A new view on food

The stage of development of a society determines human experience. The significance and perception of time, work, health, interpersonal relationships and also food culture alter.

This change depends on the underlying social conditions and technological possibilities. Today there are hardly any areas of life that are not affected by technological progress. Travel, communication, the healing of disease, all are hardly conceivable any more without technological assistance. Eating plays a special role in this interaction between man and technology. In fact the product range in supermarkets is characterized by a growing number of high-tech foods. At the same time food, through its actual function as a “means to life” has a strong emotional connotation. What we eat affects our health and our state of mind. Taking in nourishment is one of the key elements of metabolism; food provides the elements which the organism requires to maintain our vital functions. Food penetrates our innermost being, providing energy and the raw materials for life. Taking in nourishment is essential to keeping us alive but it transcends the mere physiological function. This “metaphysical” significance of food and eating corresponds with the symbolic value of the kitchen.
The kitchen plays a special role as the place where food is stored and prepared and as the place for eating together.
If the kitchen was the natural heart of family life in days gone by, then in post-modern times its facilities have diversified. As a mark of the return to the authentic, the kitchen has been revalued: as a place where the preparation of food can be a sensual experience and the aesthetics of food are linked to the beauty of form and material. And so the kitchen regains its former magic.
Food is the emotional and cultural foundation of human existence and is of immense significance, over and above ethnic and political boundaries. What we eat defines us as a person, but not only as an individual; food is also a mirror of society, its maxims, its dreams and fears. Eating and drinking have always played a prominent role in the cultural history of mankind. The ritual of eating is a social activity and marks the crucial stages along life’s path: christening, marriage or burial are subject to culinary mythological
symbolism underlining the extraordinary value placed on communal eating. Food is a cultural commodity, in which at least as much attention is paid to the preparation of food as to its appearance. The choice of food and the way in which it is consumed defines our personal lifestyle.
In the 21st century the appearance of what we eat is geared, not primarily to the symbolic content of its spiritual significance as it was previously, but to the new core values such as aesthetics, activity or health. Food has become a “lifestyle” accessory. In an environment where all our health needs are met, where the person as an individual is becoming ever more important, food too is increasingly becoming the self-realization of the individual. Deficit needs are being replaced by development needs, an “economy of needs” is becoming an “economy of desire”. We can no longer imagine food without pleasure. The significance of appearance is more important than ever in this new context, aptly expressed in the saying “we eat with our eyes”. The eroticising of the mundane has increased significantly in recent years and influences our expectations of life. Sensual seduction and the promise of desire are all around us and accompany us in our everyday private and professional lives. The willingness to do without is a thing of the past; the hedonistic concept of achieving “desire” through “undesire”, has given way to the maxim of permanent desire gain. The well-being of the masses, a consequence of industrialization, has led to increased expectations of desire and permanent happiness in many consumers.
In the wake of growing complexity of both private and professional life people are increasingly seeking simplicity and guidance. So-called “convenience products”, “ready-to-eat” meals therefore enjoy growing demand. At the same time consumers want authenticity, freshness, health and products with a longer shelf life. In summary, three trends are observed: functionalization, meaning the “adding of value” to food with additional benefits such as health, authenticity and “convenience”. The synthesis of these trends gives rise to a new holistic concept of food. Thus in the last few years innovations in the food market have often meant creating products which combine health, pleasure, experience or an ethical value. This is in line with the growing need amongst consumers to organize their food harmoniously. In view of the increased demands on a work-life balance and individual time management, health, pleasure, mind and environment are to be harmonized with one another. Examples of the food of the future are the small, fast and simple ready meals, the biological product with emphasis on the health aspect or “functional food” in the practical “convenience format”. As a mark of a pragmatic way of dealing with food, different concepts such as natural foods or “functional food” are no longer mutually exclusive. High-tech elements are deliberately integrated into conventional foods. Anything can be combined, provided it promises added value for the consumer.
In the search for the food of tomorrow, the question arises of people’s needs with regard to food. Products can only win through in the marketplace if they meet a real customer need and can be distinguished from the competition by technical or emotional innovation. Yet if you want to understand the future, you not only need to know the prevailing trends, but also the opposing forces. Every trend has a counter-trend. The health boom is causing a rising demand for sweets. Bioproducts owe their success not least to their differentiation from globalized food production. The future of food can ultimately only be interpreted and understood by means of an intermeshed system made up of trends and their antipoles.
The mechanizing of food production has its counter-trend in the longing of some consumers for simplicity, unpretentiousness and essence. No element embodies these qualities so much as water, unspectacular in appearance and taste, yet a basic ingredient of life. Pure and clear in its natural form it is like a synonym for health. The kitchen, where the original elements water and fire are brought together, becomes the projection area for man’s longing for authenticity and feeling at home. The experience of the interaction of these elements and the sensual enjoyment of the product of this process produce a holistic experience in which a person finds himself secure as a child of Nature once more. As early as the 18th century the Geneva Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his cultural scepticism marked by the “retour à la nature”, remarked that man through his lifestyle was increasingly moving away from the natural order and in doing so was alienating himself from himself.
Elementary needs such as the desire for interpersonal contact, the ritual of eating in company and the desire for pleasure will always be a part of human nature regardless of the degree of technological development of society. The kitchen will always remain the focal point of these desires. Food is more than ever taking on the function of an anchor in the mechanized future, linking man to his origins and securing all that makes him a man.