Sea dream salads—those gooey bundt pan molds of cucumbers suspended in lime Jell-O with a pile of tuna mixed with mayonnaise in the center—have become a symbol for post-WWII America. Depending on who you ask, they were either an act of feminist revenge for having to go back to the kitchens once the men came home from war or a way for women who had just gotten a taste of the workforce to exert some of the technical skill and creativity they’d previously used on the job. Either way, so much time has been devoted to the mockery, reconstruction, and analysis of the Jell-O mold that it has become an anthropological artifact we use to measure the distance between our evolved tastes and those of the tacky recent past.
But what will future generations make of the Instagram cheese board, those hulking masses of incongruent food carefully arranged for the eye rather than the stomach?
Shrimp, olives, parsley, pecans, a wedge of provolone, date crackers: it doesn’t matter what these things would taste like melded together on the palate. What matters is that they look appealing circling one another on rota fortunae-sized boards as unpredictable in their content as the chance that governs our own lives.
Perhaps the Instagram cheese board is a metaphor for the uncertainty of our political system, our planet, our economy. There’s a reason Lady Fortuna carries an overflowing cornucopia in one hand and a rudder in the other. We may fight to the death for potable water tomorrow, but today we might gather our rosemary while we may and place it, inexplicably alongside a whole, raw miniature pumpkin, yogurt covered pretzels, gherkins, and a wedge of triple créme then post that chaotic slab of individually appealing foods ruined in the name of photography to Instagram.
Last week, I spent a huge chunk of time studying the food waste of previous generations, and maybe that’s why these boards put me so much in mind of the Edwardian era, when a gouty upper class would dump lobster in aspic, look at it on their lunch table, then throw it away uneaten simply because they were rich enough to do so. No one is eating all these sliced raw cucumbers, pea pods, piles of cherry tomatoes; we’re just looking at them for two seconds and scrolling past. And if the risk of this blog is cementing food waste as my particular brand of killjoy, so be it. These cheese boards are useless and wasteful—the tacky, telling tuna rings of our age.