The Politics of Pastry

A very funny comment came in via email this weekend. Or at least I thought it was funny. The meat of it went like this:

I don’t understand how you can be so inconsistent. Just Friday you defended commercial agriculture in one post, then talked about how you only like to use fresh, local produce in another. For the life of me I can’t figure your politics.

Well brother, let’s just say that until this country wakes up and starts giving cupcakes the vote, I consider my kitchen to be a sovereign nation. Seriously though, as far as I’m concerned, pastry has no politics. It is by definition cuisine without borders; flat neutral in the culture wars.

Why? Because on the one hand pastry is all about nature-loving, stick-it-to-the-man idealism. Especially where produce and dairy are concerned, the further away from the processing plant, the better. I pick my own fruit when I can and make a lot of my own staples. Hell I’d own my own cow if I didn’t need the spare bedroom for my daughter. Hmm…

On the other hand, pastry is intimately connected to commerce, science and technology. Unless every pastry maker were to do a full-on Alice Waters and use nothing that isn’t produced locally (by hand), we’re dependent on sugar refiners, flour millers, cacao growers, and other non-local, un-P.C. resources for the pillars of our trade (which is not to say that Alice Waters doesn’t do some very nice things with honeys, whole grains and fruits…it’s just that whenever I eat a Chez Panisse dessert I’m constantly distracted by thoughts like I had no idea spelt groats, kumquat pulp and nettles could be turned into dessert…instead of enjoying myself).

How do you merge the two? Ya got me, though for my part I believe it is possible to have exacting freshness and quality standards without poo-pooing 250 years of progress in food growing, processing, science and safety. One is actually an outgrowth of the other. We can afford things like heritage pears and single-pollen honeys precisely because we’ve already succeeded in creating the world’s most abundant, least expensive, safest and most diverse food supply. So it’s all a false dichotomy.

But more than anything, I believe that politics is against the whole spirit of pastry. It’s the course that’s says now that’s you’ve had your roasted free-range, cruelty-free heritage duck, local root vegetables and glass sulfite-free pinot noir…isn’t it time we all lightened up a little?

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