I spent a portion of this week at one of the largest hotels in Chicago. Turns out this completely urban hotel is doing its part to participate in the burgeoning grow local campaign.
More than 200,000 honey bees make their home on its roof. The hotel sells souvenir honey samples, and the chef and kitchen staff use the honey in a variety of recipes.
Tasting the honey made me consider the differences in taste between what the bees of Chicago produce versus Louisiana honey. The distinction isn’t huge, but there’s a difference.
Which got me to thinking.
Shouldn’t there be a difference in the taste of honey produced by bees buzzing along the shores of Lake Michigan versus the bees living along the banks of the Vermilion? Sure, some of the flowers are the same, but with two different climates, the flowerbeds vary between the hot of Louisiana and the relative cool of Chicago.
With that in mind, think about the last time you went to a chain restaurant. Did you order your favorite dish? Did it taste like you expected it to? Was it better? Was it worse? Is expecting such consistency realistic — or even a good idea?
Food comes from all over the world, in various seasons. And yet, we have come to expect a dish ordered in one place to not vary in taste from one visit to the next or the same dish ordered somewhere else a thousand miles away.
If you’ve ever grown a garden, consider the variety of the produce you grew. Remember how some tomatoes tasted better than others? Some were round, and some had uncomely lumps or bumps. Some were bright red. And some were a little orange or purplish. The factors that played in taste go beyond appearance. Rain, sun, soil, time between harvest and preparation to be eaten are just a few of the other factors that contribute to taste.
With all those possible distinctions in the ways a single tomato can vary from one bush to the next, think about the potential variations from one continent to the next. Which takes us back to the question: how often do you expect a dish to taste exactly how it did the last time you ordered it in a restaurant or even prepared it at home?
Holding food and the restaurants that serve it to a high standard is one thing, but is it realistic to expect practically every dish on the menu to be consistent year round? I’m no horticulturist or food scientist, but I’m speculating that those expectations for that kind of consistency lead to less-than-fresh food, at the very least. How else could it happen?
For me, this line of thinking makes my head spin. How can everything from canned foods to candy always taste the same? And what are the repercussions of so many of us expecting a constant flavor, texture, etc? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending poor quality. I’m only suggesting that getting closer to food sources is a quick reminder that Mother Nature likes and even nurtures a little diversity of size, shape and flavor.
How could we expect any less?