The popular notion that food trends improve over time might be little more than a foodie’s conceit.
Certainly, we have cast aside the Twinkies for arugula and the lard for grapeseed oil. Yet there may be a number of missing chapters in our national food narrative we would be wise to rediscover.
Mark Kurlansky, whose previous contributions to the American food oeuvre include the self-explanatory titles, Salt and Cod, says the connection to regional food has been largely lost. In his forthcoming book, The Food of a Younger Land, Kurlansky picks up the work of the WPA which was curiously tasked with collecting culinary notes as part of their New Deal mandate. WPA workers were combing the country in the 1940s documenting food practices like possum-eating clubs and noting recipes for Montana beaver tail and cougar.
Kurlansky reflected in an interview with Good that along with the fairly nasty eating practices, Americans used to be far more in tune with eating by the season. Persimmons in the spring, corn in the summer, deer in the fall, pickled whatever in the winter.
One man on whom pecualiar foods are not lost is David Chang of Momfuku fame. His New York restaurants bring obscure items like fluke, maple, and tendon back to plate. Granted a lot of it is Korean or French, but chang would likely see the value in a book like Kurlansky’s.
Chang’s take on the loss of seasonal eating has much to do with globalization. “It’s white asparagus season somewhere,” he joked.