The Joy of Cooking

Two cookbooks, "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" and "Dining Out" sit on the kitchen table.In an effort to start cooking at home more, I’m drowning in cookbooks. Again. An article in Bon Appetit about Samin Nosrat leads me to indulge in her Netflix show, named for the now famous cookbook “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”. Another article in Elle about Allison Roman “Dining In”, and voila! Two new cookbooks magically appear on my table.

I love food, and I like to think I’m getting better about making it. The thought takes me back to another time and place, where I first contemplated my, and many millennials’, evolving interest in food. First, documented in my WordPress once upon a time, I give you a tale of Millennials and Food.

Millennials and Food

Everyone has their own opinion on how you should spend your money. Different sites offer different strategies assigning numbers and percentages to the physical -or abstract- items of your life. How much for shelter? How much for transportation? How much for food?

Ah, food. Poking around the internet, you’ll find many recommendations, but generally the numbers give you between 10 and 15% of your budget should be spent on food. And, as this article so charming claims, “If you number-crunch and realize you’re spending 30% of your income on food, put the food portion of your budget on a diet.”

My shelter comes in low, a paltry 16% to the recommended 30% with the difference devoted to one day upgrading my unowned condo living space to a owned and sprawling house. My transportation comes in high at 23% compared to the national average of 17%.

And my food….a whopping 29%, kissing the top of that “diet-level” limit.

"A Taste of Generation Yum" by Eve Turow.I’m typical of my millennial cohorts. Eve Turow has recently penned “A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation’s Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs, and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food” in which she describes the phenomena of our recent food obsession. While food overall has been making a comeback, its popularity among millennials is astonishing. Why at this point when the majority of a population was finishing college during a recession, struggling to get jobs in their intended fields, did they decide to devote the portion of their income typically allotted to a home to food? .

In her book, she explores across the globe talking to millennials as well as foodie staples like Anothony Bourdain (RIP). I haven’t gotten far enough in the book to offer you their opinions, so here are mine.

Why did I walk around the corner to get a lox and cream cheese bagel with french press for $10 when I could have taken the free Community Coffee and boxed cereal offered free by the hotel? Why do I make a lunch of spring salad with goat cheese and homemade candied pecans and harvest bread fresh from the local bakery with ricotta and honey to take to work? Why don’t I just make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and eat that? (My apple slices are here to stay either way) Why don’t my friends do these things either?

My answer, I think, resides in another philosophical factoid purported science has offered us. Experiences make us happier than things. Good food is an experience. I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because the moment did nothing to solidify its space in my consciousness. But good food? I can tell you the 10 best things I last ate. I can tell you where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, wearing, all of these things. Good food makes us feel things and the feelings produce memories we can forever hold. There are meals I dream about from 5, almost 10, years ago because they were just so damn delicious. Isn’t having those memories worth something extra in terms of living a life?

Good food is also an experience because of the kind of good it makes us feel. You may have heard cheese is addictive. Indeed, not just cheese but many kinds of good food set off the same “feel good” chemicals that lead people to addiction. One of my favorite first date questions is “Would you rather have good food or good sex for the rest of your life?” Perhaps this is a trick question because they’re similar brain experiences. (Perhaps unsurprisingly also, my beaus normally choose the latter despite my coaxing protests to lean to the other side of the argument.) Maybe after we get our first fix, there’s nothing we can do but go in search of another.

A photo of Chez Fonfon, restaurant in Birmingham, AL.I wish I could remember that first fix, but if I had to place it, I’d say spring of my 21st year. My parents have excellent taste though far from consistently fancy, so I know I had had good food earlier. But finally I was of age. I was recently converted to the “good food” craze in terms of natural and organic. I’d just gotten a job at Whole Foods, mecca of the decadent “good is good for you” natural foods craze and was surrounded by new things to try. Plus, it was good money and though I’d been out of the house for a while, I’d never had a wealth of disposable income. Or as my schooling approached its end, disposable time to sit at fancy restaurants savoring bites. And I lived in Birmingham, home to a surprisingly outstanding host of first class food. When people think of “foodie” cities, it’s certainly not the first to come to mind (UPDATE: It definitely is now), but as I’ve come to learn, the people in the know are aware of Birmingham’s strength of cuisine. It was the perfect storm. Good food, good money, and the time to spend it with both. Learning how somehow something as banal as beet soup could be transformed into a wonder and grace in a place lie Chez Fonfon? I was caught.

And so, we return to Eve’s question: Is the current trend of millennial food experience here to stay? Will we continue to have generations of people more devoted to their food than to their living situation? I’m not sure, but I can say that currently being in New Orleans with a crowd devoted to good tastes, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

(Originally posted at www.iamscientiste.com, July 2016)

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