldn't know what to make of a plate of the stuff. And that's an important point.

Then again I could be entirely wrong. Maybe I need to read the book.

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There are several meals that have been passed down from my grandmother (I'm in my 50s so they are quite old) that we cook on occasion just to remember them. Of course, we no longer make our own egg noodles like I remember doing when I was a kid at my grandmother's house, but every once in a while, my extended family gets together and we make some of the old standbys that we enjoyed as kids, and now are teaching to our children.

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Just a guess here, as I haven't read either book or article, but I think some people are missing the point. My Lituanian grandmother surely never made pollo en pipian rojo, but she would have recognized chicken and sesame seeds and maybe even chili peppers as foodstuffs. The way I interpreted Pollan's dictum is: Doritos, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, etc are out. You know, highly manufactured foods. Things that are so far removed from their source material (yeah, I know, flour is manufactured from and doesn't look like wheat, let's not get all pedantic), that someone transported here from a hundred years ago wouldn't know what to make of a plate of the stuff. And that's an important point.

Then again I could be entirely wrong. Maybe I need to read the book.

I took him to mean that as well. He's talking about foods in as close to their original form as possible, as I read the article (and however far I am through the book). He may not have mentioned cooking because he assumed that people would be doing that. I don't think he's necessarily a raw food advocate, and people will be using fats and spices to cook.

There was that one particular comment about how he and his mother don't eat that stuff anymore, and I thought it referred to margarine, crisco, and transfats--if not exclusively, primarily.

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My grandmother (and since I'm 54 my grandmother's generation would be the great grandparents' generation for many-most?- of Pollan's audience) made an awful lot of fried food in her kitchen in Talladega, Alabama.....and I don't remember much in the way of pasta except elbow macaroni, in various casseroles and of course macaroni and cheese....there wasn't much money so there weren't any steaks, mostly fried chicken and pork chops and fried fish and "Salisbury steak"...ham of course....fried pies for dessert was one of my favorite things she made...

I just googled "fried pies" and came up with this: http://www.texascooking.com/features/feb2000friedpies.htm

which isn't much different from my grandmother's except my grandmother would have used fresh, or canned-herself fruit, cooked down with a mountain of white sugar...

This can't be good for you especially when served after a meal featuring her fried chicken and biscuits full of crisco and butter.....but there were always green beans and english peas and squash and cukes and corn and fresh or canned-herself tomatoes, all of the veg coming from her garden or canned herself from her garden and stacked in rows in her pantry....in any event she lived to be 96.

Watermelon and canteloupe in season, which is long in Alabama....peaches of course and apples, both from trees in the yard. Blackberries we'd pick when we went out into the country. Or people would bring them to her. Pecans from a tree or two in the yard....

I think maybe the fruits and vegetables fresh from her own garden, or canned in her kitchen (she would have thought buying vegetables that she could grow, from the grocery store, to verge on the immoral or at least to indicate some character flaw, sloth or extravagance in particular) also from her own garden, somehow cancelled out all the Crisco, and white sugar.... beats me. Maybe it was just genes and she lived to be 96 in spite of this diet.

She never worked "outside the house" as they say today--- but gathering, preserving, and cooking all that stuff was a full time job. Time equals money, and land to grow all that equals capital, such that none but the most dedicated or, maybe, wealthy (5% of the population? 2%?) today could (or FEEL they could, perhaps the point) afford to do it her way.

Which is funny because she couldn't have afforded to do it any OTHER way.

Are we related? Sounds a lot like my Alabama grandma, too.

Still miss those biscuits.

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Meanwhile, I am interested in the kind of anecdotal evidence we might gather here. What do you know about the foods your great-grandparents and grandparents cooked and how they prepared them? How do they compare to those of your parents? You?

Apparently my grandfather on my Dad's side had all his meals cooked using lard and he died of a heart attack in his 60s.

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have to admit I had just scrolled through the biscuit thread (Heather's biscuit porn in particular) when I read Anna Blume's thread-starter here....those biscuits set me off like Proust's madeleine, I suppose, sorry for my failure to edit....

but it's the damn fried pies I haven't gotten out of my head all day....Got to get some Crisco on the way home I guess...biscuits need to be baked, and pies fried, and soon...

those Alabama grandmothers are good to have, huh?

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Just a guess here, as I haven't read either book or article, but I think some people are missing the point. My Lituanian grandmother surely never made pollo en pipian rojo, but she would have recognized chicken and sesame seeds and maybe even chili peppers as foodstuffs. The way I interpreted Pollan's dictum is: Doritos, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, etc are out. You know, highly manufactured foods. Things that are so far removed from their source material (yeah, I know, flour is manufactured from and doesn't look like wheat, let's not get all pedantic), that someone transported here from a hundred years ago wouldn't know what to make of a plate of the stuff. And that's an important point.

Then again I could be entirely wrong. Maybe I need to read the book.

Twinkie invented 1930

Oreo invented 1912

Frito Corporation founded 1932

Now I'm willing to bet that "junk" food is more highly processed and more available to more people today then it was during the 1930s, but I'm sure many grandparents would recognize what is being sold in the snack food aisle of your local Safeway.

Anyone have the ingredient list of a 1930 Twinkie to compare with the ingredient list of a 2008 Twinkie?

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Twinkie invented 1930

Oreo invented 1912

Frito Corporation founded 1932

Now I'm willing to bet that "junk" food is more highly processed and more available to more people today then it was during the 1930s, but I'm sure many grandparents would recognize what is being sold in the snack food aisle of your local Safeway.

Anyone have the ingredient list of a 1930 Twinkie to compare with the ingredient list of a 2008 Twinkie?

His original question related to great-great grandparents, getting beyond this issue even for most young people.
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Twinkie invented 1930

Oreo invented 1912

Frito Corporation founded 1932

Now I'm willing to bet that "junk" food is more highly processed and more available to more people today then it was during the 1930s, but I'm sure many grandparents would recognize what is being sold in the snack food aisle of your local Safeway.

Anyone have the ingredient list of a 1930 Twinkie to compare with the ingredient list of a 2008 Twinkie?

I expect you're taking this a little too literally.

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I expect you're taking this a little too literally.

I would expect so as well, but in the interest of discussion:

http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/twinkie2.htm

I've used "How stuff works" for years (gasp, bordering on decades now!) and consider them fairly authoritative on whatever they publish, or at least fairly well researched. It lists that the original recipe was basically milk, eggs, and butter and that the shelf life was 2 days, compared to the officlal shelf-life today of 25 days (though they last longer this is the officil shelf-life, still quite long considering it's a bakery item). As the recipe is a trade secret and food wasn't required to have ingredient lists at that time I doubt that the exact ingredients in the early Twinkie's is easily determined. However, a number of the current ingredients either weren't invented or weren't commonly used at that time.

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While I mentioned Michael Pollan in my initial post, I was hoping we could address this topic freely, without necessarily focussing on processed foods.

I plan on saying more later. For now, though, I'll just add that many of us have grandparents who began families during the WWII era when a number of substitutes for "real food" were either developed or at least, promoted in light of shortages, redirected efforts and so forth. Margarine. Spam. Crisco, maybe?

At any rate, here's something fascinating from even earlier, inspired by World War I: Foods That Will Win the War And How to Cook Them (1918). Lots of mock fillings for pies. Corn syrup.

Nonetheless, the publication is based on the presumption that the homemaker was baking bread and rolling out pie crust. The introduction advocates thrift in the use of flour and alternatives to unbleached wheat flour. Authors forward the nutritional benefits of whole grains for children.

* * *

For those who listen to the Sunday night broadcast on WAMU, there is plenty of opportunity to hear commercials from the 40s & 50s that tout convenience foods for the busy homemaker.

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His original question related to great-great grandparents, getting beyond this issue even for most young people.
I expect you're taking this a little too literally.

The point is that Pollan's "guide" to eat only what our great- and grandparents would recognize as food, if you really investigate what was being eaten by our great- and grandparents, is probably naive and simplistic.

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[Pollan] may not have mentioned cooking because he assumed that people would be doing that. I don't think he's necessarily a raw food advocate, and people will be using fats and spices to cook.
I didn't mean to imply that Pollan is an advocate for raw food, which is, after all, subjected to elaborate preparations that involve soaking raw nuts before grinding them. What I hoped to explore is the degree to which different generations have acquired cooking skills and knew how to bake or prepare meals from scratch. Or what "fold in" means. Blanch. Braise. How many teaspoons in a tablespoon, cups in a quart.
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Somewhere in the mess that is the cookbook drawer, there is one of those church cookbooks that rural churchs used to publish with recipies from parishoners. It was published in the 1930s and has a couple of my grandmother's recipies in it. It is interesting to read the recipies, lots of lard, some ingredients that I have know idea whether they still make, etc., kneading dough forever, but they are fun and occasionally we make something from it.

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The point is that Pollan's "guide" to eat only what our great- and grandparents would recognize as food, if you really investigate what was being eaten by our great- and grandparents, is probably naive and simplistic.
I agree. I think using the great-great standard only works to a limited extent, as he's directing it to people of a variety of ages with different family backgrounds. Even if it's just referring to anybody living in a certain time period, it's a pretty broad generalization. In order to have a healthier diet and one less stressful to the planet, keeping in mind the advantages of simple foods prepared simply and kept close to their original form is good, but I wouldn't have wanted to be restricted to the foods my relatives ate in the 1830s. Everything "then" was not pure, often not even water, depending on the case. Diets were more limited to foods that either could be canned or transported within a fairly short distance while kept fresh. Vegetables that didn't grow in a certain climate couldn't be brought in fresh from thousands of miles away. An area that supported livestock but not much else would be a diet heavy in beef. If your diet was based on one food because of an inability to manipulate the environment to grow a wider variety of crops, and a blight hit your potatoes, things got really bad.

There were packaged foods being sold well back into the 19th century though not as a central feature of most Americans' diets (not as much as a century later, certainly). One reason Graham promoted his bread in the 1830-40s was that white bread (with all kinds of awful additives) had become part of people's diets in the increasingly urbanized economy. He wanted people to get back to whole grains and fiber.

I think Pollan underestimates the degree to which reformers in past times were concerned with bodily health as regulated through diet.

Now I'm confused about which thread this should go in.

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I didn't mean to imply that Pollan is an advocate for raw food, which is, after all, subjected to elaborate preparations that involve soaking raw nuts before grinding them. What I hoped to explore is the degree to which different generations have acquired cooking skills and knew how to bake or prepare meals from scratch. Or what "fold in" means. Blanch. Braise. How many teaspoons in a tablespoon, cups in a quart.
I know practically nothing of my family's food history. Whether that makes me unusual or not, I don't know. I only knew one grandmother, and she died when I was 9. I have vague recollections of cooking with her--pancakes for breakfast when I spent the night. She used Bisquick. (This was in the 60s). She used to make a roast of some sort for Sunday dinner--usually beef, but ham or turkey at the holidays. Often we'd have Friday lunch with her, which was grilled cheese (Kraft cheese slices, I think) or tuna fish sandwiches. She's the only "cook" I'm aware of in my family, on either side.

She made cookies from scratch, mostly sand tarts for Christmas-New Year's (a butter-sugar cookie recipe that came from her sister-in-law, who was from Amish country). That is about the only "family" recipe we have. She made cakes that always came out uneven but tasted good. I have her cake pans still. The bottoms come out rather than the side coming off in a springform. They're got to be well over 50 years old by now. I also have a meat grinder from my father's side of the family. There are no recipes from them and I have no idea what they ate, but my father refused to eat a number of foods that they had to eat during the Depression (my FIL is the same way).

I know that my maternal grandfather bought black market meat during WWII rationing. He had some contact at Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. At some point, I recall asking people who were older what they remembered about food rationing in the US. That was kind of interesting.

My mother got some recipes from her mother when she got married. i think I still have them somewhere. They're not terribly explicit in many of the measurements and instructions. My mother didn't like to cook but turned out perfectly fine basic food. She didn't bake, except the slice off the roll chocolate chip cookies and brownies from a mix. Her sister baked the sand tarts after my grandmother died, but I don't recall her cooking anything else. Both she and the only other aunt I knew (one of my father's sisters) worked long hours their whole lives, weren't married, and didn't cook.

I learned some basic food preparations from my mother--baked chicken, meat loaf, roasted potatoes, etc. She came up with the idea of baked frozen peas in a casserole (from a magazine maybe), which was pretty good, but I always seem to overcook them when I try.

Anything I know about cooking measures, terms or techniques, I've learned myself through cookbooks, magazines, and trial and error. I don't think my grandmother used measuring spoons, but my mother had some.

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The point is that Pollan's "guide" to eat only what our great- and grandparents would recognize as food, if you really investigate what was being eaten by our great- and grandparents, is probably naive and simplistic.
I agree. I think using the great-great standard only works to a limited extent, as he's directing it to people of a variety of ages with different family backgrounds. Even if it's just referring to anybody living in a certain time period, it's a pretty broad generalization....

I think Pollan underestimates the degree to which reformers in past times were concerned with bodily health as regulated through diet.

As Hamlet once said of Clown 1: "How absolute the knave is! we must speak by the card or equivocation will undo us."

I think you're both being bizarrely legalistic and moreover, wrong. Polan's statement is clearly a rhetorical construct meant to convey the idea that one should eat un- and minimally-processed food. We can get all pedantic about the Twinkie's birth year or the what year whose great grandma was born in, but that's not really the point is it? The point of Pollan's statement that an ear of corn is good, while a bag of Fritos are bad. And, were it not for the invention of Tater Tots it would be damned good advice, too.

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As Hamlet once said of Clown 1: "How absolute the knave is! we must speak by the card or equivocation will undo us."

I think you're both being bizarrely legalistic and moreover, wrong. Polan's statement is clearly a rhetorical construct meant to convey the idea that one should eat un- and minimally-processed food. We can get all pedantic about the Twinkie's birth year or the what year whose great grandma was born in, but that's not really the point is it? The point of Pollan's statement that an ear of corn is good, while a bag of Fritos are bad. And, were it not for the invention of Tater Tots it would be damned good advice, too.

He is using it rhetorically, but I think he's oversimplifying. I have to finish the book, but I disagree with his premise that reformers looking at bodily health via food is a relatively new phenomenon. The language of the "science" has changed, and maybe the proportion of how much is fresh air is how much is food, but I don't see it as being that new.
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I suspect that a number of us--especially those of us who are merely supposing what Pollan thinks--are underestimating Michael Pollan. The guy is smart, articulate and well-versed in research. He may know more about Pythagoras and vegetarian diets, or Marsilio Ficino's recommendations for the physical well-being of melancholics than you or me. Then, again, I am speculating, too. Nonetheless, the journalist has written lots about agribusinesses that specialize in grain and the history of Kellogg, Graham et al is certainly relevant. I am all for dissent and critical analysis, but, golly. I was wistfully hoping for some nostalgia, retrospection and autobiographical insight here.

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I was wistfully hoping for some nostalgia, retrospection and autobiographical insight here.

well I tried to provide that but was afraid later thatI'd missed the point. I think I neglected to emphasize that the Crisco-heavy diet my grandmother cooked was GOOD and (though I think I mentioned it) she lived to be 96. Her daughter, my mother, is now 84 and in EXCELLENT health...

In thinking about it, you know, she got her meat and poultry and dairy from the Piggly Wiggly, by the time I knew her (though certainly when my mom was a little girl they lived at a place I swear they still call "the old home place" where they did have a pair of milk cows and chickens and pigs, though no beef cattle to my knowledge)...it was just the veggies and fruits and berries she accessed from her own property or the woods, and baked goods she made from scratch, by the time I was cognizant, say 1958 or so...

Also I talked about stuff she canned herself but left out all the pickled things. Another canning discipline well represented in Mama Hurst's pantry and dinner table...for some reason peaches and beets predominate in my memory of this...

yesterday this thread had me thinking fried pies all day, today it's green beans cooked a LONG time with bacon and a little sugar & a lot of salt and black pepper, I can taste that pot liquor as I type...just imagining my Mama Hurst confronted with the standard al dente green bean of today, LOL (she would've whispered into my ear, "honey I think she forgot to turn the gas on under these string beans, don't say anything")

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...I think I neglected to emphasize that the Crisco-heavy diet my grandmother cooked was GOOD and (though I think I mentioned it) she lived to be 96. Her daughter, my mother, is now 84 and in EXCELLENT health...
I find everything you have to say interesting. Thanks!

FWIW, there's a recipe for fried pies in this month's issue of Gourmet that calls for dried fruit and shortening, preferably free of trans fats.

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I own cookbooks from the 18th and 19th centuries. The food described therein is what I would call food, and what I would still call food.

Example here, the 1839 best-seller, The Good Housekeeper.

Another example, Lafcadio Hearn's 1885 gem, The Creole Cook.

More here.

One of my grandmothers (born 1910) owned a restaurant in Biloxi, and in addition to many hamburgers (never frozen meat) with fries (hand cut potatoes) and other sandwiches (poorboys, mostly) (toasted on a press remarkably similar to a panini press) she sold lot of fried chicken (one cast iron pot at a time) and red beans and rice.

The other one (born 1901) cooked like a veritable angel. I especially honor her pot roast with carrots and onions, and her gumbo.

My own versions of fried chicken, red beans and rice, and pot roast, are all variations on themes learned from my grandmothers, although those red beans remain beyond my reach.

But I cook (and prepare) so much more than they did, vegetables from artichoke to . . . . well, I hate zucchini . . . and spices from every continent. Would my grandmothers have loved Szechuan, Korean, sushi, Thai, kebabs? I think they would have done so, if given the opportunity.

Real food was their bedrock, and remains my goal (and yours). But there was the opportunity for ersatz 100 years ago, they just weren't interested, as we are not interested now.

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So very much has changed (not only in "food" itself but within things that affect the world of "food") since the times of our grand-parents and great-grandparents, particularly if we fit within that group called "baby-boomers".

I'm sure Pollan simplified his thoughts into phrases that would sit on the tongue well for repetition. In order to have concepts remembered by masses of people they have to sing well. He writes extremely well in that way, for his phrases do get remembered and repeated. (That is one thing that sets him aside from many writers springing from an academic background - he can take off the wordy clutter and dance.)

There was not only "opportunity for ersatz" in the past as Ilaine wrote above, but there was "actual" ersatz food.

There has been ersatz food around at least since Ancient Rome.

And the ersatz food often gets consumed by those who can not afford that which is not ersatz, for ersatz often is less expensive (in terms of initial cost, of course)(but the poor mostly think of initial cost, as they must - having no excess finances to spare).

Pollan has stayed away from some topics, as well he should. Otherwise his manifestos, so easily taken up and embraced, would become cumbersome and potentially too difficult and/or time-consuming for the general reader to wade through in a mass market book.

The topics of class, racial/ethnic interaction and attitudes in the US, changes in urban and rural living, the fact that no longer is it presumed that there is a woman or servant in the kitchen from the AM to the PM, the new science of marketing that Madison Avenue wields with its right arm the information superhighway - all these topics have weight within the putting-things-to-work and the how-things-did-work of Pollan's questions and will have weight, finally, in how his answers can or will play out, today and in the future.

Ersatz is what you make it. Ersatz has been made interesting. Ersatz has been made both cheaper and more expensive. Ersatz, though, often - is taken up by the group of the public that can not afford better. Whether they are interested - or not.

And of course some are interested. Always have been. For ersatz is a taste. A simpler and less complex taste. A cheap and shiny taste? A to-hell-with-it-all-it's-all-about-me-right-now-taste?

Sometimes I am reminded that vulgar is a Latin term.

There's a song running through my head right now - a country song. "I Like My Women a Little on the Trashy Side". Goes for food, too - some times, some places, some people.

Goodness knows I eat a Twinkie now and then.

.........................................................................

Anna, you know I have several stories about what my mother (who would be some people's grandmother's age) and my grandmother "recognized as food". In my opinion, in my house - we've come a long way. :(

That fact in no way takes away from what Michael Pollan has provided us all in terms of food for thought and hopefully concepts to use, whether his phrases and questions have been simplified for easy use or not.

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I would think that for almost everybody eating a Twinkie now and then is not a problem. That's not, in my opinion, the issue.

It's what we eat every day, what we consider to be our meat and drink.

If you consider the layout of a supermarket, the fresh food is found around the perimeter, produce, dairy, deli, meat, fish, fresh bakery if there is one.

What's in the center of the store? Oils, flours, nuts, dried fruits, pastas, are all healthy foods too, more or less, and there are essential cleaning products, and then there is the problematic stuff.

I think about this every day, for one reason because my mother lives with us, and she has an entirely different take on food than my grandmothers. She loves "convenience" foods, canned vegetables, boxed concoctions, frozen dinners. She doesn't like to cook, never did. If it wasn't for Ensure, Slim Fast and Lean Cuisine she'd probably just keel over.

For another reason, after developing IBS I learned through trial and error that my triggers were wheat, milk, and high fructose corn syrup, and there's not a "convenience" food out thare that doesn't have one or the other. So I am forced to eat only real food, or suffer. It's been an eye opening experience.

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She doesn't like to cook, never did. If it wasn't for Ensure, Slim Fast and Lean Cuisine she'd probably just keel over.

Yes, my mother was like that too, Ilaine. To my mind a rather joyless existence in terms of palatability.

But she hated to cook.

I have mixed feelings about the entire thing. I wouldn't deny her the right to hate to cook, particularly in terms of what cooking represented to her which was a life "stuck" in the kitchen, doing for others who then got to do things out in the world she considered more interesting and/or more important. I'm not sure though, that in the final analysis the things she garnered with her Ph.D. and professional status made her any happier. To eat something real and good, a simple taste of something good to eat each day - certainly this is a boon in life if one can see it and wishes to experience it.

For another reason, after developing IBS I learned through trial and error that my triggers were wheat, milk, and high fructose corn syrup, and there's not a "convenience" food out thare that doesn't have one or the other. So I am forced to eat only real food, or suffer. It's been an eye opening experience.

I can and can't imagine. To find real food that is good and has full flavor is astonishingly difficult at times. Not even considering the time element involved.

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To find real food that is good and has full flavor is astonishingly difficult at times. Not even considering the time element involved.

I found myself talking to myself walking away from the computer so decided rather to write it. :(

I should say (following that line above) that to find convenience food that is good and has full flavor is not astonishingly difficult but impossible. So really, the only thing here being offered is a time-savings. If one wants to eat crap.

:(

Sigh.

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I don't have first hand memory of my grandparents (born ~1880) or great grandparents (born ~1850), but I bet my diet growing up was much closer to my grandparents' than my great grandparents'.

I recently read Marcelle Bienvenu's book Stirring the Pot: The History of Cajun Cuisine and found it fascinating. (ULL history prof. Carl Brasseaux did the heavy lifting with the historical stuff).

I grew up thinking that what we called rice and gravy (more like braised beef with pan drippings over the rice) had been around since God gave Noah the rainbow sign, but apparently not so. Cajuns on the prairies ate a lot more corn than rice (much less white bread) until the late 1800s when the introduction of irrigation techniques helped rice production take off. So in my grandparents lifetime the diet of rice and gravy everyday became quite common, even up to the time I came around. Of course my experience of having a professional slaughterhouse come to the house and "process" our cattle was very different from my parents' experience of communal butcherings. We also had an electric freezer which my grandparents did not have. They preserved meat in oil in large crockery jars in my area, something like the French rural confit, while a bit further north they developed smoking and drying methods for andouille and tasso, etc.

So some economic and cultural choices by the farmers also played into what people would recognize as food and food preparation.

I have to echo what I understood Ilaine to be saying. My generation has a lot more exposure to non-native foods. A lot of our food may be more processed, but there's more variety too. If my mama could only see me making risotto now! Boy, would she be surprised!

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