December 4, 2005
Movement and Food
The Slow Food Movement shows how something as commonplace as food can take on strong political ramifications. It also shows it is not simply the food which is important but that which it represents: the culture, lifestyle, identity, or heritage behind the food.
When I think of the relationship between politics and food, as the Slow Food movement initiated, I immediately think about the annual spiritual lecture within yoga class about vegetarianism.
It is not a topic they preach often, for although on the yogic path to enlightenment, they still have to be mindful of their paying audience and vegetarianism is often viewed as radical. This year’s lecture came last Thursday. The topic of the lecture was that it takes bravery to commit oneself to acting for the benefit of others. “Others” obviously went beyond humans. With only 6 billion humans on earth, Uma pointed out that we consume some 25 billion animals annually. One million dollars, she stated, creates a tower about two feet high; one billion dollars is higher than the empire state building so with this metaphor she demonstrated how unimaginably violent it is to kill 25 billion animals. Like the Slow Food Movement, to Uma and to the rest of the yoga community, food consumption, although a basic need, is not a mindless act but should be considered for its global, environmental, energetic impact on this organism called the universe. (What about water? Do we inflict pain or cultural negligence upon the world’s water organism by consuming it without regard? There are organizations to protect the world’s water supply but that seems to be in order to consume more of it. Are there any political groups that propose we stop drinking water or that we drink it differently?)
Defined by BKG in the introduction to Culinary Tourism, as events where food is the focus of travel, I tried to think of culinary tourism I had participated in. What I realized though is that I could not think of any travel experience of mine that food was not a primary concern. Every place on the map conjures up a food representative of that place that would need to be tasted in order to have fully achieved the experience of place. Food is a thematic descriptor of culture, but more easily recognizable as a thematic description of place. When I went to Italy I had to get gelato, when I went to Morocco I had to have harira Soup, when in France, cheese and baguettes…. and so forth. Last week in Puerto Rico, my friends insisted on finding a not so easy to find rice and beans restaurant. Our mind’s image of the food representative of a certain place is not always predicated on the actual food of the place. What factors determine the strength of correlation between a place and food? Why did I go to Italy knowing the generalized conception that pasta and pizza would be available there but in Morocco I learned of the foods common there. Why do some countries get culinary representation in the American landscape while others don’t?
Where it gets particularly interesting, is when place does not determine food and the location where this is most visible is none other than New York City. New York City represents culinary tourism at its greatest hybrid variety. When my parents came to town, they had to go to “Sammy’s Romanian” a Jewish shtetl like dining experience that combines Klezmer Music, Frozen Vodka, and Fat enhanced chopped liver, with Egg Creams for dessert. Could one get an egg cream in the shtetl? Or was this culinary tourism of a constructed nature with inherent migration and assimilation built into the cultural identity displayed for digest? My parents traveled from Michigan to New York and part of the tourist experience of New York was to further travel (back in time and across in place) through an imagination process instigated by a meal.
Relegated to the land of senses as opposed to intellect, culinary considerations become highly malleable factors for tourist productions. Within the web of Sepharad 92 events, which commemorated Jewish expulsion from Spain, or outward movement, dinners were held that served Sephardic Food, festivals were arranged that offered Sephardic food, and a cookbook was published of Sephardic food. Sephardic food in this context was considered to be that which was cooked by Iberian Jews previous to the 1492 expulsion and cuisine was used to chart movement away from place. In an article published in 2002 (just ten years after the expulsion anniversary) titled “A Cuisine Returns After Centuries of Exile,” the author uses Sephardic cooking to chart movement into place. Goodman states, “Jews finally began returning to Spain in the early decades of the 20th century” and with them, they brought back Spanish cuisine transformed into Sephardic cuisine by the influence of the host countries that accepted them post expulsion. Also, efforts to “preserve a sense of Sephardic identity” within contemporary Spain takes place in the framework of food. In the once Jewish town of Girona, a Spanish Jewish group called the Red de Juderias de Espana formed to sponsor events and workshops related to Spanish Jewish cooking. In this sense, dynamics of site, exile, heritage construction, and food collaborate to represent cultural changes that reflect historical movements of people.
What this article and the notion of New York as a culinary tourism breeding ground have in common, is the relationship to moving people. Although the movement was forced in the instance of Spanish Jews, there seem to be interesting correlations to make between migration patterns of people or more generally movement, and culinary events. Food is proxy for place and people take place with them when they move.
Another idea I wanted to put out there that I don’t have time to fully think through or work in because I have to get back to Sepharad 92, but seems interesting……. is wine tasting tourism. Wine countries as they are called, invite tourists to travel within their nations without borders. Tourists travel from vineyard to vineyard collecting tastes, similar to the way medieval man made pilgrimage collecting religious experience. Modern religion in the sense of the wine pilgrimage becomes that of breeding cultural capital within oneself. Cultural capital takes the place of spiritual devotion to god.
Posted by Erin Madorsky at December 4, 2005 1:32 PM