When you teach a writing class focused on food — as I did at the University of Colorado for almost a decade — you run into a lot of young food fanatics. And I noticed an interesting phenomenon among them. At first, students enrolled because the class sounded easy (easier, say, than "Postmodern Gothic"), but over the years, more and more of them were turning up because they had spent time overseas — a semester in Italy, volunteer work in Latin America, a vacation with parents in France, a trek in the East — and at some point in the trip had come to a startling realization: They had never tasted food before. Not really. The stuff they'd grown up eating — fast, frozen, supermarket tasteless — simply wasn't food. Cultural, historical and anthropological insights followed, and they began to ponder why we as a culture are so food-illiterate. But the jolt that started all of this was simple astonishment. Who could have known that food — not just food in fancy restaurants, but ordinary daily things like bread, tomatoes, cheese and strawberries — could taste so good? Who knew that when an Italian said pizza, he was thinking of a thin, crackling crust, sun-warmed slices of tomato rather than paste-thick sauce, and blobs of dizzyingly fresh bufala mozzarella? Or that there were dishes like the paella of Spain, for which tomatoes were grated rather than chopped, and that was taught over generations, from mother to daughter? One student wrote about the thrill of finally being trusted to prepare paella for the family with whom she stayed — but only after many days of affectionate tutelage. Other students wrote about street food, fresh fish eaten dockside and, oh,... More >>>