The New York Times has an interesting trio of articles on subjects of chocolate, recipes, the internet and farmers this week.
First up, the Times has an Op-Ed piece by Mort Rosenblum, author of Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, on the proposed new regulations which will allow chocolate manufacturers to replace a small amount of cocoa butter in their products with other, less expensive fats. This would allow the chocolate makers to sell the more valuable cocoa butter, which is the natural fat inherent to cocoa beans, to cosmetic makers.
Currently, products labelled “chocolate” must contain cocoa butter; other fats can be added, but cocoa butter cannot be removed. Cocoa butter is considered an essential component of chocolate, because it is the ingredient which gives chocolate its ability to melt in the mouth; it is the ingredient responsible for the creamy, lush mouthfeel for which chocolate is justly famous.
The proposed legislation has struck a nerve among American chocophiles, and a debate rages on the net on the subject of what chocolate is and what it should be.
Next, in an article entitled, “Readers Are Key Ingredient as Virtual Kitchen Heats Up”, we are told that one of the most popular single activities enjoyed by women online is simple recipe searches. Apparently, when people seek a recipe these days, they are more likely to use the internet instead of turning to cookbooks, magazines or newspapers.
And one of the things that women seem to really like about internet recipe databases is the sense of community that they bring to the table when message boards and comments are included as features.
Now, any food blogger could have told folks this; the best part of writing Tigers & Strawberries for me has been that I have met people from all around the world who love food and love writing about it and talking about it. I have had the chance to share recipes with people from cultures far removed from my own, and have learned something which I have always suspected: that culture is carried by food, by our relationship with food and by our thoughts and feelings about food.
But there are neat developments in the works on the web for recipe sharing:epicurious.com is starting a service called “My Epi,” which is essentially Facebook for the food obsessed. With this tool, one can create profiles that list interests and share information with other like-minded cooks.
Pretty fun stuff.
Of course, the downside to all this fun is that advertisers are hanging out, trying to make a buck off of all this recipe sharing and food talk. I guess they have to figure out a way to get to folks like me who avoid commercial television, don’t bother to look at ads in magazines and read my newspapers online. And I suppose I don’t begrudge them that, since I will ignore them just as easily online as I do everywhere else, except when I examine their work just to wonder, “Do they think that will really work on someone?”
Finally, the New York Times tells us that farmers don’t just grow vegetables and milk cows, they also write books. Somehow, “Old MacDonald Now Has a Book Contract” manages to discuss the newly popular genre of nonfiction books, articles, newsletters and other prose offerings written by small farmers in a way that avoids the trap of an urban journalist condescendingly wondering at the fact that rural folks manage not only to be literate, but also articulate.
Which is good, because the article also points out a very germane fact: both good farmers and good writers are excellent observers, and it stands to reason that if one can take note of details in the natural world and then convey them intelligently in words to a reader, there are bound to be readers interested in what that observer has to say.
I find that the fact that Americans are becoming interested enough in food and where it comes from to read books from small farmers who are actually doing the hard work of producing food and then doing the hard work of writing passionately about it to be heartening. It means that we are taking steps toward valuing the food which sustains us more highly than just as fuel. We are seeing it as it rightly is: a part of ourselves, our culture and our way of life.
That gives me hope for the future.
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