Timelines & A Timely Menu
by Kate Heyhoe
I started messing around with "timelines" a few weeks ago. I was researching a speech I was to give on trends and timeliness, and wanted to tie in technology with cooking. Why? Because the products that we use, the foods that we eat, and the ways that we cook all affect how we live—or vice versa. Looking at popular inventions offers a pretty good snapshot of how people are living at any given time.
Take the 1970's for instance. Some have called it "the Granola Age"—marked by ergonomic but ugly shoes, Mollie Katzen's attractive Moosewood Cookbook, and in Berkeley, a quaint little restaurant run by a diminutive woman who featured local, organic produce. At Chez Panisse, Alice Waters quietly led a food movement that went global and continues today, Mollie's book was a bestseller, recently re-released, and people still wear Earth Shoes and Birkenstocks.
The typical workweek in the 1970's averaged 43 hours—down from previous generations. Leisure time was on the rise, due largely to technology breakthroughs. In every industry, the decade saw major advances in making things smaller, more portable, and more efficient.
After Cuisinart introduced the food processor in 1973, recipes and cooking were never the same. Today, it's tough to find a cookbook that doesn't include steps like "With the metal blade inserted in the work bowl..." or "Pulse until coarsely chopped but do not purée." The food processor didn't just speed up things in home kitchens; restaurants adopted industrial-strength food processors to whip out chopped or puréed everything in seconds. The types of dishes that could be served affordably took on a whole new scope.
While the food processor debuted, our business and leisure worlds were also getting revolutionary new devices in the form of the Apple II Personal Computer and the video cassette recorder. Other inventions that changed our lives were the Sony Walkman, email, the Texas Instruments portable calculator, and Post-it Notes. The Crockpot was released, and for the first time, microwave oven sales exceeded those of gas ovens.
What spawned these developments in the 1970's? Consider the previous decade's milestones: Julia Child made her TV debut, the first Williams-Sonoma store opened, the IBM Selectric typewriter was invented, calculators arrived as desktop models, the Internet (sans the World Wide Web) was invented, and Teflon pans were introduced. All were more primitive precursors to what lied ahead.
Fast forward to present day. Workweeks are longer, about 47+ hours. But we take more leisure time in the form of vacations and days off. Rush hour is now slug hour, with dreadful daily commutes reaching 3 hours or more. Home ownership is up, and with that comes more stability, less mobility—at least less mobility in terms of changing houses. We're a growing wireless world, packing up our cell phones, Palm Pilots and wireless computers in handbags, pockets, and briefcases. Houses themselves are more spacious and comfortable, with increased conveniences. and the time we spend at home is precious—if we can stay there long enough to enjoy it.
We're also a more fun-in-the-sun world. Fifty years ago, the top ten largest cities were all in the East, except for Los Angeles. Today, sunbelt cities dominate the top ten list. Perhaps this is one reason why we've seen such a rage for barbecues and outdoor kitchens, home items which cost more than most people's first cars—and are roomier to boot.
Future trends may not be all sunshine and happiness, though. The drastic environmental changes and looming energy crises may be just the tip of the iceberg for decades to come. Already, as a result, foods have become more costly to grow or raise, and some seafood species have been entirely depleted. I'm anxiously hoping that some smart decisions get made in the coming months by government, because much of what is destroyed now can never be regained again. Environmental errors and energy-related decisions produce particularly long term results. A simple "oops" may be paid for both today and for decades to come.
Dishing Up the Decade
Given the past trends and potential future directions, I wonder what foods will be considered "typical" of the 2000-2010 decade? If the 1950's were the Casserole Decade, and the 80's were marked by Spa Cuisine, what dishes are evolving out of our current technologies, economics and lifestyles?
Here are what I consider the buzzwords for this decade: global cuisines, raw foods, less prep, kitchens as family centers, energy conservation, healing foods, budgets, meal morphing, outdoor cooking.
I may regret this ten years from now, but my menu below symbolizes what I think may be recognized as "smart cooking" for this decade. It's a summertime outdoor grilled meal, using a thrifty whole chicken, halved to cook quicker, and rubbed with Italian spices. with it comes a grilled bread-arugula-tomato salad that combines carbs and vegetables in one dish (the bread cooks with the chicken, stretching the fuel dollar), and a fresh fruit dessert that requires no cooking at all.
What makes this meal plan such a "menu for the decade"? It's a balanced, low-stress and low-mess meal, cooked outdoors (in a sunbelt-loving way), where whole families can enjoy each other's company. It uses fuel wisely, without heating up the house (no need for air conditioning), and also uses some raw, seasonal ingredients. It's tasty and full of antioxidants. Whole chickens are good buys, and more economical than cut-up parts (apply the savings to your gas bill). Furthermore, if the grill is large enough, smart cooks can grill more than one chicken at a time (thus using the same amount of fuel), for morphing into a chicken salad or sandwiches on another day, and conserving even more fuel and energy.
As a quick look at the past shows us, there's no time like the present to think about the future.
Kate's Global Kitchen for June, 2001:
06/02/01 One Husky Little Tomato: Mexico's Tomatillo Unwrapped
06/09/01 Cooking with Jazz, Dakota-Style
06/16/01 Macho Nachos: Fiesta Food for Dad's 'n' Grads
06/23/01 Timelines & A Timely Menu
Coming in July-August: The Big Grilling Guide & The Haiku of Food Contest
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created June 2001