Saturday, February 4, 2012

Mayonnaise and Aeroplanes

As of the end of February I will have travelled over 50,000 kilometres around the globe in the past calendar year.

That might seem shocking but chances are, in any given day, the ingredients in the food you will eat and the drinks that you will consume will have travelled much more than that.

How is it that we now live in a world where people don't travel large distances that often but our food does?  

About a year ago I went to the travelling Titanic artifact exhibit in Kitchener and it really stuck me then how many people were travelling a century ago.  Technology had progressed to the point that large luxury liners were being built and people were taking advantage of this and going off and exploring.  And today, with travel technology having advanced to the point that the middle class should be able to well afford travel often, it is not happening like I suspect that our forefathers of a century ago would have predicted.  My grandfather was born in 1912 and three of his far flung children allowed him to visit three continents with regularity, especially upon his retirement.  His passing in 1996 allowed my mother to pass along a small amount of money to me that I used embark on my first solo hostel trek to the Rockies and down 101 to San Francisco.  I chose to do that with his money in order to honour him and acknowledge the tremendous influence he had on my explorer nature.

So, fast forward back to today.  I had the chance to re-watch this compelling video promoting local food consumption in Canada.  Ironically, this video just happens to be made by a food company owned by Unilever, one of the world's largest multinational food corporations.

Re-watching this video and pondering the ethics of a multinational creating a local food promotional video got me thinking of my recent travels.  Especially the travels I've taken since having strict dietary restrictions.  I have been dismayed by many food 'movement' related things.  I think that some of these concerns would be most easily presented in a list form:
  1. The westernization of the Peruvian food system:  quinoa, a grain I cook with a lot, is native to South America but I only saw it on one menu down there whereas wheat, a non-native South American grain, permeates their food culture now.  I really expected to see this item (and corn) to be pervasive. But sadly, wheat based products were the norm for breakfast/lunch items that were provided by all of the travel industry hospitality providers (hostels/hotels/plane/trains/tourist delis/cafes).
  2. A traditional Parisian delicacy is the macaron.  These are supposed to be made with almond flour.  In Paris I had a difficult time finding ones that did not have gluten-based flours added.  Only the really upscale cafes had them.
  3. In Newfoundland it has become a bit of a joke with my family.  The outport stores and restaurants are nearly entirely supplied by Kraft.  And who knows? Maybe Hellman's (Unilever) is hoping to penetrate outport Canadian markets with an ad like the one above....there is only Miracle Whip (Kraft's competing salad dressing product) on the plates for most of Newfoundland and perhaps in other remote locations throughout Canada too.
  4. Everybody marvels about the food in New York City so I was surprised at how difficult it was to find food that wasn't laced with gluten and dairy. However, the Big Apple redeemed itself when we found Friedman's Lunch via a Manhattan gluten free search on yelp.  This delicious place is located in Manhattan's historic Chelsea market and I heartily recommend a trip there followed by a stroll along the adjacent High Line if you get a chance.
So again, I is it that a century ago the western culture was focussed on shipping people around the world and in the span of 100 years we now ship food around the world?  A We are shipping basically homogenized food that is easy to grow, store, and prepare (wheat/soy).  Local cultures are being processed into extinction.  It is readily recognized by every culture on the planet that food is a unifying force and the rituals around food are what bring people together.  If a culture can not claim their own local specialized and easily available food then it is less likely to have a strong community.  

Food is a linchpin in all religions and given the long lasting and pervasive power of all of the major religions I think us food activists could take a page from them.  The more we scream LOCAL the more likely we will succeed not only in community building but also the preservation of localized culture.  And if Unilever, or any other person or organization of power, wants to use food to further their own agenda we should be throwing our hats into the air with a celebratory cheer.  

Me at Friedman's Lunch in NYC December 2011.  Best gluten free hamburger, ever!

1 comment:

  1. Here I go again on a three bar high with the added adrenalin of being kicked off my turbo stick at any happened before.
    Now I forgot what I said before, which was brilliant.


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