The Challenges of Modernity

“CORE 152 – The Challenges of Modernity” was a required class during my freshman year of college.  Behold liberal arts[1] curriculum in all its philosophical glory!  What did the class cover?  Frankly, I’m still not entirely sure. This snippet from the course catalog helps paint a better picture, “A matrix of intellectual, social, and material forces that have transformed the world over the last quarter millennium, modernity has introduced new problems and possibilities into human life.”  Oh boy, that’s deep.  Incidentally, I totally agree – especially as it pertains to Modernist Cuisine, the new manifesto of cutting edge culinaria by Nathan Myhrvold.

Dr. Myhrvold’s thoroughly modern work introduces more problems and possibilities than you can shake a stick at.  At the tip of the problematic iceberg, the six-volume set includes 2,400 pages, weighs in at 43 pounds (4 pounds of which are ink) and costs $625[2]. Not an impulse buy like the US Weekly I pick up at the grocery (for my wife of course).  Moreover, although the author contends that, “the major­ity of the recipes in the book can be made in a con­ven­tional home kitchen,” there are multitudes that require the purchase of extra equipment. What type of equipment you ask?  Pretty standard gear….liq­uid nitro­gen, cen­trifuges and rotor-stator homog­e­niz­ers to name a few.  I’ll be sure to grab that stuff next time I rob NASA’s Kennedy Space Center or run into my good buddy Grant Achatz[3] of Alinea.

Make no mistake, the possibility of technological development dramatically transforming how we cook does excite me.  Who among us wouldn’t want to master gelling with hydrocolloids, spherification and cooking sous vide?  Modernist cuisine is exhilarating stuff, but I wish Myhrvold and friends produced an abridged version that would allow less affluent home cooks and foodies to get their feet wet.  It’s hard to start a modern food revolution that requires an up-front investment equivalent to half my monthly mortgage payment and the ability to heft 43 pounds.  Begrudgingly, I must admit that after all these years my college professors were right – modernity is indeed challenging.

1 – A career counselor once told me that my liberal arts education had “prepared me for nothing” and left me “with no marketable job skills.” Boy did I prove her right wrong.

2 – More interesting statistics on Modernist Cuisine can be found at Serious Eats.

3 – I am not actually a friend of Grant Achatz.  Furthermore, I’m pretty sure he would stab me if I ever tried to touch his kitchen equipment at Alinea.


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