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Published: Tuesday, 10/3/2006

Food trends go from farm-fresh to high-tech

CHARLOTTE Jean Anderson's world of food experiences has given her ample opportunity to identify trends.

When the author/editor of more than 20 cookbooks and the former managing editor of Ladies Home Journal spoke to the Association of Food Journalists in September she made me think about how universal the food world has become. Her food experiences in her native North Carolina could have been describing vendors at the farmers' markets in northwest Ohio.

Farm-fresh foods have returned to the supermarkets in North Carolina, said Ms. Anderson. 'Currently in supermarkets in Chapel Hill (where she lives), there are whole bins of organic produce,' she said in a later phone interview. 'Local blueberries, sweet potatoes, and other produce are always identified [when local].

There's a proliferation of farmers' markets and an increase in boutique farmers.'

Farm-fresh, artisanal, community-supported agriculture (CSA), and boutique farming are all trends.

'I always think of artisanal foods as someone makes something,' she said. 'But artisanal goes hand-in-hand with boutique farmers. These are cheese-makers, producers of honey, or they grow specialty vegetables.'

The increase of really good restaurants and trained chefs in North Carolina creates a demand for these farm-fresh and artisanal foods. 'We can buy potted lemongrass so you can grow it at home and whack off what you need for a recipe,' she says.

Community-supported agriculture also is a trend. 'You agree to buy whatever the farmer agrees to grow. It's a way to have a direct connection. It's for ordinary people,' said Mrs. Anderson. Local examples include TenMile Creek Farm in Berkey, and Needle-Lane Famrs in Tipton, Mich. For information, see www.localharvest.org.

She noted the trend in grilling but is concerned that if food is not grilled properly, carcinogens can result. 'It depends on the fuel and not letting the grill get too hot,' she says. 'Don't char the food.' The increased frequency of grilling in an average household worries her.

Ms. Anderson, who trained in food chemistry and research at Cornell University, also has thoughts on the foams and emulsions used by trendy chefs in Europe and America. It's an untested area, in terms of food safety.

'I question what the gimmicks are to make food do things it would not normally do,' she says.

Whether the Food Network is 'dumbing down' or shooting for the lowest common denominator is a concern. 'The fact that they would [end production of Sarah Moulton's show, although it still airs] is symptomatic. She is such a professional. I always learn something from her. [Now] we end up with four Rachel Ray shows. It's show biz. You open a package and sling it into a pot.

'When I started as a recipe tester at Ladies Home Journal in the 1960s, everything was product-driven,' she says. 'Now it's all about processed food. It's come back full circle.'

Internet blogs or culinary newsletters are proliferating. Many of these writers have no food credentials and are recycling material from other sources. This also means that some of the information is inaccurate.

She told food journalists that today the food world is more stratified with high-income consumers buying farm-fresh products, and lower-income people buying at mega markets. 'Many people don't care about cooking,' she says. 'More parents should give their child a couple of packets of vegetable seeds to plant and watch it grow.'

'Too few people really sit down to one meal a day with their family. Everybody is on the run,' she says. 'I think it's had so much to do with the growth of packaged food and take-out.

'We've lost the fact that we sit down and discuss what happens during the day with our kids and family.'



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