What if we redesigned the world with the eyes of food? Geogastronomy is a coined word for something very obvious that needed a name. Cartography has always torn the world apart in an attempt to understand and explain it, most often in the name of political, administrative or historical borders. In doing so, however, he has sometimes divided what feels united, or vice versa. The fact that food is so crucial in defining an individual’s and community’s identity cannot be ignored. So here is geogastronomy to explain the world with culinary spaces.
What does the Bethlehem fresco she says have in common? “make hummus not walls», Tex-Mex cuisine or Mediterranean diet? Bread or spaghetti bolognese? These are stories that talk about food from a geographical point of view and draw gastronomic spaces as important as economic, political or natural spaces. Food represents our identity and for this reason sometimes fuels nationalism, but often the myth of origins is overemphasized and we poison ourselves to establish where and how a recipe originated or the first example of a particular food was found.
An example concerns hummus, a dish common throughout the Middle East, very old and common, made with chickpeas, sesame paste (tahina) and some other ingredients like lemon and spices. Despite the comforting flavor that everyone agrees on and its peaceful aspect, it is actually a dish that is worked hard on to seize its authorship and the original recipe. Everyone from the Lebanese to the Turks to the Syrians to the Palestinians to the Israelis have attempted to trace its origin, each documenting their own primacy, but there is little evidence to support any theory. The thing is, flipping through old cookbooks or digging into culinary archeology doesn’t come to mind.
But it is so important to find out the exact origin if the truth is that hummus is a popular recipe for men and women living in the Middle East? The answer lies in the mural near Bethlehem with the inscription “make hummus not walls”, on the wall that since 2002 Israel has started to build as a separation barrier in the West Bank. An artificial border of more than 500 kilometers, which divides and divides something which is united with the table.
Another wall and another geogastronomy is that of the border between Mexico and the United States, the busiest in the world and among the most guarded. It measures 3200 kilometers and in some places there are barriers of different heights to prevent the passage of vehicles or the climbing of people.
Yet food has its own conception of space and of course he doesn’t care about borders. This is evidenced by the fact that one of the most popular cuisines in the world is the so-called “Tex-Mex” which, as its name suggests (which derives from a railroad line that connects Texas to Mexico) is the product of combining the cuisines of the Southwestern United States and Mexico. A culinary space that exists and materializes at the table where you can taste tortillas, tacos, quesadillas but above all the famous and tasty chili con carne. And at the table, the walls do not exist.
Geogastronomy is also that of the Mediterranean where three continents are given, the three great monotheistic religions are practiced and spoken to each other more than 200 languages. However, in this basin of inexhaustible diversity, a set of values, sensations, colors and flavors has been created which have a common meaning which takes the name of the Mediterranean diet.
Various elements (climatic, historical and religious, for example) have ensured that the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet is vegetables, grains and seasonings of plant origin, such as olive oil. But, beyond the products, the real common thread that unites all the peoples who overlook this sea is the notion of “eating together”, of making meals a moment of shared sociality that creates and strengthens ties. In a word: the pleasure of conviviality. Beyond divisions therefore, the Mediterranean is a very specific gastronomic space, in which food is a vector of relations and sharing.
Geogastronomy does not only consider the real world but also the virtual, where food (which here in the jargon is called #food) takes its place. In fact, we also eat in cyberspace and an example to clarify is related to a plate of spaghetti. The only city in the world where you can’t eat a plate of spaghetti Bolognese (seasoned with meat in the form of ragù or meatballs) is Bologna, yet outside of Italy it has become Italy’s signature dish. a city even if under the towers there is no trace of spaghetti seasoned in this way.
Moving to social media, where territorial narratives blur boundaries, following the hashtag #spaghettibolognese, it turns out that it is a very popular dish in the rest of the world but never located in Italy; above all, the dishes displayed as one moves away from Bologna gradually differentiate from that associated with the Emilian capital – spaghetti is replaced by noodles, rice noodles, vermicelli and the condiment is often made up of the mixture of the most disparate ingredients. The observation is simple: food inhabits the space of nostalgia, creativity, cyberspace, so many places that are difficult to trace to the borders.
And then there are the foods of the world, those that are eaten by everyone everywhere and at any latitude. The most symbolic is certainly the bread. There is no one who does not mix flour with water and cook the result. Tall or low, thick or thin, dry and dry or airy and soft, the breads differ according to the ingredients, the shapes and the cooking methods: the variety is enormous and the evolution continues, to the point that drawing up a list with all the names of the breads of the world is literally impossible. But, beyond the differences, what is bread? In all the languages of the world, the word bread means the same thing, that is to say the basic food, the food to be shared. With the bread you become companions, from the Latin “cum panis”, those who eat the same bread.
How is the world designed by food? It depends: when food has a material and productive dimension, the boundaries are clear, but when food enters its most sentimental and most collective dimension, it moves according to hidden, alternative geographies, which are those of the sensations it provides . In geogastronomy, food is linked to ideas, sensations, beliefs, past experiences, moods, contradictions that combine to become material boundaries. What has just happened is a world with more bridges than walls because food has always had the power to unite.
A world that belongs to us more, because we have designed it, without superstructures or political or economic designs. It is a world inspired by nature and necessity, and nature and necessity make no distinction, since food is a pleasure and everyone has the right.