Food on Friday: in which I rant instead of providing a recipe

Happy Memorial Day weekend, y’all. Have a rant about recent food trends (it’s jut what you wanted, right?)

You know how lots of locavore and whole food diet books recently have been saying something along the lines of “don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t have recognized”? I know it’s supposed to be a clever rule-of-thumb, not an actual factual declaration, but historically it’s COMPLETE NONSENSE.

If you look at primary documents – diaries, newspapers, government documents, contemporaneous fiction – you can get an idea of what people really ate in different periods. As you might have guessed, unless you were a) rather wealthy and b) in the right place at the right time to use your wealth on diverse food, for most of history people ate whatever they could manage to get their hands on.

That’s not to say that health or “natural-ness” wasn’t a concern; it was, at varying times, but it wasn’t framed in the same way as it is now. It varied a lot depending on where you were, what class you were, and the economics of the trade routes then.

My actual great-grandmothers, given that they spent their whole lives in the southern Appalachians, probably ate no seafood except for maybe catfish, and that only at the end of their lives because the popularization of farm-raised catfish in the South didn’t really start until after WWII. As far as meats, they probably ate mostly pig, with the occasional chicken from a hen that had stopped laying, and deer in season, not to mention smaller wild game (mmm, squirrel). There would have been a lot of corn products and not much flour, because it was imported from faraway and expensive. Vegetables would have been seasonal and limited to what they could grow in their gardens. Does that mean that I should cook only in lard and avoid tropical fruits and wheat bread?

Other people’s great-grandmothers, depending on where they lived, could have eaten a lot of pickled fish heads or year-old eggs preserved in liquids that would make you shudder, or hog’s head “cheese”, or a lot more things that would turn the stomach of the more delicate around us. Does that mean that we need to all eat more sweetbreads (that’s brains, by the way) and less avocados, which would have been a rare and exotic treat to anyone who didn’t live in Mexico?
Eating mostly whole and unprocessed foods is probably a good idea, health-wise. But I’m tired of all these leaps of logic that claim some sort of connection with a noble and better past which never really existed.

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