The Half-Measure

Today I attended a two-hour class associated with the San Francisco Fancy Food Show called “Tradition + Technique + Terroir = Taste of European Traditional Foods.” The class covered four hams, five cheeses, three olives, and two beers. The general idea was to explain how great these foods are so that the students — mostly food retailers — can successfully sell them. One of the cheeses was a cheddar. There is a town in England called Cheddar, I learned.

I asked a question: “When an American cheese maker makes a cheese and calls it a cheddar, what are they doing?”

“It doesn’t taste the same!” said the American retailer who was in charge.

This irritated me. “When an American cheese maker makes a cheese and calls it a cheddar, it isn’t a joke,” I said. “There’s a reason for it.” Then the process called cheddaring was explained.

The people who make English cheddar cheese (the original), the people who make Greek feta cheese (the original feta), and many other food producers would like no one else to be able to use the names cheddar, feta, etc. Inside the European Union, that is often the case: Only Greek feta can be called feta, for example. A new EU program labels foods with “Protected designation of origin” or “Traditional specialty guaranteed” as a way to help consumers know that they are getting the traditional original product.

This is a half-measure. I am in favor of anything that helps preserve the diversity of what we eat, so I am in favor of this program. I am in favor of telling the stories behind English cheddar, Greek feta, and so on. But this sort of thing is a half-measure because the best way to ensure the survival of a food is to ensure it tastes better than similar foods. A labeling program does not do that. Not in the slightest. Perhaps future efforts should be focussed on how to make customers more discriminating. Here is the truth: Traditional products often taste very good. Here is the half-truth: They taste very good because they are traditional. Here is the (implicit) lie: Non-traditional products taste worse because they are non-traditional.

One Reply to “The Half-Measure”

  1. Better Mousetraps?

    Advertising is all about traps isn’t it, to get potential buyers to notice and buy? And traps are imaginative deceptions. “Bait and switch,” “Build a better mousetrap,” etc. Giving the product a sense of glamor. And apparantly, that is why sex, status, beauty and youth “sells” — models are hired to (yes, deceptively) present a product and appeal to the buyer’s hidden desires, those deep down, but can’t s/he obtain by buying that or any other product, because a product cannot provide human or divine acceptance, admiration, respect, joy, wealth, radiant health, ultimate satisfaction. Glamor doesn’t represent reality, but rather, intentionally misrepresents it. We are gullible, and sometimes willingly so. Why should we be surprised? Gazing upon the smart packaging of an expensive, authentic olive oil from Italy or tasting an imported gruyer from Switzerland, we are imaginatively transported to places we’d like to visit or be at right now — and by thinking magically, and in being happily lured by the appeal to our physical senses and psyche, we so willingly suspend our disbelief (as when we watch movies and read novels, or worse, tabloids). Nothing new or original. Kind of like when the snake sold Eve on the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil; the Satan appealed to her with an underhanded but well-crafted lie based on partial truth in order to get her to buy the deal he was selling. She suspended her disbelief and got what he wanted. And she ended up losing her assets. (Must be why we look on salesmen with suspicion, but gaze at the product with increasing fascination.)

    Anyway, tastes and smells, being strongly accompanied by associative mental images and emotional feelings, provide an atmospheric sense that may make flavors seem to taste better in many instances, albeit particular to the individual. Perhaps the effect of triggered associations might be compared to eating the identical food served in two different locations : one location is a fine restaurant with beautiful appointments, cozy ambience, attentive hosts, fine wines. The other is a self-serve, noisy hospital cafeteria, lacking in glamorous atmosphere. The food in question may seem to taste much better, or at least enjoyed more, at the fine dining establishment. In a sense, there may be a similar tendency with one’s own mother’s traditional meatloaf. Only Mother’s meatloaf tastes “the best,” and even if Mother-in-law makes it exactly by the same recipe, because of the mental and emotional associations, it will probably never taste the same or as good as Mom’s, even if both are served up with the label “Mom’s traditional American meatloaf.” Unless, that is, one samples both in a blindfold test. I wonder how many people, blindfolded, would be able to tell the difference between an authentic English cheddar, and a good American cheddar, especially if the samplers haven’t a clue as to what they are tasting? From some tests I’ve seen (long ago on t.v., not in scientific sorts of trials), many people couldn’t distinguish between foods such as mashed bananas, mashed apples or avocado when blindfolded.

    choices, choices
    a school of guppies veers
    right, veers left -dwb

    Being an inquisitive layperson, not an academic or scientist, I can only speculate from personal experiences, observations and from what I think I know or understand…which may, in reality (whatever that actually is), be a dangerous precipice to speculate from :^D

Comments are closed.