Unless you own a large farm and produce all of your own food (kudos to all the farmers who read this post :), chances are you rely on others for your food – collectively called the food industry.
The food industry includes restaurants, grocery stores, specialty stores, food manufacturers, and other entities. Each of them has a unique role to play in the availability, quality, and intake of food, as well as the overall food experience.
We will cover just a few here.
Restaurants are all about trying to give you positive food experiences. They constantly advertise and encourage people to come and enjoy a food experience with many different types of cuisine (Italian, Asian, etc.). They are focusing not only on food, but also presentation, menu options, décor, and other areas. In general, they focus on a one-time experience. Of course, you can visit the restaurant as many times as you like (and the restaurants hope you will).
Many restaurants seek to increase the excitement and enthusiasm of your experience. Japanese steakhouses have chefs who cook the meal right in front of you. The chefs dazzle their guests by juggling knives, building a volcano with onions, and tossing shrimp into the mouths of guests (or at least trying to :). Tasting menus are also the rage at many restaurants. Some restaurants offer multi-course tasting menus designed to leave the customer full but not uncomfortable. While these restaurant activities are fun, and can certainly inspire you from a culinary perspective, they do not offer you a complete positive food experience.
A true positive food experience involves having more interaction with the food, building your culinary knowledge base, and motivating you toward healthy food choices.
It is not a spectator sport, so to speak.
A recent study of how marketing incentives influence healthy food choices discovered that marketing incentives had a greater effect on those who usually make less than healthy food choices. This study suggests the potential for food marketers, grocery stores, and other food establishments to be a positive influence on people. They can help people make healthier food choices and to create their own positive food experiences.
The grocery industry has tried to be a good influence and cater to those experiences. There are a lot of prepared foods nowadays. We recently visited several grocery stores where whole sections of the store are dedicated to prepared foods. They may have ten different types of chicken, for example, each seasoned and combined with different ingredients. They make it easy for people to have quality, gourmet meals without taking the time for food preparation. Here, the grocery industry essentially assists in the food experience process. Is it any different from opening a box of your favorite food? Yes! Here you get fresher ingredients and a wider variety of food options.
The grocery industry also focuses on information. There is a lot more information on ingredient lists, as well as the health benefits of different foods. We as a people have access to more information about food and the benefits thereof than ever before. Having that access, and using the information effectively, helps us to make better food choices.
Specialty stores are those selling such items as organic products, baked goods, oils and vinegars, spices, etc. They have a more focused role to play in food availability, type, and quantity. Honing in on certain products, specialty stores are able to deliver more refined, pure, wholesome, and customized products. They cater to your sense of adventure and creativity in creating a variety of dishes and cuisines. They also cater to the need for natural foods at a reasonable price.
The quest for natural, healthy food is an important topic for everyone. A recent study of a group of adults ages 60 and older revealed their main concern is trying to find “affordable food products that had been produced locally and that did not contain unacceptable food additives.”
As the availability of organic and locally sourced products becomes more prevalent, populations as a whole benefit through increased nutrition, easier food access, and the creation of positive food experiences.
Perhaps you’re looking for white truffle oil, balsamic vinegar, or one of the many unique spices of the Orient. Specialty stores may be able to provide you the ingredients you need at usually reasonable prices. Often, specialty stores fill in the gap that sometimes arises with everyday grocery items. For example, if I need typical red leaf lettuce, I go the grocery store. If I need Belgian endive, I go to a specialty store because the grocers in my local area no longer offer Belgian endive. I have been told that they do not sell enough quantity of the item to make it profitable – very sad :(.
Many people feel they cannot take time to research various foods or ingredients. They hear the word research, and they think of excruciating effort and processes. Research, however, can be as simple as looking up information on your phone. You can do this while in a waiting room prior to an appointment, or as a passenger in a car, subway, bus, or plane. The information access and research of today is also more user friendly with the advent of mobile devices and more powerful and accurate search engines. The frequency of new information also helps your research efforts.
Having access to that information, and using it effectively, is the key “ingredient” in creating positive food experiences.
Overall, the food industry goes both ways in helping to create positive food experiences. The food industry gives you information to make food choices. But it also gives you an outlet to remove the time and effort it takes for meal preparation. Many times that time and effort, however, is what makes the food experience. Buying prepared foods, for example, eliminates the thought process involved in menu planning and food preparation. That equates to less time in the kitchen. That may sound great, but you are not learning cooking skills or teaching them to your family or friends. You are not having that kitchen interaction. You are teaching yourself and others that food comes from a box instead of a creation that you make. Part of the food experience is that creation.
The food industry has good intentions. They make information and a variety of foods available. It is up to you as the consumer, though, to make good food choices.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: How do you feel the food industry helps to create positive food experiences? What are some interactions you have had with the food industry? How have those interactions helped you to have more positive food experiences?