The kids menu and the industrialised palate

`It is entirely possible to have a thriving restaurant trade and a bankrupt food culture at one and the same time´

writes Carolyn Steel in her book Hungry City p239. It seems to me that this observation holds true for Dutch food culture too, from the fieldwork that students did during the course food culture at the foreign cuisine restaurants in Wageningen (see earlier blog).

Carolyn Steel gave two guest lectures during the course where she focused on the Chapters Kitchen and Table. American fast food companies and the wider fast food rationalities easily rolled over Britain as they rolled over the Netherlands in stark contrast to the resistance it met in France or Italy. With little gastronomic heritage to defend we developed an industrial palate, characterised by processed rather than fresh, by heavy reliance on meat and by spicing down to salt and sugar while adding thick sauces to cover up.

We discussed the existence of special kids menu´s which most of the restaurants had, sometimes with Disney names. There were other signs of adaptations. Schnitzel with french fries at the Greek, bread with melted cheese at the Turkish and salmon with sauce at the Spanish restaurant are among the examples of non-ethnic choices available. All restaurant owners felt compelled to offer these choices in order to keep their customer base happy, thus the kids menu ends up with a frikandel and french fries.

Equally, the plethora of cooking programs and celebrity chefs is sure sign that the food culture at large became alienated from the value and intimacy of food and cooking. Carolyn but also others, such as Revel in The Taste Culture Reader, argue that professional and domestic cooking should be related.

 `Where food cultures remain strong professional and domestic cookery can co-exist in a mutually beneficial relationship’.  This allows for maintaining ´´vertical´ cuisines, in which different levels of cookery (rustic, regional, amateur and professional) continue to inform one another` (p238/239).

In weak food cultures, however, restaurants become a substitute for cooking. We want to be entertained based on a vague idea of ´otherness´. And the food? Oo yeah, it was okay.

Carolyn’s book Hungry City has been translated to Dutch as De Hongerige Stad published by NAi publications  and will be presented on various locations between 15th and 17th of March