The number of Time Europe at newsstands this week contains a special section dedicated to food. Entitled ‘Summer Journey’, it sets out from the concept that, ‘From seaweed to chicken and chili, our food — how we find it, cook it and eat it — tells the story of the modern world’.
The section kicks off with ‘The Food Chains That Link Us All’, an article by Mark Kurlansky, the American journalist and writer famous for his monographs on topics such as cod and salt.
‘C.L.R James, the great Trinidadian essayist, once wrote of his favorite sport, “What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?” The same question should be asked of food. To write about food only as food misses the point, or the many points, about the great universal human experience between birth and death. Food is not just what we eat. It charts the ebbs and flows of economies, reflects the changing patterns of trade and geopolitical alliances, and defines our values, status and health—for better and worse.’
He then develops the point:
‘The famous dictum of the early 19th century French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” should be expanded. Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are, where you live, where you stand on political issues, who your neighbors are, how your economy functions, your country’s history and foreign relations, and the state of the environment. By looking at food, the age we live in is better understood.’
The section also includes an article by Carlo Petrini on ‘The Importance of Home Cooking’, in which the president of Slow Food International recalls his childhood.
‘When I was a child in Bra in Italy, hardly any mothers had a job, grandmothers lived with their children and grandchildren, and lunch and dinner were rites you couldn’t miss. Even if the world was collapsing around you, you would go home at a set time, sit down at the table and eat a full meal fondly prepared by the women of the house. Most ingredients came from local markets, though a lot of the vegetables were grown directly in our allotments, and meat came from animals raised by friends or acquaintances. The most “exotic” foods were bought at the neighborhood grocer’s shop.’
Not that Petrini wants to go back in time:
‘I’m not advocating a return to the family scene of my childhood; such environments were often indicative of poverty and social backwardness. And going back to the old days would force women back into the kitchen.’
Yet the past can teach us a lot.
‘But we can find ideas in the past that we might apply in our increasingly complex society, and so ensure a serene future for ourselves and the earth. Food is central to our lives. It would be wrong to turn it into nothing more than a fuel enabling us to move faster, hence accelerating the consumption of the earth and its resources. In fact, it would be the worst mistake we could ever make.’
Other articles in this fascinating special issue include an investigation of bird flu in Indonesia by Bryan Walsh, a study of food aid in Ethiopia by Hannah Beech, reflections on the perfect espresso by Jeff Israely and a requiem for the liquid lunch by Alexander Chancellor.