What exactly IS traditional food?

When I first started this blog in early 2010, I dived right in to the middle, which is a common move for me. I launched it among a bunch of real foodies and figured most of my audience would already know the vocabulary I was using. But it’s not a good idea to keep up with that presumption. At some point it’s always a good idea to give people some idea of what you’re talking about in a blog.

So what am I talking about when I speak of real food and traditional food?

Traditional food has history

German farm on the island of Sylt circa 1880. Photo courtesy of The Commons.

Traditional food has a past going back hundreds and even thousands of years. It’s the type of food one can’t imagine NOT being present as part of the diet. It’s not some flash in the pan that will suddenly be a panacea only to be discredited a year later. It doesn’t include an ingredient list… or a patent.

Consider the following foods:
Sourdough bread
Liver and onions
Fresh seasonal vegetables right off the vine, plucked, dug from the garden
Coq au vin

All of these foods have been on the plates of people in their respective areas for a very long time. And the people who eat them have been able to reproduce and thrive in their regions. Otherwise these foods would have been abandoned very quickly

Traditional food is nutritious without any “enrichment”

Not to discredit cultured foods at all (see Preparation, below), but traditional foods already are very good for you without needing tweaks in a laboratory or a person in Authority to tell you to eat them for your health.
Look again at the list above. Think about which foods on there have been demonized for somehow being “dangerous” for your health, despite the fact that in many parts of the world they are standard fare.
Yogurt is an interesting one. In Eastern Europe and Russia, many people claimed it as the secret of their longevity. So what do we do to make it palatable in this country? Take out the fat, put in a lot of sugar, syrup, and color, then have to see a big to-do when probiotic yogurt hits the market. Funny how yogurt used to be probiotic on its own.

Traditional food is local

The local food/locavore movement has taken off in the last few years, but it’s hardly a new thing. Before the advent of large scale shipping, people had no choice but to eat locally. How else would you get food to your plate? Granted, there were some foods people would travel long distances and trade well for. The most notable of these foods was seafood. But again, you could only get that at the right time. Which leads into the next point….

Traditional food is seasonal

No question about it. When there’s a lack of large scale agriculture, greenhouses, artificial fertilizer, etc., it’s very difficult to obtain food unless it’s the right time to grow, hunt, or fish the item. Even in many parts of the world today, having large supermarkets shipping in food from who knows where is not a common practice.
Short form, I can no longer wrap my head around eating “summer squash” in November.

Traditional food is healing

There’s a proverb in South America: Good broth can cure the dead. Because traditional foods are so nutritious, they provide you with a strong gut and immune system and keep up your health. Certain foods can also help to heal from diseases, both acute and chronic.

Preparation matters as much as the product

You won’t find much in the way of microwave cooking among real foodies, for one. There is a great amount of focus on how the food is actually prepared. The fats used to cook up a dinner, letting beans soak in an acid to make them more digestible and remove antinutrients, or culturing milk, vegetables or grains to make them more probiotic were all part and parcel of the eating process.

Traditional food is delicious!

You may not have a palate for things like organ meats or cultured dairy, but certainly you know the sweetness and warmth of a freshly picked berry. Or a well-assembled salad. Or a nice rare steak. Or super fresh sushi. There’s a high level of joy to eating something fresh and prepared well.

What are your qualifications for real food?

Have you entered to win the stick blender yet?

Come join me on Facebook and Twitter!

I’m sharing this post at Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, Fight Back Friday, and Monday Mania.


2 responses to “What exactly IS traditional food?

  1. The yogurt is such a great example. I did buy the “cotton candy” flavor for my kids when they were little thinking I was doing a good thing. Makes me sad.

  2. Pingback: What has been and what may come: most popular posts of 2011 | I Believe In Butter

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