Thursday, October 21, 2010

Food Fights Revisited

You might think that Mayor Mike Bloomberg's move to curb calories on restaurant menus or transfats might be a new fad. You might think that banning some products from sale is new.

Heck, you might think that portion sizes are larger now than they have ever been and are contributing to the nation's problems with obesity and related health issues.

You might be surprised to learn that you would be wrong.

In the most recent book to grace my nightstand, Appetite City, A Culinary History of New York, what's old is new again. It's a fascinating history of New York and the people who kept the city fed. From humble beginnings, the city developed into a mecca for food - innovating and reinventing itself regularly.

It's in that process of reinvention that we see some of the same issues come up from time to time.

Calorie counts on menus are hardly a new idea. Some restaurants experimented with calorie counts on their menus - before they went out of business.

Portion size was always an issue - lobster houses catered to patrons on the basis of how much you could get for your money. Bang for your buck was the name of the game, and not much has changed.

Then, there's the matter of obtaining food locally and from only the freshest sources. It's something that is in vogue today, even though experts frequently can't tell the difference between food obtained at a greenmarket and the supermarket. Local-vorism, which emphasizes obtaining foods locally might seem like a new trend, but it was something restaurateurs were experimenting with at the turn of the last century.

Some restaurants attempted to showcase locally grown food in immaculate setting. Gustav Stickley, one of the foremost advocates of the Arts and Crafts style and the Craftsman movement, built a restaurant at his furniture showroom and department store in Manhattan and stocked it with food fresh from his farm - Craftsman Farms in New Jersey. The restaurant didn't succeed, but the farm is still there.

So, far from being new trends, these are issues that have faced consumers since there were restaurants.

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