The World According to Food

A year ago @manuka wrote a Travellog, denting updates from his journey that lead him from Sarajevo to Tokyo. On entering Iran from Turkey he described a further change

I happily crossed the cultural border of samosas and basmati-like rice arriving in Iran. I like the food more than in Turkey.

That made me pause. Not that I don’t know that there are differences of cuisines in the world. But misreading his dent as stating a difference between samosa-rice (there is none) and basmati-rise, it gave rise to an image.

All the cereals of the world, the sorts of vegetables, the useful plants like sugar or cotton, the oilseeds, etc., that we eat and use, are located in distinct areas. They are grown and consumed at specific regions, and as the regions change, so do they.

We often say that with a change of region we find a change in the music, in languages, in customs, histories, and stories. But isn’t it the other way around too? That with the change in music, languages, customs, etc., we find a change of regions? That regions, cultural landscapes, are made of the customs, music, languages, etc., all that is at that place? Regions of the world are made of and distinguished not only by geography, but of all things cultural.

So what I am up to is this: How does the dissemination of plants like some cereals specify an area – and by that: distinguish it from others? What if we had a world map of the dissemination of cereals, cultural plants, oilseeds, sorts of vegetables? Wouldn’t we find a similar, but in a sense also very different kind of dissemination we find with the spread of musics, customs, habits, languages? Disseminations that like the others create continuous cultural landscapes? And wouldn’t they show, in a sense: on a deeper level, how broader regions are underlying smaller ones, differentiated by other means? Wouldn’t crop, or vegetables, or seeds define much larger cultural landscapes?

There are differences between individual cereals, vegetables, cultural plants, etc., and there are differences in cuisines. The latter are more varied than the former ones which they put to use. It looks a little bit like a language and its dialects (although the analogy only goes so far). And of course, worldwide transport and availability of foods have blurred the distinctions as have the differences between areas of cultivation and consumption of plants. But in this we seem to imitate or repeat just the prevalence of specific music genres or languages over, let’s call them loosely, indigenous, home based ones. But the similiarites are striking. 

Food may be a further, rather neglected feature of what consitutes continuous cultural landscapes. Of what landscapes consist of.

Surprinsingly, I couln’t find much pictures that depict such areas. There are maps describing import and export of commodites and food, of consumption of calories, depletion of habitats, etc. But maps showing only the areas of the dissemination of specific cereals, vegetables, etc., thereby showing continuous landscapes, are rather hard to find. Here are just some pictures, to give you a sketch of the idea:

maize  wheat  barley  rye  rice  

seed rape  sunflower  soybean  

cotton  sugar beet  potato  vine

(In red the area of origin, in green the one of current cultivation)


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