ColumnTaking a Swedish approach to appreciating our everyday food routines.
I’ve been traveling for a few weeks, and in doing so have failed to keep up with the latest and greatest in food news that seems to inundate the blogosphere on a daily basis. But a girl needs a break every now and then, and so the computer has been off, and the brain partially so as well. Fortunately, we all need sustenance, and although I haven’t been keeping up to date on what’s new in food, I have been eating a lot of it.
This is relaxing eating. Summer enjoyment. Sitting down with friends and family and enjoying everything from basic open faced sandwiches to fancier fried chantrelles. Not fretting over what to throw in the stir fry for dinner because I’m exhausted after work. No, this is food for the sake of food.
Sometimes I will ask for a recipe and jot it down in my red Moleskine, sometimes I just sit and enjoy, not thinking about what went into making what I am eating, and sometimes I get riled up and launch into a diatribe on the failings of the American and global food system – trust me, it’s part of the dinner table charm.
I’ve also been scouring every daily newspaper that sits next to my cup of tea and skim through the food section where there’s always a new recipe. Really they just make me want to throw dinner parties. And then in the evening I feel a pang of jealousy as I watch trailers for the new television series by one of my favorite Swedish food personalities, Tina, thinking to myself, “I want a cooking show too.”
What I’ve come to realize is that even taking a break, I still can’t get away from food. None of us can. No matter where we are or who we’re with, we have to eat. You may be a freak about it as I am – every meal I eat I make a mental list of how easy it would be to make at home and how I could even tweak it – but when it comes down to it, food culture permeates all of our everyday lives.
Unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to enjoy it.
I read an article during one of my famed tea and morning newspaper sessions about the author of the new cookbook Mat Under Bar Himel (Food Under an Open Sky). Beyond the poetic name that seems to sing summer and vacation ( it’s on the shopping list for before I head home), the author Michael Krantz points out that eating outside is a way to better appreciate our food and our friends. “When you eat outside you’re forced to talk to each other in a different way. When you’re inside, there are a lot of other distractions,” he said to Dagens Nyheter.
Combine that idea with the fact that we know that eating is better for us when we’re in positive social settings, and it’s no wonder that summer fare tastes and feels so wonderful.
I won’t even attempt to make any arguments about how Swedes are more conscious about what they eat than Americans – they are also facing a staggering obesity epidemic, fast food burger chains are on the rise, and a trip to the grocery store tells you there are plenty of refrigerators stocked with prepared foods ready to be thrown into the microwave.
And yet, there’s a consciousness about food that hangs in the air, not what it is or where it comes from, but that it’s important to eat, three times a day, every day, and that sometimes, it’s worth investing a little time in making something good. Even those who don’t like to cook peruse cookbooks to put together respectable dinner parties. Food has a certain level of importance and deserves our attention. Which is why the Swedish refrigerator and pantry tends to be stocked with the essentials: hardtack, dense bread, yogurt, meat, cheese, butter, vegetables and most likely a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter or table. Basic but essential.
And when it comes to eating that essential food, time is valued. Breakfast, even as small as coffee and a macka (open faced sandwich), is a must, lunch breaks are lunch breaks, to be had in the break room instead of in front of the computer, and on weekends, dinners often get a little glorified, if nothing else, to celebrate the days off.
There is nothing extraordinary or trendy about this approach to food, on the contrary, it’s very simple. This is what makes it so that food and the enjoyment of food plays an integral role in everyday life, instead of being a mere after thought. Which means there’s thought put into which sandwiches you make to take on your afternoon outing, and an insistence on finding a good spot to sit down with your coffee thermos and enjoy the sun. The time to eat, even when you’re not eating anything fancy, is not to be taken lightly.
So forget complex recipes, forget the latest gluten-free baked goods, just take some time to eat good, simple food with friends, maybe even throw in a bottle of wine for good measure, and give honor to the sustenance that your body needs.
Because if we all have to eat, every single day, why not make it an enjoyable routine?
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.
Images: Anna Brones