It’s been a long time since we’ve last talked about food, but it’s not in the least because I haven’t been thinking about it. On the contrary, food, and more specifically – how to achieve more nutrition with less of it – is high on my mind every day, ranking close to paramount issues such as where to park the car when I go to work in the morning, or what did I forget to buy when I shopped for dinner. (I do make lists, it’s just that my thought runs faster than my ability to catch it on paper. :))
If you were wondering about the post title, it’s a reference to the 1875 novel The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope, which has been on my Kindle for probably five years now, and is still patiently awaiting my attention. When I got the Kindle initially, I was very keen on it, but with time my enthusiasm cooled down, as I found I still preferred paper books, because I like to underline and write in them, and I like to touch them, and I adore the smell of ink and paper too.
I recently read in a paper the opinion of prominent Bulgarian media and journalism expert and national media regulator chairman Georgi Lozanov, who claimed reading paper books will not die out because of its deeply appealing eroticism mind you, which consisted exactly in this engagement of the senses I told you about. I hadn’t quite thought of calling this erotic, but if he insists…I won’t contradict the experts.
Anyway, what I wanted to talk about today, is an article in one of the few passable Bulgarian papers, Capital weekly, which takes a look at the fridges of five Bulgarian households to enlist the five major trends shaping the food consumption habits of Bulgarians over the years between 2004 and 2015.
As always with such cross-sectional observations, I could draw the same conclusions without applying the scientific approach the paper claims to have used, and of course, some, or about half, of the observations, did not apply to me. 🙂
The article claims that the consumption of basically every food group sold in the average supermarket, including alcohol, has increased, with the exception of cigarettes and potatoes, whose consumption has declined, and the special case of bread, where consumption has increased, but has largely shifted towards artisanal sourdough and other, perceived as healthier, varieties. Given that population has generally decreased over the period, and that the increasing number of pensioners do not exactly boast very high purchasing power, I conclude that working Bulgarians have simply started buying and eating more.
So, according to Capital, the five trends are:
Predictably, 1. the growing popularity of healthy eating amid 2. efforts to cut middle men and source food directly from 3. the increasingly fewer domestic farmers. Fair enough. After the unstable pre-industrial food supply, where a single hailstorm could wipe out your many months of work, and the tampered-with industrial foods that fed Bulgaria’s mainly farming population after forcing it out of villages to play proletariat in the rapidly expanding cities, Bulgarians want to retrieve what they have lost in terms of food simplicity, genuineness and sustainability. I can totally relate to that and in fact tend to shop for bread and dairy from small shops located close to home and selling boutique brands of domestically-made products. People I know have established personal contacts with farmers or have joined cooperatives to order together from farms and collect their orders by previous appointment, but I am not as organic as that. Such constant interaction and endless arrangements with strangers exhaust me so I avoid them like the plague.
In line with all of the above, item 4. – rising demand for premium-segment products, alongside price-driven mass tastes. It’s a developing country we’re talking about, so no big surprises there.
Lastly, 5. – a marked nostalgia for communist-time food products, perceived as cleaner and more authentic compared to their present-day counterparts. Aha! This feeling, expertly exploited by dairy, processed meat and beer brewing companies, whose products all claim to possess the taste of those times, is one big illusion, or delusion, which I most decidedly disagree with.
If there was anything genuine about the food in those times, it was the result of the regime’s technological backwardness, which failed to take advantage of the newest food processing technologies because it could not afford to import them, both financially and ideologically, as these technologies, quite uncomfortably, were mostly developed by the Western capitalist world.
So the regime used to send out business delegations with the secret mission to somehow steal know-how and (illegally) replicate the technology at home, without the state having to pay for it and without making it known it was in fact an enemy infiltration. Many emblematic confectionery products of the times were born in this way.
Another issue was that the USSR had the ultimate say on which country produces, exports and imports what and in what quantities. In line with this, Bulgaria received low-quality coffee from Vietnam and India, very suspicious industrial fat mixtures from the USSR to use in the mass confectionery products, and also very limited quantities of cocoa mass and powder, that created real problems to the five-year plans for domestic candy manufacturing, aimed at satisfying the increasingly sweet tooth of the population. Thus, the emblematic children’s chocolate bar Kuma Lisa (meaning Auntie Fox or something) was made with a high content of rosehip puree to make up for the insufficiently available cocoa. No wonder the present-day product, discontinued by now, has failed to replicate its taste.
The books on communist lifestyle and whatnot that I own predict that the rapid paces of the technological progress would, in a few years’ time, be able to produce foodstuffs out of petroleum products (like margarine), thus resolving all possible food supply problems blocking mankind’s way to the bright future. Sounds delicious and healthy, don’t you agree?
So, if any food of those times was unadulterated, it was rather a result of the regime’s shortcomings, and not something authorities had systematically pursued. All those missing the genuine foods of yore – you were simply misinformed and are actually nostalgic about your youth or childhood, so get a grip.
Now my list of food-related things that have changed over the past decade:
- The advent of freshly-squeezed fruit juices and smoothies, sold at every corner, and the growing popularity of organic/vegan/raw and protein bars. – These are the new fast foods, as cunning as the devil, as they so successfully pose as super healthy and yet are mostly sugar.
- The advent of bread-baking machines – an ingenious way to make you spend money to buy one, buy all kinds of expensive flour mixes, clutter your kitchen and on top of that overeat, because of all the delicious bread you’ve been baking. A brand new, slim-fit, healthy flour mix may be just what the doctor’s ordered.
- The advent of aggressively-named food-robots containing zillion parts, like the NutriBullet. Costs an arm and a leg, is a nuisance to store, and a nightmare to clean. Used to turn good old whole fruit and vegetables, packed with fiber, into sugar-heavy drinks or anyway into liquid calories your brain does not register as food. So you drink the juice and reach for a slice of the delicious healthy bread that you baked yesterday.
- The advent of culinary reality shows, bearded hipster men cooking, and supermarket-sponsored cookbooks. So apart from football and politics, everybody is now expert on cooking too.
- The mass penetration of palm oil in dairy products, for the sake of bringing their price down to satisfy the mass taste, while often failing to reflect the ingredient substitution on the label. I can’t quite blame people for buying, but politicians and manufacturers – it’s a shame. An interesting observation with regard to cheese – Bulgarians firmly stick to their one type of cheese and yellow cheese, in spite of the huge variety of imported cheese available on the market. We try them, we even love them, we use them in sandwiches and salads, according to the latest fashions, but cook our favourite banitsas and other cheese-based dishes with our traditional types only, as the others simply won’t do. That’s cheese patriotism for you, which even the most patriotically unconscious Bulgarians practice.
Just like the essence of the whole is reflected in its parts, the cheese patriotism might be the individual-level manifestation of the base and superstructure composition of human society, as per the Marx gospel. If you have no idea what I’m taking about, that’s good. It means you’re young and ideologically uninhibited.