Growing up, my parents spent the last half of every summer in the basement. They fed tomatoes through a tortorous-looking grinder bolted to an old wooden table. They sliced corn off its cob. They blanched beans. Boiled enormous vats of water to seal mason jars. Twist-tied hundreds of bags of freezer-ready veg.
They had an organic farm (which to me just meant they fertilized things with cow poo - ew). And, they preserved summer (and all its full flavored authenticity) with all manner of cans and jams and pickeled things.
Of course at the time, my sister and I were not big fans. How many times can you eat corn on the cob in August? (answer: 31) What we didn't know: Pat and Dave were just ahead of their time. They'd be the coolest thing going in 2010.
I heard a fascinating interview about this new cool on Marketplace yesterday. Tess Vigeland was talking with Andrew Potter - the author of a new book called The Authenticity Hoax: How we got lost finding ourselves.
Potter says what we eat - and how we talk about it - is all part of how we see ourselves ... or, more importantly, how we want the world to see us.
The drive to authenticity (the most local food, an unspoiled vacation spot, reclaimed flooring, etc.) is a very public expression of what kind of person we are. It's a successor movement to the high-rolling days conspicuoous consumption.
As our nation got wealthier, it became less socially acceptable to show off overt displays of wealth or taste. According to Potter, we turned - over time - to "conspicuous authenticity," displays of consumption or experience that express how deep or spiritual or inolved we are. To return to the local food movement - The idea is that I'm not the kind of person who shops just to own something. I shop to sustain a local community that matters to me and my kin. (Kin :)
It's a trend that does create shakey economic ground. Any time you have "positional goods," they're valuable only to the extent to which other people can't really have them. To get the best local food, you have to have some inside knowledge, some connections, some know how. That status seeking element to authenticity is what makes us feel better, more unique. It also creates the in crowd, the posers, and all the other lunch tables we remember from school.
I should caution - Potter has an interesting positioning of his own. He's a "social critic" - meaning, I think, that he's a cultural faultfinder by his very job description. Some of what he says is a dark view of our everyday motivations. But, it's interesting to think that, say, the food we buy is less of a choice about health or diet and more of one about what kind of person we really are - deep in our mushy insides.