Thursday, May 24, 2012
eating 40 year old dreams
as the move approaches -- 3 weeks to go until we are out of my parent's house -- strange situations arise. my parents have stored emergency food supplies ever since i was little, some of it unchanged: large cans of dried peaches or potato flakes or margarine. they have no intention of lugging this 40 plus year old food to Utah, so we have begun eating it. yesterday i opened a large can of 'baco dices' -- bacon bits made of soy protein. there was a soft 'whish' of decompression as the can opener bit into the metal, and crisp, reddish, gravelly bits appeared. delicious! what an amazing sensation: eating something produced 40 or more years ago. even stranger was eating apple bits, soaked in water. to think that decades ago, this very fragment was part of a real apple hanging on a tree somewhere! the cheery advertising language on the cans reveals the old optimism about science and guaranteed progress of decades ago. 'life insurance in a can,' 'fresh taste,' etc. there was a kind of amazed bedazzlement, as if imagining that the country's rising wealth were solely due to an automatic bounty of science that would inevitably spread throughout the whole world: a utopian vision that know-how could surpass any natural limit. so the right technology could allow potatoes and margarine to taste the same today and 50 years from now: no old fashioned 'time' could get around american expertise, no worries about 'freshness' need trouble the house wife. food could be made impervious to time. timeless. in a way i guess such cans were one small example of the way science, manifested in consumer products, became metaphors for modern civilization as a utopia without limits of time and space. we still regard science with amazement. but with the decline of the american empire, and the degradation of the earth, we are well aware that science is not a panacea. in fact, science can be a destroyer, if harnessed to political and economic forces bent on short-term gain only. my wife will not eat the mashed potatoes with bacon bits. being chinese, she does not regard these products with amazement, but rather as bizarre and unnatural. for her, freshness is the chief guarantee of both flavor and healthfulness in food. for her food is a metaphor for a whole other set of ideas and emotions. she does not relate to that youthful exuberance of the 50s and 60s. she simply asks, 'why?' and she is right. what is the point of using science to divorce people from fresh, natural food and divorcing food itself from ordinary human contexts like cooking? where is the deeper value in it? and what sort of society is envisioned behind this odd product? while i agree with her, i can access that utopian wonderment of the previous generation. i can admit the project of freeze-drying food is odd -- but i can also enjoy crunching into those unnaturally red bacon bits.