Importing Local Cuisine

fried spamAs the virtues of eating local food have gone from a radical idea to a commonly accepted norm in the food world, it has systematically distorted our understanding of the history of cuisines. The “romantic” idea is  that, in our pre-industrial past, food was based on what the land could provide. Historically, cuisines developed locally from peasant dishes in the country-side to more complex high cuisine in the cities. That idea now sits comfortably alongside the notion that truly authentic food must have a pure origin in local foodways that resisted the bastardization of outside influence.

As I argued in American Foodie, nothing could be farther from the truth. The mixing and matching of ingredients, cooking methods, and recipes has been going on ever since humans could move about the globe. (The habit of calling border food inauthentic is one of my pet peeves.)

But if you want a more authoritative source for what’s wrong with this idea of authenticity along with a fascinating tour of the fascinating cuisine of Hawaii, check out this paper by food historian Rachel Laudan. (H/T Gary Allen)

Using Hawaiian cuisine as an illustration of her more general thesis, she argues that entire food systems have been transplanted from one region to another and that many of the world’s best known “local” dishes were invented to serve tourists.

Laudan argues that cuisines are held together by culinary philosophy not agricultural resources and specifies different meanings of the word “local” which show the idea of a “homegrown” cuisine to have only limited application.

The article makes me hungry for some fried spam.

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