Tuesday, January 25, 2022 Jan 25, 2022
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Searching for soul/food
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Question: We are obsessed with the topic of food because: a) the present dictates of style demand refrain from gluttony; therefore we substitute reading, debating, writing, musing and other cerebral preoccupations with the subject; b) the 60-second cornucopia of world news fails to adequately capture the average adult’s attention span; c) a gradual shift toward androgyny has sapped our former preoccupation with sex; d) our sights have been lifted by a complement of variations of foodstuffs hitherto untried; or e) all/none of the above.

Folks, the subject of food has lost its innocence. That old homily “We are what we eat” has never held more verity than for a generation that can define itself in terms of the conflict of whether goat cheese belongs on pizza.

Consider these examples of the Megatrends outlined by author John Naisbitt in a study that, in fact, may have just scratched the surface: Naisbitt’s chronicle of America’s migration from north to south is surely expressed in the current vogue of Cajun, Gulf-Coastal, New-Mex and other Sunbelt cuisines. Our insistence on indigenous ingredients parallels a return to self-reliance; a reaction, if you will, against the deperson-alization of big-label processing. And just as effectively as the current rash of self-help literature (e.g., How To Make Love To a Man), rolling hand-hewn pasta spurs legions of self-realizers toward exploring their full human potential.

Is, for instance, the general predilection for so-called “finger foods,” which, analysts say, cuts across a broad spectrum of the restaurant-going public, a sign of our desire to return to the relative innocence of our primordial beginnings? And consider this: Is our insatiable appetite for ethnic food a reaction against cultural assimilation? If so, are we not challenging the sacred idea of the melting pot that has sustained America throughout its history?

But these are sociological concerns. Just as relevant and deep-rooted are the psychological implications of what we choose to ingest. It is not sufficient simply to ponder the insides of your refrigerator and choose what would make a suitable meal. There are a host of heady messages therein-food, after all, carries its own considerable baggage. I admit that when I am alert to it, I can battle a number of powerful and competing criteria: my mother’s voice insisting that foods sharing a plate must be color-coordinated; my nagging awareness of the holistic benefits of balanced nutrition; overwhelming shame over any recipe-no matter how dear-that contains a can of condensed soup; not to mention my consciousness of current culinary chic and the anxiety created by my failure to conform to it.

As in all complex quandaries, the modern food dilemma is further complicated by a barrage of mixed messages. Just as we’re learning of the purity of ginger-brushed sashimi-and wondering where to find it-comes the latest word from New York; i.e., that the hottest food craze is what we know as “dormitory food.” This is not a joke. Current trend-eateries like Manhattan’s America are reportedly serving up lumpy mashed potatoes (in perfectly rounded ice cream scoops, no doubt), and ye old bubbly macaroni and cheese. But even this seemingly simple directive is fraught with perplexing questions: Must we boil and mash real potatoes, or will instant spuds suffice? Is it de rigueur to suffuse our own noodles in melted cheese, or does this herald a return to the Kraft boxed dinner?

Yet there is an even larger, overriding question. Do we submit to this torturous mental process every night?

No, we go out to eat.

And though it was surely not a foregone conclusion, I submit that herein lies our current passion for restaurants. If, indeed, there are higher authorities who can wrestle with the burdens of thought outlined above, are we weak to yield to them? A virtual regiment of food strategists exists to struggle with the cosmic questions of whether today’s fried cheese is tomorrow’s fajitas. Is it not central to the human condition to rely on those who purport to have wisdom beyond our own?

Of course, our journey into self-discovery doesn’t end with the decision not to cook. The arena simply shifts to a broader plane: the restaurant as expression of self. Am I Sonny Bryan’s or Jean Claude’s? The Hoff-brau or The Palm? Dalt’s or Dakota’s?

Associate Editor Richard West, whose ideas were the genesis of our articles on Restaurant Religion (page 103), suggests that as a city we would like to think that our essence is embodied in Tolbert’s Chili Parlor: “yahoo friendly with decor that’s Texas Tech, not high tech.” But as even a newcomer can quickly glean, Dallas, says West, is “about as good-ol’-boy as the House of Lords. The trend palace of the moment is sleek, hushed, luxurious-Routh Street Cafe.”

And so it is and ever shall be that the conscious acts we commit when choosing foods tell tales from deep within us. Or maybe to-night we’ll just order pizza. (Which, by the way, according to noted New York food critic Gael Greene, is not really high fashion at all unless it’s boutique-sized and topped with either smoked salmon, or baked clams, or romaine lettuce or. . .)

And there are issues that transcend even the Megafads of food, and two features in this issue especially bear scrutiny. On page 98 we launch a long-overdue probe into the power structure of Fort Worth, an exercise that proves useful even to diehard Cowtown critics. To examine who’s where in the hierarchy of leadership in Fort Worth-and how they got there-is to glean important insights into the process by which any city searches for its identity. Including Dallas.

Noted media critic Dennis Holder takes along, hard look (page 90) at a troubled television station-Channel 4, which has takena beating in recent years both in terms of itspoor image within the television industryand its poor reception among viewers. As wego to press, there are rumors that the revolving doors at Channel 4 are still turning, andthat certain management practices under fireare being reappraised. Channel 4 caughtwind of our story and other published criticisms, and launched an ugly “counterattack.” On Monday, July 15, Channel 4 NewsDirector Wendell Harris said on the air thatnews reports critical of Channel 4’s management and personnel handling were not newsat all, but propaganda from The Dallas Morning News, whose parent company,A.H. Belo Corp., also owns Channel 8. It’seasy to see where this leads: Viewers’ faithin the accuracy and objectivity of reportingin this town will be undermined. And ifviewers can’t believe in media criticism ofother media, or see it merely a marketingtactic, everybody loses.

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