There’s a trend underway that is noteworthy. Trends can run to the good or the bad, but this is a good one. It started some years ago and has been working its way through the economy at an ever increasing pace. Started by those back-to-the-land types from the sixties, the idea of wholesome, honest, untainted food has finally taken on national portions. Make that proportions. It isn’t hard to find news on honest food in the media. If Americans are noted for anything, it’s a trend. Once something starts gathering momentum, Americans pile on like there’s no tomorrow. As heard in this house only yesterday:
“Hey! Get a load of this!”
“Another food chain is dropping artificial ingredients in their products.”
“Wow! If these mega-companies drop artificial ingredients, what’s left to sell?”
“Good point. They obviously haven’t thought through their new policy on quality.”
I couldn’t help thinking about this food industry tsunami over the weekend whilst roaming the streets of New York City. Growing up in an ethnic family of slavic background, and having the good fortune of living in the New York City area, what constituted good food was defined for me from the very start. Honest folks, it’s been rough outside the kitchen for a long time. The rise of convenience met with the decline of honest food constituting, in my mind, a national emergency. A Cold War to worry about after World War Two? Forget about it, as Tony Soprano would say. The real threat to the security of America has always been lousy food. That’s a very existential threat everybody can understand. Now, I could wax on about this threat idea and prove it to you six ways from Sunday. I’d rather not (though it would make an interesting discussion). It’s much more fun to talk about the positive side of honest food and one of the best forms it comes in.
Let’s go back to where it all began. The New York Auto Show of 1969. I was just a little punk then (now I’m a bigger punk, if that makes sense). The cars sparkled and dazzled, the models standing next to them sparkled and dazzled, and The City sparkled and dazzled. Great stuff. The best part of the show wasn’t inside the coliseum, though. No, no. It was outside on the streets where curious looking men sold hot dogs, pretzels, and paper bags of roasted chestnuts. The mixed aromas on street corners pulled me in like a siren’s call.
Dad: How did you like the show?
Me: Great. Can we get a pretzel?
Dad: Wasn’t the new Dodge Charger sharp?
Me: You bet. Can we get a couple of dogs?
Dad: Want to go to the show next year?
Me: Oh, yeah. How about a bag of chestnuts?
Dad: Boy something smells really good. How about a bag of chestnuts?
Me: Gee, that’s a great idea, dad.
I’ve been a street food junkie ever since. The offerings, chestnuts aside, were not the best back then, but times have changed. As new immigrant communities have taken over the old neighbourhoods in The City, they’ve brought their fabulous cuisine with them. Middle Eastern Halal food carts are as common as fire hydrants. Fifth Avenue sports a mouthwatering German sausage kiosk, and Indian food is now seen (and sniffed) in a few places. This was the conversation just a few days ago:
“Salaam! I’ll have falafel on a pita.”
“You got it, pal.”
“Where are you from?”
“I have Egyptian students.”
“Yes? Are they good students?”
“They are the best.”
“Ha! Here’s your falafel. No charge.”
Checking the Kebabs near Grand Central Station.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015
I never tire of the street food vendors. Their menus are exotic, good tasting, and made with honest ingredients. As if that isn’t enough, it is always very reasonably priced. Go anywhere in the world and street vendors are selling some of the best reasons to live well and enjoy life, not to mention travel. So while the big bad boys of the food industry struggle to put honest food on the market, we can all walk the streets anywhere in the world, safe and secure, knowing that a good lunch is always a sniff away.
Serving up a spicy chicken sandwich in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015