unnoticed beans
October 11, 2010, 10:09 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

The other option would have been to title this Remembrance of Lost Beans.  In a bar last week – someone asked what some sugary micro beer they had on tap was like and he got a taste and a remembrance of beers past.  We tried to pin point the exact date when the American palate revolted against those tasteless bland watery ales of yesteryear.  I was surprised when the barflys agreed – awfully quickly – that it was Sierra Nevada in the early 1990s – I can’t remember the date.  Apparently in America it was a watershed year, a gastro epiphany, a bridge we will never return across.

The week before I was in another bar and asked for a pilsner or a lager because I thought something light would be nice on a really hot night like that one.  I needled the bartender a bit when she told me, as I suspected, they had neither.  Yes, it’s their winter menu, she agreed it wasn’t ideal considering the weather.

This is the problem of the aspiring middle class.  When they’ve had tinned meat and jello salads and aspix for a generation, the next will want garnishes on their garnish.  More flavour!  Better presentation!  Uber chefs!  Micro one-offs!  I suppose it’s nice to want nice things.  Take care in not losing the beautiful and the simple in the rush to replace the old with the new.  Like a light beer in the dog days of summer.

Here’s the same argument from Richard Rodriguez who describes a family staple and tradition, his father’s Mexican beans.  The evolving food culture of cities is good, he says, but simple foods have the power to evoke memories of our past lives:

A childhood, happy or unhappy, is constructed on an assumption that things will always be as they are—the stuffing of the Christmas turkey will be the same as “always,” as last year. Family food is ritual, a binding spell. It is prayer, it is magic, it is superstition, it is tyranny. I would have noticed the refried beans only if they’d not been there.

I was too happy a child to wonder if my father’s tragic youth had instilled in him a yearning for the repetition his children yearned to escape. Only now do I wonder how my father’s work—eight hours of molars and bicuspids, long metal shelves lined with the mockery of false teeth—revolted or sweetened his appetite as he stood at the stove, the masher in his hand, dutiful priest, disappointed romantic. Disappointment! And now, that his son should write his eulogy as refried beans. My father was a brilliant man.

I have lived many years in San Francisco, where restaurant reviews are read religiously. The appetite for the new, the next, the best is a commendable cosmopolitanism, I suppose. But it was only because Marcel Proust’s petite madeleine was unremarkable, because it tasted like every other madeleine, that it had the potency to recover the past.

Our Daily Bread: The sustaining power of the ordinary, by Richard Rodriguez

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