What’s the meaning behind food? Depending on the person that meaning might change. Take for instance writer Andrea Nguyen, author of one of this week’s long reads: Nguyen traces the history of pho — a "flirty mistress of soup" that she associates with the "simplicity" of Northern Vietnam. In comparison, consider Chinese food, a cuisine that’s largely been assigned a lower market value than other world flavors but could be poised for reinvention as the next haute cuisine.
There’s the honeybee — not exactly a food but an essential pollinator — that many environmental types might look upon with pity. Not all though. Sarah Bergmann, creator of the Pollinator Pathway in Seattle seems to actively detest the dominant narrative of the honeybee. Meanwhile, writer Malcolm Harris attempts to parse the meaning of "fancy food" while exploring the world’s largest bi-annual specialty food show. Explore these stories and more in this week’s top five food-inspired long reads.
Ever since it accompanied the first settlers from Europe, the honeybee has embedded itself in America—not only in our landscape, but also in our food system, our values, and our sense of identity. For Bergmann and others imagining a more sustainable future, its takeover of our conservation discourse isn’t just distracting. It might even be dangerous.
"Fancy" is an arbitrary descriptor for food, as is "specialty," with which it is used interchangeably. The Specialty Food Association — the trade organization that puts on the show — lists its first objective as "Define and defend the ideals that ‘specialty foods’ uphold," though it doesn’t bother to actually define those ideals on the page where it lays out its "vision." Specialty foods seem to be anything that isn’t a staple — so not bread, except it’s okay if it’s fancy bread, and not milk, unless it’s fancy milk — so maybe "fancy" really is the right word. In practice, specialty food is the kind of club where only people who belong want to join; some fanciness is included in the $3500 price for a ten-by-ten booth at the show. A truly fancy 500-square-foot booth runs $17,000. Your product is specialty if you say it is, and you charge enough for it.
And even when a country’s food makes the jump to haute cuisine, the process of deciding who will be its public face can still bleed into issues of race and class. In the ‘80s, Rick Bayless popularized regional Mexican fare in the U.S., in cookbooks and at his restaurants, and because he’s a white man from Oklahoma, his de facto stewardship of higher-end Mexican cooking is controversial, even despite his fluency in Mexican culture. Ray’s book provides a number of examples of immigrant chefs who feel they’re confined to cooking only dishes from their home country, while they see their white peers given the latitude to dabble in other cuisines.
A thick-cut slice of "burnt" brioche, the toast is topped with a luxurious portion of house-made ricotta and a colorful pool of Koslow's jam. "My slice looks like a flag to a nation I'd gladly pledge allegiance," wrote Eater's restaurant editor Bill Addison when he reviewed Sqirl two years ago. While it's a natural showcase for her jam, Koslow admits the idea came after she found herself with an excess supply of ricotta from a different menu item. "I was thinking about my childhood. My family spent a lot of time at Katella Deli, a Jewish deli in Los Alamitos. I ate a lot of blintzes, I have a big sweet tooth... That's where it stemmed from."
The fragrant broth, savory beef, and springy rice noodles captivated me as I emptied the bowl. I was comforted, enriched, just like countless others who’ve tasted the national dish of Vietnam. But when we immigrated to the States in 1975, there were no neighborhood pho shops to frequent in San Clemente, California, where my family resettled. My pho forays were often homemade, for Sunday brunch.