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Good column in the Wall Street Journal by Bee Wilson about the criteria that people use when making food choices.

Here’s how Wilson frames the discussion:

“I recently visited an exhibition in London devoted to the future of food, called ‘Food. Bigger Than the Plate’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum until Oct. 20. Each room contains ingenious visions for reinventing how and what we eat. Will we embrace a sustainable form of salami fashioned from insects, an ingredient some chefs tout as a protein of the future? Will mushrooms be grown in spent coffee grounds, a plentiful bed of nutrients that is normally thrown away?

“In the final room, you can order from a futuristic ‘Food Lab.’ At a counter, you tick three criteria for ‘a great food system,’ and the chefs prepare a snack accordingly. You can choose from attributes that include ‘wild,’ ‘vegan,’ ‘cutting-edge,’ ‘open-source,’ ‘traditional’ and ‘zero waste’.”

After much agonizing I went for a snack that would combine ‘delicious,’ ‘nutritious’ and ‘biodiverse.’ They handed me a chia seed cracker topped with foraged mushroom spread (for biodiversity), fish dust (for a nutrient boost) and local sheep cheese, plus a relish made from tomatoes too ugly for the supermarket. It had a rich tangy favor from the sheep’s cheese and relish, which I assumed were meant to be the delicious elements in the snack (at any rate, they were the most delicious to me).

“I was glad I had put deliciousness first. The chefs behind the counter told me that almost everyone walking round the exhibition made the same choice. But in a sense it was all a trick. The chefs told me that they had designed everything on the menu to fit the ‘delicious’ category, on the understanding that few human beings in their right mind are eager to eat something that is described as less than delicious.”

Bee argues:

“For all of our modern food quandaries, delicious still wins. Sustainability matters, for sure, but what really speaks to us most about food remains the pleasure that it gives to us. It’s a shame that we spend so much of our lives denying this simple truth.”
KC's View:
This was one of the points that I was making in last week’s FaceTime commentary, about a presentation given by chef Dan Barber at the recent Organic Produce Summit - that deliciousness matters, and in the end, may be the ultimate differentiator. In fact, Bee cites Barber at one point in the column, noting that he argues that “if we approach the question of taste via vegetables and grains rather than packaged foods, great flavor and nutrition are natural companions rather than adversaries. A deeply flavorful carrot, grown in well-mineralized soil, is richer in vitamins and minerals than a blander carrot. His point is that - at least in raw ingredients - deliciousness is a signal that good things are happening at the level of nutrients.”

I think at so many levels, people who are supposedly in the food business don’t necessarily think about deliciousness as a top priority. They think about cutting corners, about mass production concerns, about packaging and marketing and mass appeal that can translate into lowest common denominator food that doesn’t taste all that great, certainly doesn’t taste distinctive, and fills up your stomach without doing a helluva lot for your soul.

The older I get, the less patience I have for this approach. If I live to be 90, that means I have something like 27,000 meals left ahead of me. Now, on the one hand, that seems like a lot, especially when compared to the more than 70,000 meals that I’ve eaten to this point in my life. On the other hand, best I can, I’d rather not waste any of them - not on crappy food or lousy wine or watery beer.

Don’t waste a meal. That sounds to me like pretty good marketing slogan for a food business that wanted to engage its customers in the highest common denominators of deliciousness.