We now live in an era of post-industrial cooking.
For much of the last fifty years or so we have increasingly had a reliance on an industrialized food supply chain that begins with big agribusiness, passes through food processing and packaging plants, and ends up in megastores.
This has begun to change.
This change isn't monolithic. I can't point to one thing and say this is why we are moving away from industrialized food. At the same time, I'm certain we are.
First, there's a strong movement in opposition to industrialized food at all levels. There is opposition to big agribusiness in favor of local farms and home gardens. This isn't merely on an ideological level, but also for reasons of quality and genetic diversity. People trust their taste buds, and they are realizing that they can taste the difference between, say, eggs from a local free-range farm that were laid yesterday and eggs from an industrial farm where chickens are corn-fed. There is opposition to prepackaged and preprocessed foods by many for reasons of health, taste, and environmental concern. There is opposition to megastores in favor of local markets. We see the industrialized chain scrambling to address these concerns. Food is packaged to look like it comes from a small, local farm. Even Wal-Mart has gone organic.
Second, there's a renewed interest in the craft of food production and preservation. I haven't seen data (I'd be interested in doing so), but anecdotal evidence suggests that gardening and techniques such as pickling and canning are more popular in the home now than they have been for a long time. While I might be an outlier, I also know several people who raise their own chickens in relatively urban environments.
Third, many industrial techniques that have widespread appeal are being co-opted by those outside of the industry. Industrial techniques are not all bad. While some developments in the science of food (such as some of the more dangerous preservatives that have been created) are of dubious value, others are clearly advancements. Corporations have research and development budgets that we can benefit from. Many of their technological advances have made their way into home kitchens as appliances, ingredients, and techniques.
These techniques are also being used by professional chefs who have budgets exceeding those of most home cooks. Many of these uses are near-imperceptible to the end consumer. Their food may seem fresher, have a better texture or aroma, or be prepared more quickly than it could have been in a restaurant thirty years ago. Other uses are flashier. Many of the techniques used in what is commonly referred to as molecular gastronomy were developed from industrial beginnings.
Have we seen the end of industrial food? Of course not. We live in a post-industrial society, but we still have plenty of industry. I think, however, that the reign of industrial food as our primary gastronomic paradigm is at an end. I believe that we are on the edge of a new era with respect to our attitudes about food.