Tomorrow is only moments away for your food.
The other night I consumed cheese enchiladas flanked with refried beans plus tortilla chips with salsa –all chef prepared from prepackaged processed ingredients and reheated in my very own microwave oven. A few nights previously, my repast was sushi with wasabi and ginger root from my favorite Japanese restaurant Sushi Mito. Another evening last week my entrée was shrimp egg foo yung with lo mein noodles and soy sauce contained in transparent plastic film – plus a spring roll with unit portion packaged duck sauce – from a small spot around the corner. All during an effective shut down of both the restaurant sources and our own senior living facility. I never left my apartment, and the chefs never departed their kitchens – one startling result of this terrible period in history.
Eons ago I predicted that we American consumers would be partaking of mainstream chef-driven foods for most of our eating experiences. Tomorrow the lessons in food delivery we are learning today from our crisis will be implemented across the board. Drowned out by common sense and intelligence derived from science will be yesterday’s screams for fresh, fresher, freshest, natural, heritage, organic rhubarb, quinoa and kale, sustainable as the prime criteria for food selection. The notions of processed and packaged will again reign over our most efficient in world history food delivery system. Not yet perfect, our present drama will carry us forward asymptotically to a less imperfect food/feeding world.
Most of our population will never give a thought to the “new” methods for nourishment with safety and sensory quality guiding us quantitatively and qualitatively. Tomorrow most persons will quietly enjoy their matter-of-fact dining experiences from processed foods ensconced in plastic and allied structures. Pasta from milled flour, sauce from thermally treated tomatoes, meat from reduced oxygen barrier plastic chub packages, and accompanying salads from precut “bagged” plus bottled dressings. And for those whose tastes run to yummy indulgent deserts, ice cream from rotating freezers.
Because of the indispensable processing and packaging procedures, tomorrow an expanding array of foods will be made available to all – and more of the population will be fed safely from shelf stable, extended chilled shelf life and yes, frozen foods – all of which fall into the universe we professional food folks designate as processed and packaged. With maître de cuisine-managed recipes and food scientist/technologist processed, packaged and distributed.
How, dear reader, you ask, how might we arrive at these predictions of things to come, from food and feeding perspectives? Today and tomorrow are necessarily extensions of yesterday. Return with us now to those thrilling days before Covid 19 to trace this journey of rediscovery of the food system as it is meant to be.
A mere 700+/- days ago, your internet buzzed with howls of banning plastic for fear of all the sea bound fauna being overwhelmed by thousand year old hydrocarbon polymer debris. Twenty four months back, processed food was a depravity to be shunned lest human tummies be deprived of the holinesss of fresh – never processed directly from the land and water. All food was to be sustainable for infinity. Cheers were heard for meal kits, food waste and walnut oil.
Processing and its direct descendant ultraprocessing were declared an anathema by the sages of fresh who evidently ate raw wheat kernels and were thus deprived of the delights of kneaded bread with honey (yes, you can find this wisdom in Kabbalah). Processing they asserted removed vital nutrients and added lethal chemicals such as sodium chloride, sucrose and citric acid. Heat and cold were allegedly deleterious to salmon flesh and on-plant ripened banana. Plant derived meat analogs (with more than five (the anti-processing protesters magic maximum quantity of ingredients allowable) components) were to them, healthier than raw oysters (shucked and accompanied by mignonette sauce) on the half shell. Somehow, the joy of licking a strawberry ice cream cone comes not from processing and packaging but rather as mana raining down on a summer’s day.
We, as food professionals, have a dilemma identifying any food that has not been processed and packaged in some way – perhaps, when we were a wee lad and part of the crew of the trawler M S Wave, lobsters inadvertently tangled in our nets and boiled immediately by cook, but commercial fishing requires the courage that few possess. Most of us prefer our lobster, claws banded, flown from Logan airport to the cold salt water tank of our local restaurant for boiling in water and drenching with “drawn butter” – if all that is not processing what is? Possibly blueberries – this year’s health food when not in a muffin or pie – but aren’t blueberries sorted, chilled and packaged for distribution?
Is the bizarre term “clean label” intended to disregard the fact that all food is composed of chemicals – with the precise nomenclature consisting of such challenging words as niacin, tryptophane, cyanocobalamine, linoleic acid, amylopectin –all of which are natural food components? The ever popular health food orange juice contains hundreds of inherent chemicals some of which are heteropolysaccharides – try pronouncing that one if you are passionate about clean label.
And then there are so-called healthy and unhealthy foods – in what contexts? Is processed inherently unhheathy? When the Torah cites both leavened and unleavened bread as both a source and a delight. When detailed instructions for meats and fish are inscribed on the Leviticus scrolls. Water is indispensable to health but fails to supply calories, essential fatty acids or protein. Tortillas are a national dish in Latin American nations but condemned as junk food in the United States. We fed our own children ice cream ahead of milk formulae and they appear to have grown into healthy athletic adults. Confused?
The pattern here becomes clear when you assemble this jig saw-like puzzle that never emerges as a coherent picture: the screechers each have an agenda that fosters conversion to their particular food religion, whatever that might be this week, and changes “on a dime.” The professionals, in contrast, advocate a mix of processed and minimally processed packaged food that are at once safe (!!!!), visually appealing, tasty, nutritious (even just plain water has nutritional value), available and economic – among many other attributes.
Some day (soon, we hope) when the world has returned to rationality, we shall surely be gifted with lessons from our current condition. Foods can be preserved (saved) by processes retaining much of their initial available properties, integrating processes (e.g., ultra high pressure, agitating heat for microbiological sterilization, microwave assisted thermal pasteurization, aseptic, freezing point chilled distribution, approaching zero oxygen environments to virtually obviate all oxidations) married to on-line managed distribution systems that offer chef quality dishes requiring only a dinner table touch up microwave heat or cryogenic chill.
No, Virginia, we do not foresee a universal resurrection of the classic TV Dinner. Rather food raw materials will be converted using minimal processing sufficient to prolong highly controlled distribution from factory to consumer venue in virtually meal-ready to eat format. The cleaning, comminution, blending, heating, cooling, etc., processed foods will be contained in table ready packaging.
Packaging will evolve rapidly into intelligent (senses and communicates) and active (introduces some physical and/or chemical remedy) – with the underlying support of plastic structures that spark the incorporation of information, antimicrobial, enzyme control, flavor emission, masticatory benefits, and, above all, protection from the always hostile natural environment. Food safety is paramount. We have noted with no little concern that rarely among all the claims of super foods from ancient sources are the words food safety. Don’t the proponents of “miracle” foods realize that food is processed primarily to ensure the microbiological and biochemical safety of the food? All else is commentary.
And during the furor of plastics condemnation, it is astonishing how the visible application of highly protective and easy-to-open plastic packaged medications and devices from challenged medical facilities can change a person’s perceptions in a hurry.
Lest any reader perceive that this extrapolation of information from currency is counter to the concepts of sustainability, natural, began, or the target of ending food waste, please recall our overt 1970s et seq activity advocating the then radical notions of food packaging in perspective. Our priorities, however, are to food safety and protection employing optimum resources at hand. And quality! Remember the often-proven precept that the food must taste good in order to be eaten for its fundamental benefits.
We must ensure that scientific principles are the foundation of the health and wellbeing attributes of food – and that they must guide our thinking and actions. And our science says that processing and packaging are the route to feeding us – all.
Yup, I have really enjoyed my recent socially distanced wonderful varied culinary experiences that encompassed processing and packaging to reach my table through take-away, take out, and remote delivery. And I shall continue to take advantage for taste testing and embracing other food varieties that systematically and rapidly appear for me. I truly look forward to significantly expanding my yummy eating experiences resulting from information imparted as a positive result of this food-challenged period.
Next week: Fantastic trends and how to find them by Adam Yee