Living in Manhattan, I used to think I had access to some of the best tasting food in the world and since a long time, maybe forever. With all the restaurants, chefs, and cuisines, I figured their competition and education must drive them to ever improving quality.
The longer I cook at home and shop at farmers markets, the more I find restaurants don’t compete on quality of ingredients. What they serve—more doof than food, if they even serve food—derives its main sensory pleasure from salt, sugar, fat, and convenience. They don’t showcase the vegetables. On the contrary, they hide them under salty, sweet, or oily sauces.
The more I buy and cook with fresh ingredients, the more I learn to shop for them, to find out what is in season, tastes best, and often costs less than packaged, certainly less than restaurant doof and food.
For a while I supposed chefs’ skill made food taste better than ever. Now I find the quality of ingredients matters most, especially considering how butter-happy and sugar-happy chefs are.
As for history, we can’t sense how produce used to taste. Given the direction of most grocery stores, though, I’d guess produce before industrial growing, harvesting, and preparing happened tasted better. I’m not sure how to test my hypothesis, but I’m beginning to suspect what we eat tastes worse than ever.
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