“It’s so easy for food trends to hold influence in the United States because America doesn’t really have its own food culture. We’re a result of so many other cultures coming together with their own strong backgrounds tied to food. This gives us options, yes, but there’s no consistency, there’s no tradition for people to fall back on, to revert to for comfort. So instead, we respond to trends, allowing them to guide the food choices we make every day.”
“Our roots aren’t grounded in any one culture. Up until World War II, it was common to have gardens, to make all of your meals at home. But post-World War II, it was the introduction of appliances, of canned food and the big food production companies. Food culture became about ease, about a woman not having to cook, not having to slave over a stove and to make things from scratch. My grandmother was born in 1925 to a generation of women who prided themselves on being able to make a casserole from a can. And so this idea of ease translated to this trend of quick fixes, which unfortunately has backfired on us, because no one really cooks, no one has time to cook. It’s a fast society, and everyone is too busy that it doesn’t become a priority.
“And it shouldn’t be a privilege to give food precedence, it shouldn’t have to be a choice to make it a priority. Even to have time is a privilege, because now our society is okay with the two-income family, but it’s gotten to the extent where there’s societal pressure to make that happen. On one hand, of course it’s incredible that we’ve made such leaps and are now innovative about the idea of women working, but we are simultaneously feeling this demand to make that our life trajectory. If you take time off from work, like I did for my daughter, you’re constantly asking yourself what you can be doing on the side to stay relevant, so that one day you can return to the workforce. We’re expected to work, we’re expected to raise a family, we’re expected to do everything, but of course, that’s when our nourishment suffers and the nourishment of society suffers alongside.”
I ask Kristen about possible solutions, about how we can return from a mindset that has resulted in such instability. “We’re going to have to restructure our society. This is an issue where you can’t just change one thing because everything is connected, and so unfortunately I think it’s more of a societal issue. It requires changes in public policy; it’s not something that can change overnight.”
“There’s a lot of people who don’t make eating well a priority. There’s so many statistics which say that Americans spend much less of their income on food in comparison to other countries and the argument against that is that food is cheaper in America. But then we need to step back and question that, realizing that it’s cheap because it’s so poorly made. Years ago, people didn’t eat meat every day because it was expensive, but now we can have it daily because the animals we use aren’t raised in an ethical way. Of course, not all meat is like that, there’s organic, grass-fed beef, but it’s more expensive to raise animals in that way, so people will inevitably look towards a cheaper alternative.”
We return to the specifics of Kristen’s project, looking at it in relation to everything we’ve just discussed. “In the beginning, it really was just about kale, but what’s happened through my work is my realizing that I do have this interest in food and in this way. When we were in New York, I didn’t think about food as much. Yes, I ate well, I bought vegetables and fruits, but I didn’t think about where they were coming from.
“It’s been a self-awakening, and I attribute all of that to living here. Of course, France isn’t perfect, they’re moving towards reliance upon grocery stores and more processed foods, all of which goes against how they eat, but I’ve learned so much from the traditional conceptions still practiced in the culture today. Kale was my way of interacting with this culture, and so it became much larger, and I’m glad it did, because it shifted my perspective to something else.”
Kristen is returning to New York in September. She’s established a life in Paris, learning the language, the culture, and how to cultivate a life in a city that was foreign to her only five years before. It’s bittersweet, a transition that’s divided her between the knowledge that she’s accomplished so much, for both herself and for the future of food in France, but also the realisation that she has an opportunity back in the States. She has the ability to apply what she’s learned from this temporary home, and though France was her base for only five years, it’s evident that the country’s effects will endure, forever having an impact on her love of food and the community it creates.
Photos by Kristen Beddard