Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bridging the Gap: Education, Elitism, Exploration and Experimentation


My perception is skewed in one direction and often it’s hard for me to come to the realization that I’m constantly absorbed in a culinary bubble. I’m not sure how to properly label this understanding or awareness, but I do know that my possessed information is generally lost on a majority of our population. To be honest, I have no desire to slow or dumb down the constant learning process required for what seems to be an infinite set of principles, techniques and ideas, but recently, there have been many situations where I’m conspicuously out of touch with identifying with people who have a less than a basic understanding of their food (seeing food only as a means of necessity). As a result and byproduct of food education, I can get caught off-guard by the perception of food snobbery. But I wouldn’t say that this issue bothers me, because I have no qualms with how people choose to react to me. My self-image is controllable, but I have no interest in being disingenuous - rather, I find myself wondering why such a big gap exists between people with a general knowledge of food and those who have no interest in learning or understanding what goes into their body.

The two concepts, exploration and experimentation, seem inherently related by denotation. Both can be identified as acts of curiosity or interest, but their methodology and governing philosophy are obviously separate. It is exactly this separation that our understanding of a majority of food issues lie. If we look at the idea of exploration, it connotates a positive act of courage with acceptable risk and a satisfying end (albeit unknown) result. Experimentation is normally viewed as an act of higher risk that needs to be approached with caution and sometimes fear. I think most people can agree that they are much more willing to explore in most cases than experiment with their food (which we can identify as the perceived gap, i.e. risk), but, in reality, the end result for either scenario is the essentially the same. Why is fear marginal for some ingredients and in some instances, but not in others? That has never made sense for me.

We know what we’ve known for the longest time – a key problem with a person’s fear of food is perception. A lot of people fear trying offal, bison, venison, goat, smelly cheeses, etc., because the perception is that they are experimental, but in reality, that is almost no different than the exploration of gorgonzola or blue cheese on a burger. (Would like to note that this discussion excludes religious obligations to denying food – talking just about fear of food)

For the most part, I’m very understanding of how and why people approach food. Different people hold vastly different set of values when it comes to how they regard food. Some are intrigued and involved with every detail of its creation or slaughter, while others only view it as a means of sustaining life. This divide can sometimes be easily identified and attributed to the gross generalizations that plague efforts to bridge the gap between those that are food conscious and those that are not. For instance, take the word and the idea of a “foodie” – it has become the primary calling card for food elitism in the sense of positive self-identification (e.g. The Foodie Handbook, Diary of a Foodie), but it has also been regarded with absolute disdain as a polarizing and a segregating label.

Let me clarify, being knowledgeable does not make and equate to becoming a “eat organic/sustainable/local/raw only” neo-hippy that starts pushing their food ethics on others. Because many of those people are real assholes. Education brings to consciousness a person’s ability to identify their own food decisions as they are best suited to their own means and how they affect their lifestyle/environment. It would also be a shame to separate yourself from learning your own options based on the potential fear of being labeled as something as meaningless as a healthy hippie or a foodie.

Polarization, lack of understanding, unfounded fear, segregation and perceived elitism are essentially the barriers for self education – just like it was for every conflict in history based on class, race and gender. And, in the most true sense of irony, education is also the key to breaking through. We’re not talking about ground breaking ideas here – I’m practically just applying the basic model of prejudice to issues regarding food awareness. Imagine a world where people understood the issues that plague the problems of consumption and hunger. Imagine a world where people understood the issues that are attributed to increasing health risks of children (new chemically induced food allergies, processed food bacteria/poisoning, obesity). Imagine a world where I didn’t have to wonder if people have ever tasted duck before?

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