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Tuesday June 7, 2011 Edition
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From Where I Lie: When All Food was Slow

Tuesday June 7, 2011

By Larry Johnson

     Do you remember when there was no such thing as fast food, and Burger King wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye? When I was growing up all food was slow; there were no fast food joints except Howard Johnson’s and A&W, and even at these outlets the food was glacially produced. In the case of A&W, however, the food was sometimes delivered to car side by teenage girls on roller skates. That was definitely fast food to our way of thinking.  For the most part we ate at home, sitting around the kitchen table, hoping our arms were long enough to keep us from starving to death. There was no microwave, only a wood-fired kitchen range where things either got fried, baked or boiled, and by the time the food had turned to leather there was no concern about salmonella or other forms of food poisoning. Quantity was our major concern, not microbial infestation. Limiting caloric intake never entered our minds.

     Mealtime was an occasion for quiet chaos. It was not a pretty sight. The old adage, “Pretty in the cradle, homely at the table,” had to have come from somewhere and I always believed that the author must’ve been a visitor to our house at mealtime, just before he wrote it.   

     Food miraculously disappeared from platters and bowls with a rapidity contrasting markedly with the hours and even days, in some cases, that it had taken mother to prepare it. Why she never ran from the house screaming, leaving us to our fate, is more than I will ever understand. But she didn’t, and it’s to her eternal credit that she slaved over that behemoth of a kitchen stove with the futile objective to fill us up. Food was slow in its preparation but it was very fast when it came to consumption.

     Believe it or not, there is a slow food movement going on across the United States. The whole thing started in 2008, in San Francisco, when 85000 people came together to celebrate “real” food, as opposed to the plastic facsimile that seems to be prevalent in most stores and fast food restaurants today. A great hoopla seems to be gathering momentum about the benefits and desirability of real  food. Well, I hate to disillusion the younger generations but “slow” food was here a long time ago, long before they were. However, I applaud the philosophy and the efforts of The Slow Food movement in its attempt to bring about a food delivery system that once again takes into account the desirability of “delicious, clean, environmentally sound and socially acceptable food.”

Why not?

     Pizza, referred to as "pizza Pie” when I was young was not considered food at all, or, at best, a foreign import, unfit for local consumption. I was in my teens before I had the opportunity to burn the roof of my mouth with that particular forbidden ambrosia. I doubt very much if my parents ever experimented with pizza or anything smacking of Italian, French or Chinese cuisine. Ours was a meat and potato society and we were determined to live on overcooked bland or die trying.

     It wasn’t all bad by any means. Even though all my friends’ mothers had, apparently, gone to the same cooking school, there were subtle variations in their culinary philosophy. For instance, my own mother loved to bake desserts and we were treated to all sorts of pies, cakes, cookies and, my own favorite, doughnuts fried in an iron skillet while swimming in four inches of hot lard. Nothing like it, and a hundred doughnuts would disappear like magic.

     We ate baked goods, along with meat and potatoes, three meals a day. My grandmother would get up at four in the morning to start cooking for gramps, who had already done a half days work by eight a.m. and was ready for a man-size breakfast. Ham, eggs, fried potatoes, doughnuts, toast and pie were the norm for grandpa, and, without exaggeration, he remained twenty pounds underweight his entire life.

    Slow food, like the organic revolution now taking place is, I believe, a healthy, partial return to a slower time. For those who extol the virtues of subsistence agriculture, however, I offer a caveat: it requires a great expenditure of time and labor to produce those quality meals, and a dedication to a mundane lifestyle that is out of character for most of our generation. We should revere and reward those of us who are still able and willing to produce slow food for a very fast society.    


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