I don’t normally just post links to other content, but I think this article is such a smart and elegant polemic against “Culinary Luddism,” or the idea that “traditional” foodways (many of which aren’t actually traditional) are sacrosanct and modern industrialism has just ruined everything. I found myself nodding enthusiastically throughout and felt called to arms when I reached the conclusion:
What we need is an ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialized food, not one that dismisses it; an ethos that opens choices for everyone, not one that closes them for many so that a few may enjoy their labor; and an ethos that does not prejudge, but decides case by case when natural is preferable to processed, fresh to preserved, old to new, slow to fast, artisanal to industrial. Such an ethos, and not a timorous Luddism, is what will impel us to create the matchless modern cuisines appropriate to our time.
YES. It is naive—at best— to believe that the world before industrial, processed food was idyllic in terms of nutrition, the distribution of agricultural and culinary labor, or the quality and variety of culinary experiences. At worst, ideas about what counts as “natural” or “real” with little basis in historical or scientific fact are used to reinforce social inequalities and make people feel either guilty or morally superior to others because of how they eat. Laudan corrects mistaken assumptions about the “halcyon days of yore” and critiques common beliefs about the inherent superiority of local, slow, artisanal, etc.
At least for now, the whole article is available for free. If you want to know why “modern, fast, processed” food isn’t such an unmitigated disaster after all, and why we may actually need mass-production, even if it’s a more considered, regulated, ethical form of mass-production, this is a good place to start: