Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Minor Trauma: Eating Away From Home

Ever wonder why many cities are starting to look the same? I mean, if you travel a fair bit, or you watch the details on mainstream movies. There are fast food chains almost everywhere (and the same kind of chains; I won't honor them by listing even a few). Is the world simply becoming less imaginative, allowing the insidious creep of homogeneity to flatten out our food choices? Are people in other countries eager to have fun "food" instead of their tradtional fare, so they can be "like us"?
Yes, all of these are probably true. But these chains proliferated across North America in the first place, before going overseas, because many people were used to seeing those brands, and the familiarity comforted them, perhaps even more than the taste or texture of the foods themselves. Eventually, the companies expanded wherever they could.
Eating new food, even if you are only in a neighboring county, let alone in an entirely new culture, is a potentially dangerous venture. Part of being an omnivore - the by-now famous "omnivore's dilemma" - is the need to balance fear and desire. (It has that in common with life in general, I suppose!) You desire novelty, because new foods may be more nutritious or simply tastier. An ancient human who scorned new foods would have had to be extremely lucky that his tried-and-true favorites never became scarce. On the other hand, if you are too eager to try new things, and aren't careful, you could eat something poisonous or toxic. Ever wonder why we evolved to eat in groups? Watching others eat something and suffer no ill effects is a great reasurance in the hazardous world of omnivory.
Individuals vary greatly in how they balance fear of and desire for novelty. Conservative thinkers are less prone to poisoning, perhaps, but they lack variety in their diets. The disadvantages of this monotony may extend beyond the pleasures of the palate: they may lead to hard-grained habits that will never budge, even if the doctor orders a change of pace for health reasons.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the cowboys of cuisine, the daredevils of the diet. I don't need to mention their names, because those people already make plenty of money by attracting attention to themselves (what better entertainment for an omnivore than the chance to watch someone foolish enough to eat something still alive or fermented to the point of putrefaction?).
Back to travel. Being away from home is risky in itself. Then add new customs, perhaps a new language or two, and try to find something to eat! Everything looks kind of ... odd, until.... Hey, there's that hamburger place we used to go to back home! It's a bit boring, but at least we know what it's supposed to taste like, and we won't have to worry about the local dishes!
Understandable, yes, but you wonder why some people bother to travel at all, if they're just going to eat "at home" while they do!