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February 9, 2017
By cuisine, I simply mean a style of cooking. This includes a culinary philosophy or way of thinking about how food fits into religious or moral, political, economic, health and environmental beliefs, as well as specific ways of dining and of preparing food. Any cuisine has an associated set of trading and agricultural practices.
“High” cuisines are those of an elite, traditionally perhaps as much as 10 percent of a population.
High cuisines were prepared by male professionals and served in special spaces with elaborate equipment ; they were rich in meat, fat and sweeteners, and features sauces and sweets.
Most people, however, ate humble or “low” cuisines based on local ingredients, primarily grains of one hind or another, eked out with a few vegetables and the occasional scarp of meat. These meals were prepared by women of the house, eaten when and where possible, often from a communal bowl. They were both more local, in that they depended on local ingredients, and more universal, in that scarcity meant that they were restricted to a few basic techniques.
In the past hundred years, this sharp division has been largely replaced by “middling” cuisines, which show many of the features of high cuisines but remain accessible to entire populations : The American hamburger, with its previously elite meat and white bread accessorized with sauces, condiments and vegetables, is perhaps one of the most common examples. That the proliferation of middling cuisines is a historically new global phenomenon often makes it difficult for us today to understand the cuisines and food economies of the past.
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