While I had cooked a lot before I joined the Peace Corps straight out of college, I had never spent a whole lot of time learning to cook with just the basics. I was used to flavors and spices being mixed in with certain foods and being sold either in cans or boxes. I had to start buying spices and learning how to make my own flavors if I wanted any of the tastes from home I was used to. Cooking from scratch was a necessity if I did not want to eat from the small street stalls and restaurants each day.
I distinctly remember how decadent my first trip to a US supermarket was when I first came home after nearly 2 years abroad. I just wandered up and down the aisles looking at all the things we had access to in this country. The options were limitless and I was amazed! I did not give into temptation, though, and I continued cooking the way I had taught myself in China.
I am talking about this because I am reading this book:
Fresh: A Perishable History by Susanne Freidberg
(2009, Harvard University Press)
The book challenges you to think about what we mean when we talk about "fresh," how the invention of refrigeration changed peoples' access to food, and how diets have changed over the years as foods themselves have changed as a result of new technologies. What is Fresh? Does it refer to foods that are not cooked or processed in any way? Foods that are grown across the country in the winter and shipped to the supermarket? Food bought at local farmers' markets? Foods that were cooked recently? This book discusses all the cultural ideas behind the concept of 'fresh.'
The book makes me think about my own cooking habits lately, as I have been relying so greatly on my awesome, amazing slow cooker. I love my slow cooker and I have made so many great meals in it recently. I love putting fresh vegetables and meat in it in the morning and seeing how they transform. The slow cooker is yet another modern invention to our food system that has changed the way food cooks. In some ways, it seems like it is cheating from using all of my fresh foods, but in other ways it is a common sense transformation.
Anyway, this is a really fun historical book (if you are into the history of food)! And I do love my slow cooker! Happy cooking in the new year!