TASTY BITS A DUTCH TREAT
Pieter Claesz’s Still Life with Turkey Pie is a visual feast. The abundance and variety of food so eloquently celebrated in art of the Dutch Golden Age did not escape the attention of those responsible for its safe distribution and use. The quality of perishables was monitored, and government regulations banned the sale of rotting vegetables and fruits. Bakers were required to wash their feet with hot water and nontoxic soap before using them to knead tough rye dough. Food preservation techniques, among them smoking, drying, and pickling, were widely practiced. And against a common misconception, spices were used to enhance the flavor of food, not to cover its taste.
Centuries later, the abundance of food in some parts of the world rivals that of the Dutch Golden Age. But neither the distribution nor the safety of the global food supply has become foolproof. While microbiology has revolutionized the way we perceive food safety, movement of people and goods has compromised it. Now as in the 17th century, consumers in affluent societies sit at sumptuous banquets to a mythical array of goods, bar none. Yet, sweet or sour, rare or local, organic, bioengineered, opulent, or simply served, food carries warnings, no longer about frivolity and excess but about disease risk. When van Leeuwenhoek's animalcules are pathogenic, each meal becomes a gamble. Infection, the great equalizer, has turned banquet to Dutch treat.