Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Geography of Food

This article in the Times of India highlights a study by British researchers that claim that geography actually impacts tastebuds. They claim, "The research found Britain's taste preferences could be broken down like regional accents and depended very much on an area's history. In the north east, foods are enjoyed by taste buds on the tip of the tongue because the region has a history of industrial workers demanding meals that offer immediate sustenance." Read the full article here.

But what of cultures and lands (yes, literally, lands) that do not have such a history? For example, oh, America. How much does a history play into our tastes? I sort of wonder if we were more susceptible to a food culture of processed (though novel) foods because we lacked a steeped tradition of sorts. Though many immigrants carried the histories and traditions of their homeland with them to America, there was at the same time a real invigoration of an idea of a new life, a different way.

Just a hundred years after America became a sovereign country, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and a hundred years after that, we were all eating processed, manufactured and unrecognizable 'foods' more so than any other country. We have always been at the forefront of food product processing, marketing and distributing. And Americans absolutely gobble this stuff up. One has to question if somewhere in this incredibly short history, we forgot to create our own traditions of food and cooking. Was it just a lot of bad timing? What foods are considered 'American' and why? What cooking techniques and traditions are considered 'American'? Anything? Were we just too late to the culture-making game that we failed, or as yet have failed at least, to develop some sort of ideas about what it means to eat and cook and grow food?

I would say yes, but that all is not lost. In fact, we hit a bump in the road. We rode a wave of capitalism, nouveau riche countryism and we wanted to be different as a culture. But things are changing. The food movement is sending us in the right direction. We are essentially going backwards, starting over, hitting the reset button in order to move forward and create what we forgot to create. It's going to be simple at first, we are focusing on basic ingredients, flavors, herbs, that's what we want right now (and it feels new and it feels good), we are learning how to grow, how to do it naturally and how to cook. We are creating tastes and blending our cultures finally in a way that is not rushed and is not for money. Americans are awakening their tastebuds and creating their own recipes and ideas. We want Steinbeck's Salinas Valley and the tastes of Faulkner's cows' milk again. We don't want novelties anymore, we want food.

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