Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Firstly I have to say that I grew up in the 70’s, which in it’s own had some horrific culinary
disasters. My mum had cookbooks that had some bizarre cooking trends…. Everything in aspic, or Jello or who could forget the culinary chaos of bananas wrapped in ham with hollandaise sauce. I’ve seen 70’s cookbooks described as a lawless wasteland. Growing up in Canada in the winter also had it’s challenges. Fresh produce was a challenge, and would shipped up from California or Mexico. So often the stuff we’d get was tasteless and under ripe, or we would get canned options if a particular product wasn’t available. Canned peas were and are an abomination to humanity, but a staple to our Sunday dinner spread.
Ok so, maybe not everything was better in ye olden days. What I’m referring to is the general quality of food. I suppose I was lucky growing up in a household of Eastern European immigrants. My Grandparents and Parents would grow a lot of stuff themselves or get food from local farms. My Grandparents in particular were not the get everything from the grocery store folk. My Grandmother and Great Grandmother baked bread constantly. Trashy store-bought highly processed, overly sugared bread wasn’t allowed! In the summer’s produce glut, the whole family would work together for an entire day canning and preserving food for the winter months.
But I suppose not everyone was like that and if we are to look at food in the grocery stores, where most people buy all their food, we would see a general decline in quality, flavour and variety. Most of this comes down to the need for everything to be consistent, cheaper, bigger, faster. Consumers want that perfect apple, or carrot. Salad needs to be in bags, pre-cut, pre-washed, and ready to use. So, the food industry has evolved to make everything as generic as possible, to grow as quickly as possible, and to last as long as possible with a lot more processing and preservative methods. So, animals are grown quickly with added hormones to make them ready to go to market as quickly as possible, then they are processed in ways to maximise shelf life and minimise the development of flavour. Chickens for example, once slaughtered and processed are chilled quickly in water baths which help stop the growth of bacteria, but this process also fills them full of water diluting their flavour. It also increased their weight so they can be sold for more and increase profits.
And don’t even get me started on eggs and milk!!! If you have ever had a fresh egg from a real free-range hen and compared it to a standard grocery store egg, the difference is shocking. And have you ever got some milk straight from a farm? And compared it to the ultra processed stuff you get at the grocery store? Again, there is no comparison.
Milk goes through several processes, and in some places is mixed with powdered milk and permeate, which is a milk biproduct, to maintain consistency of product throughout the year. It’s not quite as simple and natural as you would think. Interestingly in Ontario an old Highschool friend Omid MacDonald is making vodka from permeate called Vodkow. Check it out!
Underlying all of this is the lack of biodiversity that once existed. Specific breeds of chickens are grown to meet the needs of consumers. Only certain breeds of pigs or cows are grown. At one time there were thousands of varieties of apples with their own genetic code. With the commercialization and industrialization of apple production, now there are only a few varieties of genetically identical fruit. The focus on profit, maximising yield and reducing the time to get to market has had a disturbing impact on not only the flavour of the food we eat, but also puts our food sources at risk. If for example a new pest was introduced, it could wipe out entire food chains quickly. This lack of biodiversity was the cause the Irish Potato famine. They became reliant on one single variety of potato.
To be fair, consumer trends have also impacted how food is produced. Beef for example has in some cases shifted to desire a lean cut of beef rather than the marbling of days gone by. Lard used to be used in cooking more frequently, even MacDonald’s fries employed the use of formula 47, their special blend of beef fat to cook their fries in. While this change to lower saturated fats is overall a good thing you could safely argue, there is always a trade off in flavour.
I recently made a video about rotisserie chickens. When I was a kid, we would occasionally get one for the family as a treat. These were tasty beautifully spiced birds, cooked over charcoal and full of flavour. In Montreal there still exists charcoal cooked Portuguese Piri piri chicken restaurants that are out of this world. It’s bothered me for several years how you still get rotisserie chickens in every grocery store these days, but they absolutely don’t taste the same.
They have a kind of watered down flavour and a strange almost steamed texture. I’m no expert but I imagine most stores now used modern ovens which have a steam / roast function, again to speed the process along and get the food on the shelf as quickly as possible. These are highly engineered pieces of equipment that are meant to be full proof and totally consistent. What that means is that you remove a slow natural cooking process that enhances the flavour and dare I say all personality, which you can unquestionably taste. So I got myself a small portable charcoal rotisserie called a Rotisir, (which I absolutely love!), and set about making myself my rotisserie chicken from my childhood. My good friend Vlad Shvartsman sells these. He got one and loved it so much, he decided to import them and sell them himself! I used my Montreal piripiri spice mix, which is amazing, and the results were the best rotisserie chicken I’ve ever had. Seriously, you need to try this recipe, and if you don’t have a rotisserie, get a Rotisir, they are super affordable and super easy! I give full instructions in my video. The recipe for Piripiri spice mix is in the recipe section of this website.
So my suggestions for making your life more delicious:
1. Forage. Why pay for things when you can get them from nature for free! Go pick some berries, mushrooms, and learn about the wild grocery store in your local area. Even in cities there are wild things growing all over the place!
2. Plant your own garden. Sick of tasteless or expensive grocery store tomatoes? Plant your own! It’s so easy and so rewarding!
3. Keep some hens for fresh eggs. Admittedly, this is not for everyone, but there is nothing better than a real fresh egg from well loved hens.
4. Buy from local farms and producers. Go to a farmer’s market. By stuff locally and support your community. Not only will this be good for the local economy, but will be fresher and better tasting for you!
5. Harvest food from nature yourself. Go fishing. Go hunting if you are that way inclined. Wild food is right there waiting for you to harvest. It’s fresh and more sustainable and not wrapped in foam and plastic!
Make your life fresh and more delicious!
Rotisir available at www.rotisir.com