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The Snack and the Canelé

2012 June 23
Thrilled and delighted to introduce Pâticheri’s first guest post,
by grad school friend and fellow blogger, Michael G. Powell [presented
here with many thanks to Michael and a bow to the inimitably delectable
little slow-to-produce fast-to-consume snack that is the canelé].

The autumn before last, I took a trip with my wife to the southwest of France. I flew from Los Angeles to Toulouse, by way of one too many layovers. My wife, already in Europe, flew from Frankfurt directly to Toulouse. I remember vividly how good she looked when I landed; well-rested and happy, compared to my weariness and exhaustion. While waiting for my flight to arrive, she had stopped by a small airport cafe for a canelé—only in a Toulouse airport. A refreshment, just something to pass the time. I think she had a glass of rose wine, too.

caneleandrose

Cannelé & Rose at Toulouse Airport

The south of France is split in two. In the southwest is Provence. This is the Mediterranean side, where they cook with olive oil and eat more seafood. The wines are lighter and everything feels like sunshine, soft and luxurious. In the southwest is Dordogne. This is the Atlantic side, where they cook in duck fat and butter. The food is denser, but not heavy, like their red wine, the famous Bordeauxs. They eat cassoulet and preserve meats in fat as confit.

I could go on about the Dordogne, but what I really want to get around to talking about is what happened when I went home. After planning this journey for many months, I had to make a last-minute change of plans. Instead of flying directly back to Los Angeles, I took a two-day detour.

I had been asked by a major consumer packaged goods (CPG) company to participate in a brainstorming workshop to examine the products and the experience of a common grocery store department: the checkout.

A little bit of background on me, my training and my current occupation is probably in order. I have a PhD in cultural anthropology from Rice University, which is where I met our gracious blog host, Deepa Reddy. Following my time in Houston, I moved to Los Angeles and found work outside of academia, at a strategy and design firm that focuses mainly on food retail. In other words, I design grocery stores. We also work with convenience stores, restaurants and even a good number of other place-focused destinations, from urban districts to universities, an electric car company, a major motorcycle brand and others. But our most consistent clients are the grocery store chains of North America. We typically don’t work with the major players, like Walmart or Safeway, but the regional chains who need a more strategic approach to their market in order to compete with or simply survive Walmart.

So, back to this east coast CPG workshop: an alarming personal dissonance had emerged for me, not simply a result of jet lag. I think it began with group introductions. The moderator asked everyone to tell a story about a favorite ending experience. A major theme of our workshop was how the grocery store checkout, an ending, fit into the overall shopping experience. My thoughts turned to my recent trip to the Dordogne. So, prefacing my story with a warning that this might sound pretentious, I briefly explained how the French commonly complete their multi-course dinners in the southwest with a small glass of Armagnac, a brandy much like Cognac but made in much smaller batches from a different AOC. Others in the group talked about similar kinds of desserts, treats and indulgences.

What we wanted to figure out was simple: What to sell in this area? And why? At this point in a grocery shopping trip, the basics have been covered and the grocery list has been checked off. Maybe a snack? It has become customary to expect snack foods at the checkout, personal-sized food products easily and quickly consumable. These could represent small, private, even intimate experiences. Could checkout become a more meaningful destination, rather than a messy junk drawer of knick-knacks, candy bars, magazines and random stuff?

By the end of the day, the conversation had drifted away from personal preferences and towards business matters. Though expected, it felt like discord for me. One phrase stuck out in my head: “the velocity of cookies.” By “velocity,” they meant to describe sales volume as a function of time.

To look at food from the perspective of a CPG company or a grocery store is to reexamine the food world. Food retail is a low profit margin business that must focus its efforts on high volume sales. In America at least, the scale of food retail creates successful companies, not the richness or complexity of food products. This is critical, because food companies that sell large volumes survive: velocity iscritical. Yes, boutique and specialty shops exist, but they constitute a tiny fraction of American food sales. Farmer’s markets, for instance, represent less than 1% of all produce sold. I don’t dismiss these important smaller food producers and retailers, but I want to focus on the mainstream for now.

What was jarring to me was not the alienating business of a cookie’s “velocity,” but the strange juxtaposition of experiences—moving from slow to fast. Consider the canelé, a small French pastry, carefully crafted, with a soft, custardy center and a caramelized crust. And compare it to popular brand-name American cookies: hard-baked, homogenous, sugary and processed. This is not simply a matter of taste. Consider the occasions on which we eat, or could eat these small treats. Consider the large-scale social trends that impact the way people eat and the traditions of eating occasions. Before we condemn these major food companies out of hand, consider the relationships between eaters, daily schedules and the rituals of food largely outside of their control. This is not an apology for the food industry, but an evaluation of how people actually live. Consider whether we want cookies to slow us down, or whether cookies are just trying to keep pace with us.

For starters, consider the snack.

IMG_3980

Consider the canelé: a fine craft in its own right, guarded in Bourdeaux, ideally needing small copper moulds that retail for over $20 a piece plus beeswax (yes) to coat them so that a perfectly caramelized crust can protect a custardy interior, a batter resting period of 48 hours, and fine-tuned attention to temperature control during the baking process.

IMG_3978

Canelés made with ridged muffin cups as imperfect moulds. When prepared by a select brotherhood of pâtissiers in Bordeaux according to a well-guarded recipe, these are canalé bordelaise or canalé de Bourdeaux. Otherwise they are just doppelgängers sometimes designated by the added “n” to cannelés.

Some Numbers

In relatively plain numbers, the frequency of snacking appears to be on the rise in America. Using the acknowledged problematic definition of the snack as “consuming one or more food and beverage item, including plain water, at one sitting,” a Department of Agriculture study found that 56% of Americans claimed to have eaten snacks three or more times daily in 2007 and 2008. That’s up from 42% in 2001-02, and just 11% in 1977-78. Further, Department of Agriculture researchers found that the percentage of children reporting they had eaten three meals on the previous day decreased over those years, while those reporting they had eaten a snack rose by more than 40 percent.

Americans consumed $68.1 billion in packaged snack foods in 2008, up from $60 billion in 2004, according to Packaged Facts, a consumer research group.

Global market research firm NPD forecasted that the number of in-home snacking occasions will increase by 19% from 2008 to 2018, and snacking visits at fast-food restaurants will grow by 9% from 2009 to 2019, outpacing the expected 8% overall growth of the restaurant industry.

Recognizing this growing frequency, how can we understand what the snack is?

According to market research firm Mintel International Group, 62% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 consider french fries or onion rings snacks, compared to just 35% of those 65 and older. In other words, younger Americans may have a more expansive definition of “snack” than older Americans.

commercial snacks

The snackerization of food: from candies to crackers and breakfast sandwiches, they’re all “snack size”

Is this all just a matter of collective personal preference? Something in the air? How to explain the snack, its emergence, evolution and ubiquity?

Form

Consider “the snack” as a cultural form. What are its outlines and parameters? What are its rules? Did it ever have any?

If one solid rule exists to define the snack, it is simply this: a snack is an eating occasion that occurs in-between meals.

IMG_3984

The canelé: nourishment elevated to a new status?

But after that rule, the snack becomes much more challenging to figure out. As I see it, there are two basic categories of snack: traditional snack occasions and random snack occasions.

Traditional snacks are culturally-prescribed social events, like afternoon tea and Elevenses in the UK, Merienda in southern Europe and “second breakfast” in Bavaria. Random snacks are biological or psychological necessities that help us deal with stress, boredom or tiredness. These are not social occasions, but individual or personal occasions: grabbing a cookie from a plate in the office kitchen, eating a muffin at Starbucks, stopping by a vending machine, a bowl of oranges on the kitchen table, recharging with an iced coffee, etc. For most people, these occasions emerge seemingly at random during the course of a day. They typically feel like necessary sustenance or maintenance, occasions for returning us to some normal or functional state.

Yet, all eating occasions have cultural implications. As far back as the late 19th century, anthropologists described the cross-cultural codes of eating, which distinguish us as human beings. As Garrick Mallery wrote, in American Anthropologist, July 1888:

Brutes feed. The best barbarian only eats. Only the cultured man can dine. Dinner is no longer a meal, but an institution.

Mallery’s description of “barbarians” and “savages” is mostly a fiction. But he makes an interesting and imaginative point about the evolution of structured eating occasions:

    Anciently (and still in the lower stages of culture) no regular hours for meals were observed. The avocations on which subsistence depended were spasmodic, at least in success, or periodic, in terms of seasons, not hours. Savages eat when they can get food and continue to eat so long as the food lasts. The history of civilization, as shown in the establishment of regular pursuits, division of labor, and inventions (among which improved artificial light is important), may be traced in the changing hours of refection.

The meal, and the structure of eating throughout the day, is a social construction. It has, or should have (or did have?), rules, customs and rituals. This is what makes a meal a meal. Similarly, anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote about the possibility of “Deciphering A Meal,” like a language or a code, patterned over the course of the day, the week, the season and the year.

So then what is a meal? Because a snack is clearly a food eating occasion that happens in-between meals, you can’t figure out what a snack is unless you know what a meal is.

Mary Douglas never defined a meal, because it’s relative to a social context. Based on the work of Louis Dumont and Adrian Mayer, Douglas suggested that a hierarchy of meals and meal occasions exists that reflect social hierarchies. So, by carefully tracking eating occasions and habits, Douglas hoped to find an underlying relationship between eating habits and social structures. She created a system to guide researchers in their recording, examination and analysis of eating occasions. When she created a classification for “snack” it referred to highly ritualized occasions, like “afternoon tea” and “nightcap.” And then there is a non-category of eating, which Douglas referred to as “nourishment.” She accorded nourishment a lowly status, not even giving it a proper research code. She called this kind of eating “outside…categories.” Nourishment is a biological necessity that gets us to the next meal. But, “if likely to interfere with the next meal, such eating is disapproved.” There is something basic, biological and even animal-like about this concept of nourishment.

But Douglas’s category of “snack” doesn’t exist in America. Today, what she calls nourishment has become the basis of our notion of the snack. We have few, if any formal snack occasions, like England’s afternoon tea.

Has nourishment been elevated to a new status?

Maybe not. Perhaps the meal has been downgraded, displaced, relegated to the category of “when convenient” but hardly perceived as necessary. If a snack is an eating occasion that happens in-between meals, it is inseparable from daily meal patterns. So if the meal is in crisis, then that might make sense of our anything-goes attitude to snacks. In other words, the breakdown of structured meals may have thrown the snack into disarray.

IMG_3971

The cannelé: no velocity in preparation. Consumption, however, is entirely a separate matter.

Miriam Weinstein’s book The Surprising Power of Family Meals provides a portrait of the meal in crisis. Based on a wide array of epidemiological, sociological, anthropological and psychological research, Weinstein suggests that the loss of family meals, especially the practice of eating dinner together as a group, is correlated to all kinds of negative outcomes for kids, relationships and health. Admittedly, it’s a nostalgic book that speaks to nostalgic people. But Weinstein asserts a critical social fact, too. She tells stories about families who never eat meals together, families whose parents cook dinner and then retreat to the bedroom to let their kids eat what they want and families that don’t even own a kitchen table.

Weinstein criticizes snacking. Citing a Harvard economists’ study linking snacks to the obesity epidemic, she states, “we haven’t dramatically changed the amount that we eat at meals. We have, rather, increased the amount we eat between meals. Food is now available everywhere, all the time.” The report, authored by David M. Cutler (et al.), was published in the The Journal of Economic Perspectivesin 2003, and simply posed the question: Why have Americans become more obese? Focusing on a calorie-intake perspective, the authors argue that “the increase in caloric intake [in the American diet] is because of greater frequency of eating, not eating at any one sitting…the number of snacks in the typical day increased dramatically over this period [from 1977-79 to 1994-96].”

Weinstein has a term for the new habit of constant snacking, which she takes from a dietician: grazing. Grazing is an interesting word, the practice of leaving animals out to pasture to feed all day long on a field of grass. We have the freedom to consume as much food as we like, available at relatively low prices. Another apt metaphor might be scavenging. There is a sense of disgust that lingers in some snack occasions, because we know—and even joke about—how unhealthy this is. There are few prescribed limits to these eating occasions, they rely almost completely on our personal preferences.

We snack alone: at our desk, in the car, standing in front of the sink or while inspecting the contents of our refrigerator. If you spend as much time as I do inside the convenience stores of North America, you would see a lot of people choosing single-pack treats, opening them as they leave the store and consuming them in the parking lot. This is not tea time.

So should we all stop snacking? I would forcefully argue no. But what are the alternatives?

Nostalgia for the family table and other traditions is nice, but it does not seem like the only solution. New rituals can emerge, rituals that could be more relevant to the way we live now.

People are consistently on the move. We live in the era of the snack. But we don’t have to accept the randomness and anti-social nature of the snack. There are opportunities for more social snacks, or for the snack to develop into an a new, more unexpected cultural form. Imagine informal snacks that are more social, yet also unpredictable. Imagine all of the ways that snacks could engender new possibilities for relationships, as well as unanticipated conversation. Imagine a snack that is not simply nourishment or escapism, but exploration and learning. At the very least, one question should be posed more often: What is a snack?

June 25, 2012 Addendum: Canelé or cannelé? There seems to be at least some confusion over the correct spelling of this finicky little French pastry. Some say the canelé recipe is proprietary. Others say it’s not, that the use of the “double n” is an enduring spelling error. “Canelé” seems normative, so I’m finally going with it. After all, so what if it is proprietary? Consider it free play with cultural forms!

cannelesrecipereduced

Cannelés

Ingredients

This recipe is adapted from Chez Pim's version, detailed instructions for which are given (for those using traditional copper moulds) here and (for those using silicone moulds) here. Much as I adore Chez Pim, however, I found these instructions to be more than a little overwhelming--which perhaps they should be, given how the pâtissiers in Bourdeaux claim the canelé by deleting its second "n"? Nonetheless, I was grateful for the simplicity of the instructions I found in Celia's (or rather Anna's) instructions on Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. You are free, of course, to draw on the version that works for you, now that I'm adding this and my illustrated version to the mix. Enjoy!
2 cups milk
3 ½ tablespoons butter
2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
Scant 1 cup each, flour and sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup rum

Instructions

  1. Heat: milk in a saucepan with butter until boiling
  2. Whisk: eggs and yolk gently, then add hot milk in a steady stream, whisking vigorously (to keep eggs from scrambling!). Allow to cool.
  3. Sift: flour, sugar, salt.
  4. Pour: egg-milk-butter mixture into the flour mixture, and mix gently until incorporated and no lumps remain.
  5. Stir in: vanilla and rum
  6. Cover and Rest for 48 hours, refrigerated, stirring once midway.
  7. Baking day:
  8. Grease copper or silicone moulds by brushing butter into them. [For the beeswax method, consult Chez Pim]. Freeze for about 30 minutes, or until cold, cold, cold.
  9. Preheat oven to 475F/250C.
  10. Set the moulds atop a wire baking tray. Gently stir the straight-from-fridge cannelé batter and ladle into moulds until each is about ¾ full.
  11. Once the tray is in the oven, reduce temperature to 450F/225C—and bake for 15 minutes
  12. Lower temperature to 375F/190C—and bake for an additional 35 minutes (using silicone moulds)-40 minutes (using conventional copper moulds)
  13. Tip: turn the rack around midway during both phases of baking to ensure even browning.
  14. Cannelés are done when their outsides are a deep mahogany (but not burned) and their insides/middles wiggle and give a little, soft and custardy.
http://www.paticheri.com/2012/06/23/snack-and-canele/

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20 Responses Post a comment
  1. June 23, 2012

    Deepa, thank you very much for the linky! I’m intrigued by the freezing of the moulds before use, and I love your illustrated instructions! If they were just a bit bigger, I’d print them out and stick them to my fridge! :)

    • June 23, 2012

      Celia, that response was super-quick! The freezing tip was from chezpim.com, and I found my first batch (made using straight-from-freezer moulds) got more and more evenly browned than the second (made with recently-out-of-oven moulds), which lacked that characteristic cannelé umph. As for the graphic recipes: thanks — and I am indeed trying to work out some kinks in getting larger files up but a high-res version is downloadable on "They Draw and Cook." I’d be entirely honored to have a spot on your fridge!

  2. Natilee permalink
    June 23, 2012

    Great canelés can be had in the US at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco. Here’s a great video that shows how they do it, very traditionally: http://www.chow.com/videos/show/the-perfect/55541/the-perfect-canele

    • June 24, 2012

      Thanks for that link, Natilee. The video is also on YouTube, in case the Chow link doesn’t load properly (it kept switching over to "the perfect tortilla" for me–ha!). I guess the trick to the perfect canelé lies not so much in the recipe (which is very basic), not just in the use of the right mould, but far more in learning how to modulate baking temperatures etc., which are the most idiosyncratic elements of the process. Interesting that that’s an aspect that the video just glosses — perhaps even has to gloss. After all this, I feel compelled to get myself a set of traditional moulds. If only it didn’t feel like I had to sell my left arm for them!

  3. Chandra permalink
    June 23, 2012

    Deepa, as usual, you provide a very enjoyable read through your blog. Enjoyed this particular one especially.
    Looking forward to more delicious reads.

    • June 24, 2012

      So glad you stopped by CB! Though the credit in this case goes really to Michael–whose text was what inspired the canelé after all!

  4. Elizabeth McComber permalink
    June 25, 2012

    This post is another gem! Michael was very thorough and methodical in his approach to the idea of a snack. It certainly provided a lot of reflection and introspection. As a mom, I find that I think about food and meals and snacks in a whole new light. I find that I encourage a regular meal before any additional foods, snacks or treats are requested/provided. I find, I also preach moderation.

    When approaching snacks, my mind splits into two realms of thought. And I choose a snack based on who it is for, the time of day, and where we are at. If the snack is for my son, I think about what foods would provide additional health benefit as well as maximum taste/mouth-feel and that sense of reward.

    When we are home I use our Zoku Popsicle Maker (http://www.zokuhome.com/pages/products-quickpop-maker) to make fruit juice or yogurt or smoothie popsicles. As the Zoku will make a Popsicle in 10 minutes, it is a quick and convenient treat. The Zoku has recipes and utensils that allow my four year old to make his own personalized & unique popsicles with inset faces/fruit/patterns or alternative flavored centers. He has so much fun making and eating them.
    If the snack is for myself I enter into my realm of bad habits and do not choose as carefully or as healthily. I reach for whatever is sweet, nostalgic, or comforting. When we are out and about in grocery stores — for my son — I look for the prepackaged whole fruit bars like: Fruit Leathers.(http://stretchislandfruit.com/)

  5. June 25, 2012

    First off, I need to give a big thanks here to Deepa for giving me a space to write. I’m looking forward to more of the comments and feedback, it’s helpful and exciting.

    So, I am consistently amazed and fascinated by the depth of knowledge everyone owns about snacks and snacking—like what Elizabeth is relating, above.

    And at the same time, I am equally curious about how this depth of knowledge is so rarely shared or brought to light. Snacking happens every day, yet we so rarely reflect on the occasion.

    I think Elizabeth’s comment is particularly useful, because she’s breaking down what I call the “random snack” into further useful categories: 1) healthy? 2) tastes good? 3) for kids vs. for adults (for me)?

    It seems like most kids snacks are social occasions: with siblings, friends, classmates or parents. That’s probably a good thing, and it’s interesting how the highly personal indulgence snacks are mostly an adult thing.

    I also want to add that, I, for one am shocked and amazed and delighted that Deepa actually made Cannelés. I’ve never even seen them outside of France, much less imagined them in India. This is a compelling juxtaposition of traveling cultural forms: the fast and the slow, the far and the wide. The Canelé mold is like one of Latour’s immutable mobiles—unless, of course, you improvise within some limits. And this is particularly fitting because the Canelé is such a particular form, a mold, quite literally that is recognizable and familiar on your first encounter, yet somewhat odd and different too. I hope Deepa can share some of her observations on how her family and friends responded to this new treat: Did they ask what it was? Did it look like a muffin or a pastry or something else? Did they talk about it in relation to any Indian foods? Very curious to know…

    Thanks!

    • June 26, 2012

      Thanks to Elizabeth for getting this part of the conversation started! Yes, it’s quite something to realize that most people have quite a breadth of knowledge about snacks, but so rarely share them — it’s the very taken-for-granted sort of activity that could use a great deal more unpacking. Not just because it’s interesting or because the retail industry would find utility in that information, but also because (for me) it’s where ethnography also begins: I’m remembering the advice I often got and had to remind myself of all the time in grad school, to write the most about that which I took the most for granted. So the “snack” is a very useful starting point in that sense.

      In Michael’s comment about (kid) social occassions vs. (adult) private indulgences, I’m reminded also of Susan Bordo’s documentation of advertisements that demonstrate the gendered nature of this private indulgence: I think one of her points is that we more often see women shown eating this way, in small bits and alone–almost always, dare I add, snacking.

      Health enters the picture very largely by way of kids’ snacking habits. The “healthy snack” is one I most often encountered in daycare/school literature that guided parents on what sort of nourishment was appropriate–although more, much more, could be said on the model of health that was being propagated in these suggestions [eg: peanut butter crackers as healthy snack, seriously? Talk about high salt, high sugar!]

      To my can(n)elés, absent the traditional moulds, mine looked absolutely like muffins. The little one called them “cupcakes”; the older one knew better and just devoured them without wondering too much about what they were. Our batch didn’t go much farther than that–this time. But for me as baker, what stood out about this was the measured and meticulous nature of the process: canelés are not fast snacks, though snacks they may well be. The best are never produced in large numbers, given especially the precision involved in baking temperatures and the expense of the moulds, but barely a dozen or so at a time. This is a slow food, but then there’s the contrast with the speed of consumption: they gets consumed in the bat of an eyelid, almost ignoring what it took to produce them! To your other questions: I’ll have to promise more feedback with batch 2, which will be forthcoming in, well, about 48 or more hours!

      There’re other questions to be asked about snacking habits: do people snack while on the move? While walking? (that’s such a no-no in India, and farther East from here, too). While in the car? What gaps do snacks fill, exactly? I wonder, too, about the non-food products inspired by the snack industry itself–snack-sized tupperware, for example. And about the ways in which the speed of life in general makes us rethink the meal in snack-form–and the snack as a form of mimicry in some sense. I’m also thinking of airplane meals, for those of us who still remember what those were, or who travel internationally and still get them, which are really mini-meals or snacks mimicking meals … The idea of canelé mould as immutable mobile gets me wondering about the moulding power of the snack in getting us to rethink health, nutrition, and meals themselves…

      • Iryna permalink
        June 28, 2012

        “we more often see women shown eating this way, in small bits and alone–almost always, dare I add, snacking.” – Deepa, could it be the point where the difference between a meal and a snack get blurred? I dare to say that any dieting book will tell you that if you want to lose weight/ stay slim/ eat healthy – you should eat small portions frequently, but not full meals three times a day.

        The “healthy snack for kids” is a entirely different beast. As parents we are bombarded with the information about the importance of the healthy snack, but what exactly is “healthy” and who determines that is unclear. Most of the packaged (or highly recommended homemade PB&J) are high in sugar. Then we hear that if the child acts out, being hyper, throwing tantrums, and bouncing off the walls is a result of too much sugar in their bodies (as a side note, just heard an advice from a photographer on how to prepare a family for the child photo shoot, which included the snacking, “because you don’t want to deal with the sugared kid”). And then, if your child is whiny, needy, and unreasonable, then most likely he or she has low sugar and you have to give something to eat to the kid before it would be possible to address the issue (not to mention that you have to have the talent to distinguish between high and low sugar symptoms in your child, it’s given). And here comes the habit of giving food to kids almost non-stop “to keep them quiet” in the car and packing two days worth of food as a snack for three hour school day. And the kids get used to this grazing all day long – whenever they are driving, or watching TV, or plain bored. Just few days ago a mom shared her concern about her daughter’s transition to kindergarten – the girl would not be able to eat any time she wants, and how to teach her to eat at the scheduled times to avoid sugar spikes?
        I also noticed that snacking is almost like a “high tea” social event for the 4-5 year old girls. They show off the content of their boxes, compare, exchange, do the sampling, and share their preferences. This entire procedure can take about an hour in the three hour school day, soon after lunch and interrupted by the bell for the scheduled snack time, which is a part of curriculum. The boys – they just grab something if they remember about the snack at all, and back to the sand pit/ trains/ trucks. For them snacks are disruptive.

    • June 26, 2012

      Ha! I realize I’m assuming snacks=small serving size, which entirely needn’t be so. Nor is it always that adult snacking is private indulgence. In both cases, think of the bigscreen tv on, friends over, sports match on. Or barnuts! Bowls upon bowls of barnuts!

  6. Elizabeth McComber permalink
    June 26, 2012

    I am thoroughly enjoying the discussion. When reading Deepa’s responses, images of old black & white 30s films flit through my mind eye. It seems the idea of food/snacks, gendered indulgences, particularly those of women and portion sizes/control, where regular topics in many films of that era.

    It is true that the idea or topic of snacks is not widely discussed, but they are definitely addressed — only in specific circles of society. Moms share snack ideas all the time, chefs/cooks/bakers discuss recipes and snack ideas, as do health and fitness (how about those smoothie bars? inside a gym or spa?), and film/tv certainly address the idea as they try to reflect modern society.

    Snacks are also widely discussed during event planning. Only these snacks take the form of various classifications based on the cultural level or socioeconomic status of the event, as Deepa alluded to, barnuts to pretzels/popcorn to cheese logs or chips & dip for home sports parties. Appetizers and canepes are really snacks qualifying under the small serving sizes. Indeed appetizers and canepes are often miniaturized versions of full meals – pigs in blanket, mini-quiche, filo pastry wraps, jumbo shrimp cocktails served by staff or on elaborate buffet stations. The prevalence of snacks could be said to have a direct correlation to the socioeconomic status of the culture.

    In writing about appetizers & canapes another possible qualification for something to be a snack could be based on that which can be consumed with a napkin or in one hand.

  7. June 26, 2012

    Does snack = small? Or, for that matter, if you shrink a big thing into a small thing, does that make it a snack? A couple of those sample images above come to mind. Twizzlers: Aren’t they already snacks? Do we need to “snack size” them? Or breakfast sausage muffins, shrunk down to “snack size”: Is it a snack now, just because the box says so?

    Put differently, is there something about miniaturized foods and diminutives that have the transformative capacity to create a snack?

    I suppose this could be where a lot of people get lulled into the false sense that this little snack is just a harmless thing, possibly meaningless, comforting maybe. Or, for that matter, it could lull cultural analysis into the fall sense that nothing is actually at stake here.

    • Iryna permalink
      June 28, 2012

      While I am still in the process of figuring out the difference between “the snack” and “the meal” in American life, it seems to me that the main difference is the meal is something eaten at the table in a “proper” way – plates, forks, etc., AND the family (or part of it) is at the table. So, most likely it’s breakfast and dinner (isn’t it why the “supper” became “dinner”?) The snack can be eaten anywhere and at any time.
      But seeing the size of what is served as a snack – I don’t think it has anything to do with miniaturizing, at least not in the US.

  8. June 28, 2012

    Well, we snack-size ‘em or we super-size ‘em–’cause there ain’t nothin’ in the middle of the road but yellow lines and dead armadillos. I’m only being slightly faecetious. Finding appropriate sizes for what’s in the middle of those two options seems exceedingly tricky because it’s just that idiosyncratic. Which is also the reason why we have, as Elizabeth reminds me, a food industry building around the idea of “portion control”!

    I also take Elizabeth’s point about the prevalence or reliance on snacks, and then particular sorts of snacks, as having some relation to socioeconomics. Possible to think of hors d’œuvres as snacks? Well, they’re precursors to meals of course. But I’ve been at more than a few events where that’s all was served, hold-in-a-napkin/bite-sized, along with the appropriate alcohols. Which raises another question: if snack does not have to = small, does it have to = cheap? Canelés, if one makes them properly, are neither common nor inexpensive–the quintessential snack in some respects, the antithesis in others.

    To bring this discussion to India would be a whole other extension of this discussion–and perhaps a follow-up post.

    • Iryna permalink
      June 28, 2012

      I think hors d’œuvres stand by themselves as a precursor of the meal – to tease the taste buds and let the people get social before they are confined to the tables. If it’s done differently, then probably that’s the reason it’s called appetizers, not hors d’œuvres :-)
      In my mind both have nothing to do with the snacks.

  9. Iryna permalink
    June 28, 2012

    Another of my recent snack related observations – I am seeing a new trend among the mom of young children (I am talking about Silicon Valley mainly) to slow down with the snacks and be more mindful about their eating – not only in terms of the quality of food, but also in terms of the quality of time during the meal. To set aside enough time to eat, to talk to each other, to savour the food, to connect. Such notions are usually inspired by the readings about European way of eating, either writings by Americans who happen to live in Europe and describe their experiences there, or books like “French women don’t get fat”. And a general fascination about everything “European”. ;-)
    But also I have a feeling that people are very lonely in this part of the world… And the snacking is a contributing part of it, because it’s something that doesn’t require actual sitting. By eliminating meals people are reducing the possibilities to spend time with each other and stay connected. Whenever there is a discussion of snacks and meals, there is always this longing for connection, whether it takes the form of European ways of eating or ceremonially traditional breaking of the bread.
    So, who knows, maybe there will be demand for Cannelés soon?

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