As we rapidly approach the kickoff to the Summer season, there has been one singular word that has been the pinpoint for much of the discussion regarding how we eat. To my surprise, it is not the pig and it is not the duck (despite all this talk of foie mumbo jumbo; who cares about that, right?), but rather, the discussion has come from those outside the food hospitality community. We are talking about the word “obesity.”
I can easily recall the time when the only exposure to the awareness of obesity was a visit to your friendly Midwestern heartland. Today, it is the topic of every other food, diet and health article, and, it is beginning to center itself around politicians – to which, can be credited as the perfect cause taken up by the perfect champion: the First Lady. Pick your politics as you like – donkey or elephant, but if you don’t like the First Lady and her universal agenda/message on fighting childhood obesity, then you’re a dumbass probably looking to ask her for a birth certificate. Fighting childhood obesity is not a partisan issue and making it one isn’t going to win you many votes.
Obesity is a complex issue because it is a sensitive one with quite a bit of polarity. You have the healthy, your obvious “haves”, and the unhealthy, your “have-nots”. And like all scenarios involving the two, they are entangled in a classic titty-twister battle of “why do I give a shit about someone that can’t help themselves?” versus “why are people so mean?” And then, you have the middle where everyone just saunters about feeling bad for each other (or themselves) and do just enough to show they do.
What surprised and subsequently did not surprise me is how quickly the variety of discussions has come. Speaking for myself, the first time I took notice of this came from the increasing amount of people posting workouts on social media. To this, I commend you all – it is great to know you are working out and sometimes even better [for me] to know that you are only capable of a 14 minute mile. (Not every bit of personal data is necessary, but then again, someone’s 14 min mile makes my shitty time sound so much better!) The second surprise has come from print media – I have literally read 20 articles alone over the last couple of months from the NYTimes that feature detailed diet and obesity discussion/opinion/science – many of which are useful, informative and refute a lot of the piss-poor reasoning utilized in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Trends such as fad diets, hollistic cleanses and the always popular “I know this one girl who did this one time and she lost like 2000 lbs” diet are beginning to be shed away by sound science and keen logic derived from the human psyche/habit. Since this is not a diet and health blog (could you tell from the giant pink pig logo?), I will only offer you this from all my reading and recent experience – something everyone seems to already know but doesn’t really want to face – the secret to being healthy is you have to work really fucking hard. Every. Single. Fucking. Day. Now that we’ve settled on that, lets move on.
The “did not surprise me” portion of the obesity trend is the focal point for why I think this is the trend of the year. After the last 4 years of hearing every Sally, Dick and Jane talk about bacon, pizza, hamburgers, burritos, Doritos tacos and other piss poor Sandra Lee concoctions made from processed garbage; what did you really expect? It’s basic course correction for the market. It just happens to have happened in a year where more people seem to be actually be paying attention. I could not help but think that this was only a matter of time.
While I do believe, and have always believed, that you need to eat a juicy, plump, gruyere-coated burger on brioche with a slab of house bacon, pickled onions, mayo and ketchup, every once in a while (random Nopa shoutout), it should not be the mainstream in culinary focus. The burger (in its true glory) might be the reason you want to go to a restaurant, but it really should not be the byproduct of being there. As cooks, a lot of education comes from discovery, variety, restraint and exposure – so to have the conversation dominated by a limiting and retracted form of Americana cookery is insulting to the intelligence of some of the truly talented out there. Do people remember the pizza shop bubble of 2009? And last I checked, the world of glutton food blogs hasn’t made much noise recently either.
If there was ever a silver lining with recession and obesity, I’d say an oversaturation with processed or monotonous food options has been followed by an emergence of interesting new flavors and interpretations coming from unexpected or unheralded inspirations. A good friend and one of San Francisco’s culinary tastemakers also seemed to take notice. It feels as if people are starting to finally wakeup from the slumber of food recession.
And that’s important, because the more we request, question, or yearn for [in terms of change], the better our options get in this city. It’s not rocket science to understand that if we all eat a little less processed shit, then we can try to eat a little more whole, natural and well-sourced produce. Great cities are always good at the self realization of their own potential – just as long as the need and demand is there. So with this renewed focus on healthiness, we can hopefully continue to see growth and emphasis on variety, quality and flavor.