Opinion: Time and Money – the Biggest Hurdles to Healthy Eating

Tiff-Annie Kenny wrote . . . . . . . . .

Philippe Couillard, the freshly defeated Quebec premier, made headlines during the election campaign when he suggested a family of three — comprised of one adult and two adolescents — could feed themselves for $75 a week.

That figure is less than half the minimum cost (between $168 to $207) of a nutritionally adequate diet for a family of this size, according to the Montreal Diet Dispensary.

While Couillard eventually conceded that it “would not be a varied menu,” would require strict bargain-hunting, supplementing with food banks and would be “almost a full-time job,” he stood by his statement.

Diet quality, health linked to social status

Research shows that in developed countries, more affluent and educated people tend to consume higher-quality diets — including more fruits and vegetables, fish and whole grains.

Conversely, socioeconomically disadvantaged people report diets that are nutrient-poor and energy-dense, replete with foods like pasta, potatoes, table sugar, fried foods and processed meats. They are less likely to have food-purchasing habits that conform to public health recommendations.

These dietary disparities are often accompanied by higher rates of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease — conditions linked to diet — among lower-income people.

This inverse relationship between social class and diet quality and health is extensively documented. However, the research does not explain why this is the case — a question that has significant implications for designing effective policies and initiatives to improve diets and prevent chronic disease.

Public health & prejudice

Public-health initiatives to promote healthy diets often focus on providing nutrition education and recipes. These approaches, however, often presume less food literacy (i.e. food knowledge and skills) among low-income people. Are unhealthy diets really the result of poor choices, limited food skills and knowledge?

Research suggests that, in fact, adults in food-insecure households are just as likely as those in food-secure households to adjust recipes to make them more healthy. They are also just as proficient in food preparation and cooking skills. There is no indication that increasing food skills or budgeting skills will reduce food insecurity.

Instead, disadvantaged groups are constrained by their economic, material and social circumstances.

Higher-quality diets are costlier

It’s well-established that food prices are an important determinant of food choice, particularly among low-income consumers. Low-income households report that they find it difficult to adopt dietary guidelines because food prices are a barrier to improving their diets.

When researchers estimate the cost of diets people actually eat, higher-quality diets are typically more costly. Some research suggests healthier diets cost, on average, approximately $1.50 a day more than less healthy choices. For low-income consumers, the cost of substituting healthier foods can represent up to 35 to 40 per cent of their food budget.

While this may be so, it does not, in itself, prove that healthy diets are necessarily more expensive or cost-prohibitive. After all, not all socioeconomically disadvantaged people consume poor diets.

We can easily think of a number of foods and recipes that are both inexpensive and nutritious. The internet is full of recipes for “eating well on a budget.” Indeed, for many costly healthy food items like fresh salmon, a lower-cost alternative exists, like tinned salmon.

Some have even suggested that the higher relative cost of healthy foods is a myth and a problem that can be solved by healthy, low-cost meals.

Others maintain that poor diet is the result of poverty, not lack of education.

This begs the question: Do healthy foods really cost more?

‘Apples to oranges’ drives researchers bananas

Foods contain calories and a whole array of nutrients in different quantities that we require at different life stages in different amounts. At the same time, some ingredients must be limited, like sugar, sodium and saturated fat.

Researchers have developed indices like the Nutrient Rich Food Index to rank foods based on their composite nutrient profile, taking into account both the good and bad.

Food comparisons also require a standard unit of comparison and to this day, researchers are still debating — how do we effectively compare apples to oranges?

And when we add food price to the equation, how can we be sure we are getting the biggest nutritional bang for our buck?

When food prices are compared on the basis of average portion (like one apple versus one orange) or edible weight (like 100 grams), healthful foods can be cheaper for the consumer.

Calories cheap, nutrients expensive

However, when foods are compared based on their energy cost (amount of money per calorie), energy-dense foods like grains, fats and sweets represent the lowest-cost option. These cheap calories also tend to be the least nutritious.

While some researchers have argued that consumers don’t purchase foods based on the cost of energy, others have shown that this metric best matches the actual consumption patterns for low-income people.

The fact that low-cost, energy-dense foods of low nutritional content are heavily relied upon by low-income consumers means we can’t ignore this metric.

Not enough money, or time

Although nutritious, inexpensive food options do theoretically exist, whether they’re accessible and feasible, particularly among the most socially disadvantaged consumers, has long evaded both nutrition researchers and politicians.

As Couillard admitted, his food budget would have demanded significant time and planning commitments.

The “time cost” to prepare raw food items relative to prepared or convenience products may lead to differing conclusions about relative prices of food — despite the higher price tag of prepared foods.

In fact, research suggests that time is more constraining than money in following nutritious food plans.

Access to a healthful diet is not just about food prices, which have have been rising across the country for several years; it’s also about income and purchasing power. Low income is the strongest predictor of food insecurity in Canada, where one in eight households experience insufficient access to nutritious foods.

Modest improvements in income through policy instruments such as a basic income guarantee have been shown to be effective in reducing the probability of food insecurity among the poorest households. Such programs and policies, however, are left to the government of the day and a change in politics can signal the cancellation of such initiatives.

Meanwhile, emergency food relief programs, like food banks and soup kitchens, are left to charitable and private organizations, which some have argued permit the government to neglect social welfare obligations.

So, can the most socioeconomically disadvantaged people afford nutritious diets? Are healthy foods really more expensive?

Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions about the true cost of food. As the UN special rapporteur on the right to food said of his 2012 mission to Canada: “The question of hunger is not a technical question, it’s a political question.”

Source: The Conversation


The Sugar Wars: Rhetoric or Reason?

Over the past 50 years researchers, clinicians, professional organizations, and health charities have waged war on sugar, calling for dietary recommendations to be changed and for a sugar tax on soft drinks and sweet treats in an effort to reduce obesity and cardiovascular diseases. In 2014, the WHO recommended that adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than ten percent of their total energy intake. But could the war on sugar be bad for your health? Experts present the arguments both for and against sugar in this hotly contested debate on the “Sugar Wars” published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases.

In his article, Edward Archer, PhD, of EvolvingFX, Jupiter, FL, USA, challenged the latest dietary recommendations and presented evidence from multiple domains to show that “diet” is a necessary but trivial factor in metabolic health. “Anti-sugar rhetoric is simply diet-centric disease-mongering engendered by physiologic illiteracy,” he wrote. “My position is that dietary sugars are not responsible for obesity or metabolic diseases and that the consumption of simple sugars and sugar-polymers (e.g., starches) up to 75 percent of total daily caloric intake is innocuous in healthy individuals.”

In defense of sugar, Dr. Archer argues that:

  • Biological life depends on sugar in its many forms, for example, sugars and sugar-polymers are major nutritive constituents of many foods and beverages including breast milk, dairy products, fruit, fruit juices, honey, sucrose (i.e., table sugar; a disaccharide of glucose, and fructose), sugar-sweetened beverages, rice, beans, potatoes, wheat, corn, quinoa, and other cereal grains.
  • Sugars and sugar-polymers have played critical roles in both human evolution and dietary history and were the major sources of nutrient-energy (calories) for most of the global population throughout human history.
  • “Diet-centric” researchers often ignore the fact that physical activity, not diet, is the major modifiable determinant of metabolic health.
  • The consumption of dietary sugars up to 80 percent of total energy intake is entirely innocuous in active populations.
  • There is strong, positive association between sugar availability/consumption and health.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus are not diet-related diseases but are metabolic conditions caused by the positive energy balance (i.e., over-nutrition) driven by physical inactivity in past and current generations.

Relations between physical activity (PA), body mass, and energy intake. As PA declines below the metabolic tipping point into the “Sedentary” range, energy intake and energy expenditure become dissociated due to insufficient depletion/repletion cycles, and body mass begins to increase as energy balance becomes positive and insulin sensitivity is lost. (From Archer: In Defense of Sugar)

In a Letter to the Editor, James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, and James H. O’Keefe, MD, of the Department of Preventive Cardiology, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, MI, USA, provide strong criticisms to Dr. Archer’s positions by arguing that dietary sugar (either glucose, sucrose, or high-fructose corn syrup) is not necessary for life, and that humans did not consume refined sucrose or high fructose corn syrup throughout most of their evolution.

“The truth is you really can’t outrun a bad diet, especially when it comes to overconsuming refined sugar. While it’s true that exercise may reduce the risk of obesity from overconsuming refined sugar, it doesn’t prevent dental cavities, inflammation of the gums, or inflammation that occurs in the intestine, liver, and kidneys when the body processes large amounts of sugar,” say Dr. DiNicolantonio and Dr. O’Keefe. “Healthy populations that consume fairly high amounts of raw honey who also live hunter-gatherer lifestyles should not be used as an example to give an industrialized sedentary population an excuse to overconsume refined sugar. Importantly, raw honey is not the same as refined sugar.”

In his rebuttal, Dr. Archer reasserts that obesity and metabolic diseases are caused by the confluence of physical inactivity and non-genetic evolutionary processes over many generations. He points out that by the late 1940s, both the life- and health-spans in the USA had increased dramatically despite half of all infants being reared on infant formula – a 100 percent artificial/synthetic product containing around 40 percent of calories from added sugars (e.g., lactose, sucrose, glucose, fructose, and/or corn syrup). He concludes: “It is time for the medical and scientific communities to return to their roots, eschew magical and miraculous thinking, and demonstrate a modicum of skepticism by refuting the illiterate nonsense and puritanical proscriptions engendered by diet-centrism.”

In an accompanying Editorial, Carl J. “Chip” Lavie, MD, FACC, FACP, FCCP, of the Ochsner Clinical School, The University of Queensland School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA, and Editor of Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, states his personal belief that the ill effects of sugar have been over-emphasized by scientists and, especially, by the media. “Most sedentary people who are gaining weight and/or have high glucose and/or triglycerides should limit their carbohydrates and, especially, simple sugars, but for lean physically active individuals without these characteristics, sugars and carbohydrates are not toxic and, in fact, are probably helpful.” Dr. Lavie, however, feels it is important to have the scientists discuss opposing viewpoints in the journal.


Opinion: Canada Needs a Healthy Eating Strategy

MAry L’Abbe wrote . . . . . . . .

The long process of updating Canada’s Food Guide and reforms to nutrition labelling will soon become a reality. Collectively called Canada’s healthy eating strategy, the proposals by Health Canada have been open to public consultation— and, unfortunately, industry lobbying.

No one is arguing with the rights of all Canadians to be heard on policies proposed by governments, but we must ensure decisions are based on neutral scientific evidence, not the persuasiveness or lobbying budgets of the processed food manufacturing sector.

We need to make sure conflict of interest is identified and not allowed to influence publichealth decisions.

Many might wonder why government proclamations are crucial. After all, Canadians generally don’t carry the food guide with them to a restaurant or grocery store. Some will say they don’t want the government telling them what to eat. The goal of these policies is not to mandate what Canadians must eat, but to allow informed choices to lead to better health.

Along with being used by individuals, Canada’s Food Guide is the foundation for nutrition curriculums in schools across Canada and the basis for meal planning in most institutions: military bases, prisons, daycares, hospitals and retirement residences. It is one of the most powerful policy and education tools available to influence diets and impact our individual and collective health.

Similarly, food-packaging requirements are important and do influence food choices, as has been shown in many studies. But, unfortunately, as confirmed in a study I conducted last year with colleagues at the University of Toronto, what’s stated now on the package often doesn’t give consumers the full picture.

For example, many consumers seeing “no added sugar” on the front of a package mistakenly think it means the product has no sugar. But our study found that while over one-third of fruit drinks made the no-added-sugar claim, 99 per cent of them contained excess free sugar. Free sugars are those added to foods as well as those naturally present in syrup, honey and fruit juice; they are different from the intrinsic sugars found in whole foods such as fruit and vegetables.

Additionally, we found 85 per cent of products claiming “reduced in sugar” still contained excess sugar levels. Most food products making reduced-sugar or no-added-sugar claims did not have reduced

calories, which studies show most consumers expect on foods with such claims.

It is not for nothing that the food industry invests so much in developing and refining their packaging. The information mandated by government directly impacts what we buy and what we eat.

The current proposals for prominent and clear front-of-package labelling to identify products high in saturated fat, salt or sugar are sensible and important requirements to allow people in Canada to more easily make informed choices.

The long-term impact of these policies is what makes the process used by the federal government for these changes so vital.

A group of 26 of the most prominent nutrition experts from around theworld recently sent a letter to Health Canada stressing that the science is clear that excess consumption of foods and beverages high in energy, added sugar, sodium and saturated fat has a negative impact on our health. This knowledgeable group has come out in strong support of frontof- package warning labels as a way to curb consumption of these unhealthy products, most of which are processed “junk” foods.

We cannot afford to have this work undermined by food manufacturers bending the planned policies to favour their products— their short-term gain over Canadians’ longtermhealth. Millions of people in Canada are living with diet-related disease, costing $26 billion a year and causing 47,000 deaths in 2016. Almost one in three children are overweight or obese. Critics of the proposed policies use scare tactics that claim the goal of the changes is to force food choices on Canadians and to hurt Canadian agriculture. The goal, of course, is to inform choices, not restrict choices. Canadian agriculture has a crucial role in supplying the many nutritious foods we all need and eat every day. That will never change.

What certainly does need to change is our steady march as a society towards obesity and diet-related sickness. Canada’s new Healthy Eating Strategy is a much-needed turn away from that fate.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper

Yoga isn’t Timeless: It’s Changing to Meet Contemporary Needs

Jeremy David Engels wrote . . . . . . .

On June 21, on International Yoga Day, people will take out their yoga mats and practice sun salutations or sit in meditation. Yoga may have originated in ancient India, but today is practiced all over the world.

In the United States, it was philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau who first engaged with the philosophy of yoga in the 1830s. Yoga gained a wider American audience only in the late 1800s.

Today, part of yoga’s appeal is that it continues to be seen as a mystical, ancient tradition. However, as I’ve discovered in my research, the practice of yoga has gone through some profound shifts. Here are four.

1. Yoga for health and happiness

It was a Hindu reformer, Swami Vivekananda, who first introduced yoga to a larger audience. Vivekananda originally came to the United States to seek funds to relieve poverty in India. Several electrifying addresses he delivered at the World’s Parliament of Religions, the world’s first global interfaith dialogue held in 1893 in Chicago, brought him instant fame. He then traveled around the U.S. for the next several years, giving lectures and teaching yoga.

Vivekananda revived the tradition of an ancient Indian sage, Patanjali, that had been almost forgotten. Patanjali likely lived in India somewhere between the first century B.C. or the fourth century A.D. He claimed that the goal of yoga was isolation from existence and freedom from the bonds of mortal life.

According to Patanjali, to overcome suffering, individuals needed to renounce the very comforts and attachments that seem to make life worth living for many today. As the journalist Michelle Goldberg, author of “The Goddess Pose,” puts it, Patanjali’s yoga “is a tool of self-obliteration rather than self-actualization.”

No one today is likely to see yoga as a way to renounce their existence. Most people are drawn to yoga to find happiness, health and compassion in everyday life.

2. Value of physical exercise

Most people today associate yoga closely with physical exercise and postures, known as asanas, designed to strengthen and stretch the body. There is more to yoga, however, than the physical. Yoga also encompasses devotion, contemplation and meditation. In fact, the primary focus on the body would surprise both Patanjali and Vivekananda, who prioritized mental over physical exercise.

Patanjali treated the body with disdain, believing it to be a prison. He was emphatic that we are not our bodies, and that any attachment to our bodies is an impediment to yoga. Vivekananda echoed these thoughts. He treated asanas with scorn. Vivekananda argued that an obsessive focus on the body distracts from the true practice of yoga: meditation.

In contrast, contemporary practitioners embrace asana as central to yoga. Contemporary yogis recognize that the mind, and the soul, is embodied. By “getting smart in their yoga,” contemporary yogis attend to their bodies, and also to their emotions, because the health of the body impacts the ability to see clearly and act deliberately.

3. Focusing on the self

A central practice of yoga is self-study, known in Sanskrit as “svadhyaya.” In the tradition of Patanjali, this means “the reading of sacred scriptures.”

Today, svadhyaya has come to mean the study of oneself. People often take up the practice of yoga to lead happier, less stressed and more compassionate lives. Yoga involves, as I argue in my book “The Art of Gratitude,” paying attention to one’s habits. Only by first noticing one’s habitual patterns does it become possible to change them.

Sacred texts, broadly understood, can help this practice of self-study, as they encourage reflection on deep and difficult questions that do not have easy answers. For today’s practitioners, these questions include: What is the purpose of life? How can I live an ethical life? And, what would truly make me happy?

Ultimately, self-study resides at the heart of a healthy yoga practice. It allows yogis to recognize their deep connection to others and the world around them. This recognition of interdependence and interbeing is central to today’s yoga.

4. Ethics of a yoga guru

In ancient practice, the relationship between a guru and a student was crucial. Today, the guru-student model is going through a shift. Yogis no longer train for years in their guru’s home, as was the practice in ancient India. Yogis instead practice in studios, in parks, at fitness centers, or at home on their own.

Still, many contemporary yoga teachers claim the title of “guru.”

However, some practitioners of yoga are calling for an end to the guru model, given that it comes with an inherent power, which opens the door to abuse. There are many examples of such abuse, with a more recent one being the case of Bikram Choudhury, the 73-year-old founder of Bikram yoga, who fled the country to avoid an arrest warrant in California in 2017 after being accused of sexual assault.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement in the United States and India, many yoga practitioners have initiated important conversations about the ethics of being a yoga teacher. At the heart of these conversations is how yoga teachers must, above all else, treat their students, who are often deeply vulnerable, with dignity and respect.

Ancient, but not timeless

Indeed, there is great power, and great mystique, in just how old yoga is.

But as a professor of communication, I observe that one of the most common errors people make in daily conversation is to appeal to antiquity – what scholars call the “argumentum ad antiquitatem” fallacy – which says that something is good simply because it is old, and because it has always been done this way.

Yoga is ancient, but it is not timeless. By stopping for a moment to consider yoga’s past, we can recognize the crucial role that all of us can and must play in shaping its future.

Source: The Conversation

The French Cuisine Revival Is Just Getting Started

George Reynolds wrote . . . . . . . . .

Modern French gastronomy has never not been in crisis, in rupture from itself. Nouvelle cuisine was a response to the cream-laden excess of Marie-Antoine Carême and Auguste Escoffier; cuisine minceur distanced itself even further from their approach. Roger Vergé and Michel Bras made immaculate, seasonal vegetables, not animal protein, their raison d’être; Alain Passard (briefly) went one better and rejected meat entirely. Bistronomie stripped haute cuisine of its pretensions, occasioning just the latest cri de coeur in a century-long tradition of pundits proclaiming this as the moment when classic French cooking definitively died.

In America, the story of French food, on the surface at least, is simpler: It was the pinnacle, then it wasn’t. There are any number of reasons why it was toppled from its position of pre-eminence: the emergence of viable alternative models; the winnowing away of pomp and circumstance from menus and dining rooms in the wake of the Great Recession; health concerns and simple fashion too, probably. Whatever the cause, the postwar giants — La Côte Basque, Le Cirque, Lutèce — closed one by one, and a more symbolic door seemed to have shut with them.

The reasons for French food’s resurgence in the years since Time magazine deified its new, emphatically non-French (and decidedly male) Gods of Food are as multifarious as the reasons for its original decline: Simple fashion, again, is probably only one of them.

But certainly, by the time Lucky Peach was asking its panel about the future of gastronomy for the Fall 2016 “Cooks & Chefs III: Fine Dining” issue, the gastronomy of the past was once again on the table. Christopher Kostow, the chef of California’s three-Michelin-star Restaurant at Meadowood, predicted chefs would soon be “looking further back and asking ourselves why we have rid ourselves of certain things”; trailblazing Alinea chef Grant Achatz was even more specific, predicting the return of “old French-style restaurants” — nothing less than “a resurgence of classicism.”

Really, he could have been describing Le Coucou, which opened in New York City in June of that year with a theatrical Gallic flourish, toques and all. Chef Daniel Rose intended it as a modern homage to Lutèce, perhaps the most emblematic of the grand postwar restaurants championed by then-New York Times critic Craig Claiborne. And if current New York Times critic Pete Wells didn’t quite match the four stars eventually bestowed by Claiborne on Lutèce, he nevertheless thrilled to the similarities between the two restaurants, and Le Coucou’s recontextualization of what he termed “the old high style.” Somewhere willing to serve authentic Lyonnaise quenelles de brochet in 2016 New York was undeniably distinctive — “an unmistakable outlier,” per Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton — but was also far more than a mere novelty play: It felt significant enough to move Eater’s national critic Bill Addison to predict that 2017 would finally (once again) be the year of the “proudly French restaurant.”

Fifteen months on, that feels like a pretty good call. Achatz himself is midway through a six-month exploration of 20th century French gastronomy at Next, in Chicago; Nouvelle Cuisine will replace the Cuisine Classique theme at the end of this month. In New York, Le Coucou now has a sibling, La Mercerie, which twins an innovative retail concept with an all-day menu boasting crepes and more recherché fare, like the tourteau fromagé; a couple of blocks away, Frenchette flies the tricolore for more affordable bistro dishes (and, less traditionally, natural wines). Grand Café in Minneapolis was one of last year’s most anticipated (re)openings; in the span of a few months, the West Coast has seen first Bar Crenn and now Canard come to the party, two of the highest-profile newcomers of 2018 so far. And Balthazar, Keith McNally’s oft-imitated ode to Parisian brasseries in New York City, is up for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant, 21 years after its first opened.

What is striking in each of these cases is not that they are French, but quite how unapologetically French they are. Where for the past decade or so French influence largely needed to be ironized, deftly reimagined, or otherwise attenuated — think the celeriac en vessie or carrot tartare (really more of a carrot à la presse) at Eleven Madison Park — in 2018, the truly old-fashioned and excessive is back on the menu. Some of the more recent openings may share some of their DNA with the Montreal maximalists Joe Beef — like Grand Café, whose riff on the Paris-Brest substitutes a mousse of chicken livers cooked in cognac and cream for the more common praline — but more often than not it is canonical Gallic gastronomy, without further mediation or reinterpretation, that is on offer.

Words that once functioned as shorthands for a very specific form of fine dining fussiness and fustiness — beurre blanc, tarte flambée, soufflé, mousseline, mille-feuille — are once again reclaiming their rightful place on menus embracing, not scorning, the past. In parallel with the rise of culinary New Romanticism, with its personal narratives, organic style of plating, and bouquets of edible flowers, is it time to speak of a neoclassical revival, too?

However small in scale (for now, at least), the resurgence is not confined to places that self-define as capital-F French. At the genre-bending New York City restaurant Momofuku Ko, one of the signature dishes — previously an occasional fixture on the tasting menu, now available daily at the new bar — is something that a French chef from a hundred years ago would recognize as a classic pithivier: burnished, flaky, beautifully scored pastry encasing a savory farce (now duck, previously pheasant and foie gras). Pies like it have recently appeared on menus in Hong Kong (at Belon, courtesy of British chef Daniel Calvert), and in London (at both the Laughing Heart and Portland). In each case, old-fashioned grand cuisine is positioned in a context that otherwise scans as completely contemporary.

This juxtaposition is part of the pithivier’s appeal for chef Sean Gray, who likes how it feels “kind of out of place” alongside other dishes on the Ko menu. But he sees it as far from a stagnant fixture there, despite its popularity; for him and his team, it has become almost a provocation: “How good can it be? How good can we make it?”

It’s no idle question: A dish like this, which involves at least a dozen steps across multiple days, is pure, old-fashioned, labor-intensive technique at its most exacting. Which, of course, is also part of its appeal. For customers, there’s the wonder at seeing something you definitely couldn’t do at home; for head chefs mindful of the need to educate their young charges, there’s the training aid that it represents; for the person cooking it, there’s the accountability of taking control of a technically challenging process that can span multiple days.

This being 2018, there’s the Instagram angle, too. In a feed cluttered with rainbow-unicorn prettiness and tweezered terrarium plating, the stark geometric shapes and neutral colour palette of the neoclassical dish stand boldly and strikingly apart; the British chef Calum Franklin has amassed tens of thousands of followers (including at least one famous fan) on the back of this sort of immaculate, precision-engineered craftsmanship. Image-sharing has doubtless helped fuel the aesthetic’s reemergence, affording likeminded cooks a platform to show off their creations and spur each other on to even more elaborate extremes.

From top left: quenelle Lyonnaise; asparagus with hollandaise; tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and caneles at Bar Crenn in San Francisco

The furthest extreme to date — and the signal neoclassical opening of 2018 so far — is surely San Francisco’s Bar Crenn. Every element of the design, from the decor to the servicewear (lovingly plucked from Parisian flea markets) has been specifically selected, Crenn says, to “tell the story” of 1920s and ’30s salon life, to recreate an atmosphere in which “people gathered and exchanged ideas” with far more freedom than they do now.

The free exchange of ideas between past and present influences Crenn’s work more broadly: “You cannot go forward or be inspired,” she says, “without being aware of your heritage, where you came from.” And while some chefs might be looking back to the past with perhaps misplaced nostalgia — the heyday of French cuisine was also a time of imperialism, racism, and sexism — for Crenn the journey back in time through her culinary tradition is both personal and thoughtful; it is precisely this approach that informs the menu at Bar Crenn, which positions uncompromising French icon-dishes from the likes of Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, and Pierre Koffmann alongside equally uncompromising riffs on French classics, like pâté en croute from Crenn herself.

It’s a juxtaposition that foregrounds quite how much of a boys club French fine dining has historically been. There is something strikingly transgressive, too, in the finished dishes being eaten not in the grand ateliers of Lyon or Paris but as “bar snacks” in a room that abuts one of America’s most progressive temples of fine dining. But, in Crenn’s eyes, this conversation between different schools of and approaches to high-end gastronomy is central to the overall effect: “If you put a Monet, and a Gaugin, and a Dalí on the wall, they may all be from different backgrounds and eras, but they are still in dialogue. And that dialogue might spark something.”

Bar Crenn itself is in a sort of dialogue with two other San Francisco restaurants, each opened by another chef with multiple Michelin stars to their name. Perhaps its most obvious analogue is Monsieur Benjamin, the modern bistro from Corey Lee whose lengthy menu is inspired by “the great Parisian bistro culture and traditions of French cooking.” And although this is clearly one crucial element of the neoclassical resurgence, Bar Crenn’s drive to recontextualize French traditions puts it in conversation, too, with In Situ, Lee’s project across town. There, modern culinary masterpieces play off each other in the suggestive setting of SFMOMA; it is a framing device that speaks volumes about the role that restaurants play in the curation and/or conservation of different schools and traditions.

Merely preserving the past is not enough for chefs like Crenn; for her, there is no point in going back if it doesn’t also help us to move forward. Postwar French restaurants in America were always museums, in a sense; visions of classical French cookery frozen in amber for half a century or more. But at Bar Crenn — as at other exemplars of the French neoclassical wave — the exhibits are finally coming to life.

Source: Eater