In a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines, it isn’t uncommon seeing people bow their heads in prayer before meals. It is tradition, this spiritual aperitif. Nowadays, you see people hold that pose longer. It isn’t because their souls need more nourishment—they are looking for the perfect filter for when they share that they are, indeed, #blessed.
With social media, we have the luxury of sharing (and oversharing) our blessings via an updated feed. If you check the food-related hashtags, there are hundreds of millions of photos. Tasty by Buzzfeed has even made the overhead instructional food video into a hyper-growth business. Dining etiquette has evolved, especially for the tech-savvy youth. In addition to utensils, you’ll need a camera, and good lighting to eat. The rest of the table setting becomes props for contextualizing the dining experience.
At restaurants, you may overhear people asking about the most photogenic dish on the menu. You may also see people stand up on chairs to get a good shot of their food. The purpose of a meal is no longer delicious nourishment. We consume with our mouths, yes, but only after our eyes. Eventually, we have to swallow what we tasted, but pictures last forever.
More often than not, the actual eating experience is different from the one recorded. In
“Menu trends today are beginning to shift from ingredient-based items to concept-based ideas, mirroring how consumers tend to adapt their activities to their overall lifestyle philosophies,” says Hudson Riehle, research executive at the National Restaurant Association. This means it’s not what we eat, it’s how we eat.
It is ironic that how we eat is the opposite of what we eat. We’re combating the insatiable with the sustainable, attempting to balance a fast-paced life with slow food. Local, seasonal, artisanal, organic, ethnic, authentic, heirloom, and ancient are the adjectives/modifiers required to be considered cool in the food world.
Chefs try to buy from farmers directly. Farm-to-table cuisine is nothing new in an agricultural country like the Philippines. It was what and how our grandparents ate when they were young. Processed “food” was developed in the West during wartime to address hunger. But the temporary solution stuck and eventually became part of the everyday diet. There was a new food system: It was efficient, but it did not provide real nourishment. In fact, chemistry affected biology—the food lasted longer, but people didn’t, they were getting sick.
So the saying “Health is wealth” is true. It’s strange, but health has become associated with luxury. Looking and feeling young are luxuries. The inconvenience of sustainability is luxury. If you think eating healthy now is expensive, just think about the maintenance or, worse, hospital bills you’ll have to pay sooner rather than later.
Pause to consider what God, if you like, what Nature intended food to be. Definitely not those “Frankenfoods.” If you didn’t have the voices of so-called experts in your head telling you what you should or shouldn’t eat, what would you put in your grocery cart? What if you had to grow your own food? You’ll stop treating soil like dirt, and see it as the foundation of life. I bet you could even kiss the ground you walk on.
Besides health, food is tied to many other aspects of life. There’s agriculture, politics, business, the environment—the overall culture of a people, really. Our food choices influence how food is cultivated, produced, and distributed and, as history has taught us, how they can change the world.
Chefs today have the power to create a market and a new food system by dictating food trends. It’s more fork-to-farm than farm-to-table. But a trend only becomes a trend if it is well-received by the public, recorded, and shared until it becomes viral. In the end, it’s the irreverent diner who eats with his or her eyes who has more power. Interestingly, this is when slow food has to speed up, and try to keep up, look pretty enough, and hope to be relevant. It doesn’t even have to taste good at first. It can claim to be an acquired taste, not for everyone, a luxury.
Knowing where your food comes from is not “millennial,” it is essential. Pray that this happens.