I’m a Boomer, and when I was growing up, brown bread was exotic. My mother was a child of the depression and cooked everything she made from the basic ingredients. They weren’t always premium ingredients, either. We kept guinea pigs, and they lived in a big cage in the kitchen where they happily whistled all day. Mum talked the grocer into giving her the lettuce leaves they stripped off the outside of the heads of lettuce when they arrived at the store. For the guinea pigs, she said. Soon, she was taking home boxes of it, because she was feeding it to her family, too. Not because of need, you understand, we were quite comfortable, just because she was, well, cheap. Good food, just not fine food.
My dad would bring home Brie and Boursin and Stilton, and he actually dined in restaurants (which my mother rarely did) because he traveled, but he drank plonk, proudly. He kept the jug (always a jug, that kind of wine) at his feet, and dispensed it to the table from there. Dinners at our house were always loud, happy, raucous and full of disputation, and always delicious (although you might find a twig in your stew). One evening, at Christmas, my dad and a couple of us met a school bus full of long haired kids in the city, and he asked them all out for dinner at our farmhouse in the countryside. He gave my mum about 2 hours warning. She made a huge chili, warmed crusty bread in the oven, and I don’t think she even thought it strange.
I had to develop my own taste for fine food after I left home. I couldn’t afford to eat fine food, but I always ate good food. Homemade chili with lots of veg, lots of Bolognese sauce and fresh pasta, wokked veg in soy sauce, health food store bulk peanut butter, fresh rye bread from the Jewish bakery (boy, was that a revelation for a goy from the country like me).
When I lived in Mexico, I ate on the street as most city folk do, because the food is so good and fresh, and cheap. Liver and potato tacos with a glass of tamarind juice, fire-roasted onions from a grill in the Zocalo, rice and beans with fried fish and lime, refried beans and scrambled eggs, all of it healthy and fresh.
When I started making money, I started buying asparagus, steak, and going out to restaurants. I started to learn about Japanese food (not sushi, even the Japanese don’t eat much sushi, they know it can be toxic), Greek food and, especially, French food. Not Cuisine Minceur, either; fully sauced Escoffier cuisine. It’s remarkable when I think about it how recently it was impossible to get a real French meal in Toronto.
I moved into steak in a big way in my 30s and moved out of it in my 50s. I’m not a vegetarian, ethical or nutritional, but the prospect of a big ol’ slab o’ meat doesn’t tickle my tastebuds anymore. I like the way meat is used in Mexico, as a dressing on the main meal, rather than the main meal itself.
The best thing in the world, I’ve decided, though I’ve never eaten Ortolans, is foie gras. It’s basically a cross between chocolate and filet mignon and utterly decadent. I like its self-sufficiency, it comes in its own fat, and cooks by itself, nothing else is needed. Other things I like are oysters, steak tartare and snails. None of this will my wife eat, and she barely eats chicken.
One thing I believe strongly in is Michael Pollan’s abjuration to “Eat food, not too much, mostly green”. I don’t use nutritional supplements or vitamins (and my long suspicion that they’re useless is just now being confirmed by researchers). I don’t believe in breaking food down to its constituent parts. If you want Beta-Carotene, don’t take a pill, eat carrots.
The other thing that’s changed is the amount I eat. I used to pack it in hoping to stave off future want. Now I like my dinner airplane-sized. In fact, I always liked airline food (at least in business class). The tiny steak, the petite potatoes, the little brownie, loved it. But back then, I was drinking cognac with dinner and smoking after. It’s been a while since I flew business class.
On my 60th birthday, I took a few friends to a French bistro which serves both foie gras and steak tartare. The foie gras was cold, and too small, and the steak tartare was middling, but dinner was fine, because of good company. Next time, I’ll sear my own foie gras and chop my own sirloin and have company over to my house, where we’ll be raucous. Maybe I’ll buy a jug of wine, not for me, just to keep at my feet.