Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
The cultural arm of the United Nations, known as UNESCO, is committed to preserving some of the most famous historical sites around the world, from the Taj Mahal to Grand Canyon National Park. And, as of recently, it has also extended its world heritage designations to a few of the world’s most cherished culinary traditions, such as Turkish coffee and the traditional Japanese cuisine known as Washoku. We explore what it means to preserve culinary culture and weigh the importance of the UNESCO designation.
- Frank Proschan Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- Matt Goulding chief editor and publisher, Roads & Kingdoms
- Pati Jinich author, "Pati's Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking"; Cooking Instructor and Chef, Mexican Cultural Institute
Washoku, Traditional Dietary Culture Of Japan
Washoku is a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food. The basic knowledge and the social and cultural characteristics associated with Washoku are typically seen during New Year celebrations. The Japanese make various preparations to welcome the deities of the incoming year, pounding rice cakes and preparing special meals and beautifully decorated dishes using fresh ingredients, each of which has a symbolic meaning. These dishes are served on special tableware and shared by family members or collectively among communities. The practice favours the consumption of various natural, locally sourced ingredients such as rice, fish, vegetables and edible wild plants.
Turkish Coffee Culture And Tradition
Turkish coffee combines special preparation and brewing techniques with a rich communal traditional culture. The tradition itself is a symbol of hospitality, friendship, refinement and entertainment that permeates all walks of life.
Kimjang, Making And Sharing Kimchi In Korea
Kimchi, preserved vegetables seasoned with spices and fermented seafood, forms an essential part of the Republic of Korea meals, transcending class and regional differences. Preparation follows a yearly cycle. In spring, households procure shrimp, anchovy and other seafood for salting and fermenting. In summer, they buy sea salt for the brine. In late summer, red chilli peppers are dried and ground into powder. Late autumn is Kimjang season, when communities collectively make and share large quantities of kimchi to ensure that every household has enough to sustain it through the long, harsh winter.
UNESCO added the Korean art of Kimchi-making to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage last December. Check out the video we made about making Kimchi for an October 2013 segment about artisan food producers.
Gastronomic Meal Of The French
The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert.
Gingerbread Craft From Northern Croatia
The tradition of gingerbread making appeared in certain European monasteries during the Middle Ages and came to Croatia where it became a craft. Each craftsperson decorates gingerbread in a specific way, often with pictures, small mirrors and verses or messages. The gingerbread heart is the most common motif, and is frequently prepared for marriages, decorated with the newlyweds’ names and wedding date.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Jennifer Golbeck from the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo. For 70 years, the United Nations has worked to preserve the world's most valued cultural landmarks, including monuments like the Statue of Liberty, ancient sites like Easter Island, and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKBut what about the way a culture eats? As Western food chains reach faraway shores and restaurants embrace every possible combination of fusion cuisine, the U.N. body known as UNESCO is seeking to preserve the world's oldest and most unique culinary traditions, from the art of Turkish coffee to a centuries-old Japanese cuisine known as washoku.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKBut preserving the culture around food is far less straightforward than protecting any physical structure of landscape. Here to discuss, in the studio, we have Pati Jinich, a cooking instructor and chef at the Mexican Culture Institute, an author of a cookbook called "Pati's Mexican Table." She's also host of a PBS show by the same name. Glad to see you.
MS. PATI JINICHHi. Hello, Jen. Thank you for having me.
GOLBECKGlad to see you here. On the phone from Barcelona, we have Matt Goulding. He's chief editor and publisher of "Roads & Kingdoms," an independent journal of food, politics, travel, and culture. Nice to talk with you, Matt.
MR. MATT GOULDINGThanks for having me on, Jen. Good to -- great to be chatting.
GOLBECKAnd, by phone from Paris, we have Frank Proschan. He works in the Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage at the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization known as UNESCO. Thanks for joining, Frank.
MR. FRANK PROSCHANWell, thank you for inviting me.
GOLBECKSo there's a lot to talk about here, and I love talking about food. Matt, I'd like to start with you. We can imagine what it takes to preserve a site like the prehistoric cave drawings in France on UNESCO's list. At the very least that's a physical place that you can monitor and maintain. But consider a cooking style like washoku, this traditional Japanese cuisine, which UNESCO recognized as cultural heritage last month. And it's less clear how you go about actually preserving it. So what do you think it means to preserve culinary tradition?
GOULDINGWell, I'll start by saying, Jen, that I think that UNESCO's usually very careful in how they present this intangible cultural status. They usually use the word safeguard so as to, you know, sort of avoid the connotations of freezing something in time because we all know that cuisines and these intangible heritage sort of cultures that they try to celebrate are constantly evolving.
GOULDINGSo that's a tricky balance, though. So how do you recognize something for traditional roots, its historical sort of context without then somehow wanting to hold onto those moments without them changing or evolving in any kind of natural way? So that's part of the challenge. But I think, in the ideal world, what the status does is it brings sort of awareness to a cuisine.
GOULDINGIt helps local people understand just how particularly special this style of eating -- in this case, in Japan, washoku -- really is and then hopefully encourage the sort of practice and the dissemination of that cultural practice as much as possible. So in the case of Japan, I think what we've seen in the aftermath of the designation, which was in December, they've actually opened up foreign visas for chefs to come over now and study Japanese food, which, before, if you were a chef coming from abroad, you could obtain a visa in Japan if you promised to be cooking foreign food.
GOULDINGIt was a very strict program. And now they've actually reversed that stance. So they seem to be taking some tangible steps to recognizing and embracing this style of cooking as a result of the UNESCO designation.
GOLBECKInteresting. So, Frank, I'd like to turn to you. We would expect that culinary designations go to some of the world's most celebrated cuisines, French cuisine. But these actual awards go to traditions that are far more specific. For example, instead of honoring French cuisine, you have protected the gastronomic meal. So can you talk about what exactly the criteria are for a cuisine or a tradition to be recognized by UNESCO?
PROSCHANI think the important thing is to back up a moment and say we're not interested in what's unique. We're not interested in what's precious. We're not interested in what's special, except what's special to the people who are the practitioners, who are the communities within which a particular tradition exists.
PROSCHANSo it's not the world's most delicious food 'cause we would very quickly get killed if we would have to adjudicate what's the world's most delicious food. But it's really a question of what role does food play in the day-to-day life or in the special events of one community or another? It can be a small community. It can be a larger one, a national community like Japan or France. Or it can be, you know, the particular way that people in one village or another or in one family choose to organize social activities in which food plays an important part.
GOLBECKAnd so which traditions actually get chosen? What's the criteria for picking them then? I understand that you're saying that there are specific ones that are important to communities. But I expect there's a lot of foods that are important to a lot of different cultures. So how do you go about choosing which ones go on your list?
PROSCHANThe intangible heritage list at UNESCO, the representative list that you were talking about today or the list of intangible heritage in need of urgent safeguarding is based upon the initiatives of the member states. The member states of UNESCO that have ratified this convention for intangible cultural heritage put forward nominations based upon, in some cases, the initiatives of the communities, in other cases, based upon the initiatives of a particular research institution, a particular circle of fans or appreciators of a musical tradition or a theatrical tradition, whatever.
PROSCHANAnd so each nomination arrives at UNESCO at the convention with its own kind of history as to how it came about. The criteria first are that the community has to recognize the particular expressions as constituting their heritage.
PROSCHANThey have to organize some identity around that particular expression as if -- and food is something that immediately comes to mind because, for so many people, how you eat -- not what you eat, but also how you eat, you know, the family meals, the special meals, the ceremonial meals, the way that food is produced, grown, collected, harvested, whatever, all of that is fundamental to the way that a particular community identifies itself and distinguishes itself from the people across the road, the people across the mountain, or the people across the globe.
GOLBECKOkay. So, Pati, let's turn to you. With your culinary program, "Mexican Table" -- and I have to say I got a copy of your book, and I made some of that for dinner last night. And I'm making some of it for dinner tonight, so...
JINICHOkay. I'm coming over to give you a hug. Thank you for getting it.
GOLBECKSo you have brought many people closer to the world of Mexican cuisine. And Mexico is actually one of the first countries to receive this UNESCO designation three years ago. So can you talk about what you think it takes to save a historic or a traditional cuisine like Mexico's?
JINICHYes. Absolutely. And I have to tell you, for Mexico, this is huge, has been huge, and it continues to be huge. And in regards to the question that you had asked before, I think, even though the nomination or, you know, receiving the intangible cultural heritage of humanity award is this huge, great goal to attain. But the responsibility to get it and the responsibility maintain it falls, you know, in the internal groups of that society.
JINICHSo Mexico had been mobilizing since the year 2000, and it received it particularly for the foods of Michoacán. And, I mean, I cannot begin to tell you all that it has done to Mexico. First of all, it brought cohesion among the different groups that had to, you know, apply to nominate it. And then also, it's brought -- it's, like, shown a light to people that weren't aware of how crucial and special certain food traditions are. And...
GOLBECKSo can you tell us -- so where is Michoacán? And what does that food taste like? How is it different from what we're used to?
JINICHOf course. Yes, yes, yes. And, in fact, Michoacán's food is my favorite Mexican food. I'm obsessed with it so much that I have focused on my new season of the PBS show on Michoacán. It is a state that is located on the northwest region northwest of Mexico City. And it has the most humble but at the same time nuanced and layered cuisine that I know of Mexico. It is very hard to describe. And that's why when I read the intangible, you know, it is so hard to manage an intangible award, and it is really hard to describe these traditions that get passed on.
JINICHBut it's foods that have been cooked in that region for, you know, centuries and centuries and centuries. They deal with a specific chilies and ingredients that you can't find in other regions, as much like the pasilla chiles. They have a particular way of cooking and using ingredients. And I would just describe it -- and I need to repeat here what the governor of Michoacán said -- it's plain Mexican home cooking. And in my view, you don't need anything else.
GOLBECKThat sounds great. So if you'd like to join the conversation, you can join us by calling 1-800-433-8850. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. What traditional cuisines are important to you in your cultures? And do you think it's important to preserve these? So I'd like to just follow on with that a little bit. And I'm going to pose this to all the guests. But we'll start with you, Pati. So if we're preserving a cuisine at the same time we have all these other influences coming in -- you see all these Western chains appearing everywhere. And people are going to them, right?
GOLBECKSo how do you get the people who are living in a region that has some of these cuisines that are being protected to participate in them and use them and pick them over some of the other things that are coming in from outside?
JINICHRight. And I think, not because a country or a culture or a communities are trying to get these nomination or to preserve their particular regional cuisines or food doesn't mean that we have to be against globalization as if it is an evil. You know, I remember, I went to visit Zacatecas with my family a couple of years ago, which is this really charming city in the north of Mexico -- used to be a mining town, and now it just thrives in arts and culture.
JINICHAnd I walk into the Zocalo, which is beautiful, Colonial. It has the most magnificent cathedral. And I'm showing my kids who are now, you know, gringos, you know, Mexican-Americans here, all the treasures of our homeland in Mexico. And we walk out of the cathedral, and I'm like, and now we're going to go get a raspado, you know, a Mexican shaved ice, or some gorditas, which is a specialty of the town.
JINICHAnd we get out of the cathedral. And what is right in front of the cathedral? Starbucks. I wanted to scream, Jen, like, what are you doing here? But then, of course, where did my kids want to go? Starbucks because it's familiar to them.
JINICHThey were dying for a Frappuccino, mocha triple chocolate, chocolate, chocolate chip, whatever. And, you know, of course, we went. We got it. I experienced a Starbucks in Zacatecas, which is very different from other places. But then it also helps contrast the beauty of what remains and hopefully will continue in Zacatecas. And here is where, I think, the UNESCO nomination is crucial, so important and so positive because we can't stop globalization from happening.
JINICHOr from Starbucks going to wherever, but you can help the other areas remain strong and withstand that change. And that doesn't mean that you, as Matt Goulding -- Hi, Matt. As Matt was saying in the beginning, you can't keep something static, but hopefully you will help maintain those traditions, help them evolve while preserving their soul and also sharing space and time with things that are moving throughout the world.
GOLBECKGreat. We'll continue this conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck from the Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with Pati Jinich, Matt Goulding and Frank Proschan about preserving food cultures. You can join the conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850 or emailing us at Kojo@wamu.org. Or get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet to @kojoshow.
GOLBECKSo I'd like to pick up on this idea of globalization and Western restaurants and food chains moving in to lots of different countries. And now I'd like to start with you, Matt. So it's no secret that these food chains are taking hold in different countries, but can a chain like Starbucks or McDonalds actually endanger a centuries-old practice?
GOULDINGYeah, I think it absolutely can, unfortunately. And we're seeing that happen all over the world. I mean, I don't want to blame one particular enemy. Obviously Starbucks and I think McDonalds in particular catch a lot of flak because they're sort of the corporate faces of globalization. But it's very true. I mean I think similar to Pati's experience, for the story that we published in Roads and Kingdoms, I had dinner in an old family home, the Subi Moto (sp?) family, 19th generation of family in Kyoto. The home is older than the United States, protected by the Kyoto government.
GOULDINGBeautiful, simple meal of traditional Japanese food. And then you walk out and literally Starbucks and McDonalds are right there at the end of the block. So it's very, very real and very, very raw when you see an environment as juxtaposed as that. But I think when you see places like Starbucks popping up on every third corner or other fast-food coffee chains, in a culture like Japan, that was traditionally based around tea, obviously you're seeing a fundamental shift in the food system there. And I think that a lot of those forces, unfortunately, feel inevitable.
GOULDINGThis UNESCO distinction in some ways tries to highlight the original base roots of this particular cuisine being protected or being safeguarded in a way that says tea consumption is traditional in Japan. Rice consumption for breakfast and not bread consumption is traditional. Sticking with these basic flavors and core groups of technical preparations are what we need to do to help sort of mitigate the encroaching forces of globalization. Now, just how well they can do that against some very strong forces like the ones we're talking about still remains to be answered.
GOLBECKSo, Frank, I'd like to have you respond to this question, too. Do you think this kind of globalization is actually threatening these culinary traditions? And then also if you can speak to what you think an international body like the U.N. can do to save or protect that.
MR.I think what's important is that the convention for safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage begins from the premise that it's for each community to decide for itself whether it wishes to continue to, you know, do the work that's necessary to maintain one tradition or another, one food ways or one cultural practice or whether they choose Starbucks. That's their choice. It's not for you or for me or for anyone outside of that community itself to make that decision for them.
MR.The convention begins from the premise, though, also, that people should, in a sense, have the ability to make an informed choice. They should not feel the pressures of whether it's market forces or mass media or other things telling them somehow that their own traditions are inferior, that their own way of singing a song or their own way of sharing a meal is in any way marking them as inferior to those who are consuming these mass products. So I think what the intention behind the convention, as a whole, but also particularly the intention behind this listing process, is to give communities a kind of booster shot, a reinforcement that says to them, yes, this is valuable.
MR.This is important to us and it's important that our children have the choice that we have today. That we don't make, in a sense, an uninformed choice, follow the trend, follow the mass-market forces and thereby eliminate the opportunity for our children to enjoy what we're enjoying today. But I…
GOLBECKSo do you think -- I'm sorry. Go ahead, Frank.
MR.No. I was just saying, when I began in this business 40 some years ago at that Smithsonian across the city from your station, my mentor gave me an article by a musicologist, Charles Seeger. People know his son, Pete. And in that article Seeger said, you know, the old-fashioned folklorist is interested in the history of the song. Today's folklorist has to be interested in the future of the singer. Because will the singers have a future? Will they be allowed and encouraged and supported to sing? Will the families in Michoacan have the self-confidence and the encouragement to continue to consume the foods that mark their identity, that help to give meaning to their lives? That's the question, that's the goal of the convention.
GOLBECKSo do you think that globalization and the spread of food chains are endangering culinary traditions? Do you think that popular fusion cuisines, like Asian or Italian fusion detract from original cooking styles? You can join us by calling 1-800-433-8550 or emailing us at Kojo@wamu.org. And, Pati, you had wanted to follow onto that last point.
JINICHYeah, just the images that Frank just gave us about that booster shot and what Matt just said about mitigating those forces. I think that UNESCO nomination becomes crucial because in a way it's, you know, like what we were commenting. Like a husband who doesn't notice that his wife is pretty and nice and sweet until the neighbor notices. You know in a way it's shining the light and making other groups in that society, in that country notice how beautiful, how valuable, how important are those food traditions to preserve and to be able to counterbalance with all the other forces.
GOLBECKThat's great. So let's take a call. We have Doug, from Mt. Airy. Doug, you're on the air, go ahead.
DOUGHi. Thanks for taking the call. Along the lines of the wife being beautiful, if the U.N.'s attention to this encourages cultures to take their wives out into the world and let the world see it, take the food to different parts of the world. For example, the Italian cuisine in New York City. We had the honor a few years ago of our daughter attending Kings Point, and while up there I had to fight against my entire family to go find a local Italian restaurant, which we were able to find in Queens.
DOUGAnd it was just wonderful and one of the things they remember from all of those four years of her being there is having dinner at Acquista Trattoria in Queens, which is a wonderful, neighborhood Italian restaurant, with all the ambience, all of the good food, the sitting elbow-to-elbow with total strangers and becoming friends with them. Is that something that could be earned from these awards?
GOLBECKSo, Pati, I'll let you comment.
JINICHYes. I mean my comments from my experience from Mexico and being a Mexican is that has happened exactly. Because of the nomination many of the traditional cooks that were in unreachable regions in the state of Michigan have been able to travel the world to showcase their cooking of their traditions and just like we're commenting, you know, for Mexico to showcase that beauty and to share it. And then we can learn from it. So for example, Japanese cuisine, the Washoku being awarded. It's not that I'm going to start eating Washoku every day of my life, but I can learn from reading about and seeing an exhibit about it.
JINICHYou know, how nice to have that harmonial setting at the table. You can see the ceremony, the rituals that people feel when they're eating. So I think it's all incredibly positive and like a virtual cycle.
GOLBECKSo we also -- to follow up on this criteria, have an email from Ingo. And he says, "To follow up on the UNESCO criteria, aren't there some food traditions that don't need or deserve additional protections because we now realize, as a world community, even at the U.N. level that they aren't good. Eating dolphins or hunting seals, foie gras, these are all cultural relics and important to their local traditions, but are they worthy of UNESCO protection or can we allow the marketplace to decide what's good?" Frank, do you want to comment on that?
MR.I think we're lucky that we haven't been presented with some of those difficult cases yet. UNESCO, as a U.N. organization, we're committed to human rights. We haven't yet, within the convention, recognized animal rights. I think if we were to do so that would certainly eliminate a very large part of all the world's cuisine. So I don't know whether we could begin to draw the line and say that this animal or that animal is taboo.
GOLBECKThough, Frank, there are international conventions on things like whaling, right? And there are also local cuisines and culinary traditions where they eat whales. And so--does there come a point of conflict at that or is it just something that you haven't had to deal with yet?
MR.It's a potential, a future delight to look forward to I would say.
GOLBECKOkay. Let's take another caller. We have Anthony, who's interested in the link between food production and heirloom crops. Anthony, you're on the air. Go ahead.
ANTHONYThank you very much. Let me just say this is a beautiful show. And it's a very great idea. And I think it's important that we have a form of -- I guess we could call it protection, but it's more a form of support for some of these traditions. And I think it has an important factor to play in our nutrition, in world nutrition by supporting something that is a little more diverse. I think it's the absence of diversity that has brought nutrition growth to a standstill and made our food less nutritious and also less flavorful. And I have to admit, man, I could really full eating (word?) food every day. It is so hardy and so darn delicious.
ANTHONYBut my question is do your panelists see a connection between the resurgent understanding of diversity and nutrition, diversity and production methods, and the micro farming, mini farming, square-foot gardening, this sort of bio intensive farming that's going on and the resurgence of heirloom seeds that have managed to create -- not in a sense of a museum. We can run into the danger of creating a museum, in which food is consumed. And that's important. Museums are important. But that's not what's happening here. By supporting UNESCO what we're doing is we're actually making a choice as consumers. We're saying spend a little of our tax dollars that we support UNESCO in supporting something like that.
ANTHONYAnd I believe that supporting them all the way down to the production is important. What do your panelists think about that? And I'll take my answer offline.
GOLBECKThanks, Anthony. That's a great question. Matt, why don't we turn to you on that first?
GOULDINGSure. Anthony, that's actually a really interesting question because I think -- I was in Japan when a lot of this decision-making was happening. And a lot of people that I spoke with talked about UNESCO and framed this entire debate really as a farming issue. Granted, everybody interpreted it their own way, but farming was really at the heart of this debate. And much of the concern in Japan, of course, is food security, food safety. The country produces about 35 percent of its own food. But a lot of that also comes down to the specificity of crops and saying, well, you know, we want to still be able to appreciate, as much as possible, this particularly rare form of daikon or this type of bamboo shoot or these types of rare seaweed or the various different elements that comprise Washoku in Japan.
GOULDINGAnd so they felt like the recognition by UNESCO was going to help strengthen the domestic agricultural scene, both from a larger standpoint. And i.e., they were going to be growing more rice because suddenly people were going to sort of have an extra boost of confidence in Japanese cuisine, which means they would stop eating a little bit from the bread side and go right back towards the rice side. This, again, is sort of a long-term view that the Japanese have. As well as saying, well, we need to recognize that, you know, Washoku really traditionally meant having this incredible diversity of vegetables and fruits in our diet.
GOULDINGAnd really our diets have been windowed down to four or five super star vegetables and we need to open it back up to 40 or 50. Now this, of course, is a very slow, long process. But I think there's a lot of dedication on the Japanese side to utilize this designation for those exact purposes.
GOLBECKAnd, Pati, I'd like to turn to you and also follow this up with, you know, what happens when you go to a Caribbean island and they serve you a fish that they've caught in Alaska? Or you eat rice from the U.S. when you're visiting West Africa, right? There's globalization in that part of the food chain, too.
JINICHExactly. Of course. Or you go and buy guajillo chilies and they came from China.
JINICHAnd let me tell you, they taste completely different. And I think the nomination from Mexico really highlighted these. In the case of Michoacan, the food of Michoacan really touches the roots of traditional Mexican food in what your listener was asking, going all the way to production, harvesting. So these (unintelligible) specifically what we call in the Mexico the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity of cooking which has corn, beans and chili or chilies. And these crops have been rotated for millennia in what we call the milpa, which is a traditional way of growing foods.
JINICHAnd growing them, alternating them, not only feeds the soil, but it feeds the soul. I mean you get better ingredients. And also the way we use them and we cook with them. So I will tell you there is a huge difference when you eat a cold flour tortilla you get in a roll in the grocery store, as when you get corn tortilla that has good masa, that has been (unintelligible) and is easier to digest and healthier for you. So in all ways, from highlighting how to grow it, how to harvest it, how to use it, and this just shines lights on all these facets of what eating involves.
GOLBECKThat's great. Thanks. So we're going to head out to a break, but I'd like to thank Frank Proschan, who works in the Division of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage at UNESCO. Thanks for joining us, Frank.
MR.Well, thank you and bon appetite to your listeners, if they're listening while they're having a sandwich at their desk. So it's been very interesting. Thank you.
GOLBECKThanks. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Jen Golbeck. We'll continue our conversation in a moment. Stay with us.
MS. JEN GOLBECKWelcome back. I'm Jen Golbeck from the University of Maryland sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Pati Jinich and Matt Goulding about preserving food cultures. If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 1-800-433-8850. So, Pati, I'd like to pick with our conversation that kind of goes with Frank's comments as he was leaving us where, you know, he said he hopes everybody enjoys their sandwich at their desk.
MS. JEN GOLBECKAnd at the break you and I were kind of talking about how maybe you shouldn't be eating your sandwich at your desk and maybe not even eating a sandwich. So, I thought I'd give you the chance to have some comments on that.
JINICHExactly. You know, I grew up in a house -- and Mexico is very much that way where people break their day in order to go back home and eat lunch. So the big meal is not dinner like it is here but it is lunch. And there's so much stuff goes on at the table. You get to share your day, you get to talk about the food. You get to -- you know, and it's all that. But I think, you know, many people that are afraid about globalization and the fast-paced world we're losing.
JINICHAnd I think these nominations help again. I keep saying shine a light on things. I'm lacking my Spanish lingo here. But it's that. It's like eating the tamales, you know, it's why it is so important and I feel very moved by these because these shows us that there is more to us that -- we all know we're going to die, right? Like, hopefully not tomorrow but at some point.
JINICHAnd knowing that some things that have nurtured us and have given us meaning in this life when the only known things that you're going to die is that hopefully your kids and your grandkids are going to enjoy those tamales with that fluffy masa, with that steam coming out of the pot and hopefully they're going to have that much meaning. And it's going to take them to that place that transcends more than one lifetime.
GOLBECKAnd this is interesting because we have this similar conversation in the U.S. of, you know, we're not eating dinners as a family anymore, which may or may not be true. But we have this conversation of we want the whole family around the table with the screens off and the TV off having dinner at night, even though -- and I'm going to turn this as a question to you, Matt -- we don't have a kind of food tradition in a way that a lot of indigenous cultures do.
GOLBECKWe're very much a melting pot in the U.S. But there are also a lot of unique culinary traditions in the U.S. and none of those are protected by UNESCO. So, Matt, I'd just like you to give us some thoughts on that.
GOULDINGI think that American cuisine is sort of a punching bag globally and it's totally, totally unfair. I mean, I think if you really dig deeper, dig beneath the sort of the veneer of sort of fast food culture that we are so famous for, you see these really beautiful cultures. Really deep roots, especially, you know, obviously in Southern cuisine, Creole cuisine, northwestern cuisine, you know, even California has obviously developed a very sophisticated sort of culinary culture there.
GOULDINGI mean, every little corner of the United States have something to celebrate and have something that could truly be worthy of safeguarding if you really get down to it. So -- but you're right in the sense that it's not vibrant, it's not celebrated in the home. It's not gathered around as often as wanted to be. I think you're starting to see certain chefs giving some exposure to this style of eating.
GOULDINGSort of renewing heirloom crops in the South like (word?) in a restaurant called Husk in South Carolina where they're basically giving the kind of attention to the food systems that we'd had in place for a very long time that have been overshadowed in recent years by a sort of much -- sort of streamline fast food way of eating. So I think that they're out there and I think that we're giving people -- I think it starts with a lot of chefs and a lot of writers who are giving the attention and the time to those traditions, sort of dusting them off, unearthing them and then advancing and evolving them.
GOULDINGBecause it's not just a matter of eating a food that's been encased in ember for 300 years. It's a matter of finding a food tradition and building on it and evolving it.
GOLBECKYeah, this is interesting because, you know, what you're talking about is really part of a process of discovery. And I have to say as someone who grew up in the Midwest in Illinois and then moved out to D.C., which like on one hand isn't that different. I had this huge process of discovering southern food in a way that I never had seen it where I grew up.
GOLBECKAnd I imagine if I went deeper South or traveled to other parts of the country, as someone who came from a sort of homogenous food culture, even within the country you start to notice those differences. So let's take a call. We have Allan from Washington, D.C. Allan, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
ALLANOh, hi. That's funny, I'm from Illinois too. And I think of Chicago at least as incredibly vibrant food culture with the Polish and the Mexican neighborhoods and, you know, various ethnic foods that D.C. certainly definitely have. But my question was about the GMO-fication, the buying of seeds by Syngenta and Monsanto and all of them and taking a particular -- making a little change in the DNA and then patenting that seed.
ALLANAnd taking it away from the indigenous people that had worked for millennia to, you know, take teosinte and turn that into mays. It just seems they're going to be wiping out all the possibility of the diversity that your earlier speaker was talking about, the variety of the daikon radish and anything that's a valuable crop, they're going to take and patent and they ground up ready.
GOLBECKYeah, that's a great question. And, Pati, I'd like to turn this to you first because we also see with trade agreements, like NAFTA, that you have huge amounts of corn from the U.S. going into Mexico, right?
GOLBECKAnd this taste can really different -- be really different. So can you share some thoughts.
JINICHExactly, of course. Because it is absurd. Mexico has dozens and dozens and dozens of varieties of corn -- blue, red, green, yellow, white. And the flavors are just so different, you'd be shocked. The same thing with beans. And precisely it's these kinds of things that we need to build up to counterbalance. So I don't think it's enough to say, oh, you know, these massive machines and companies are going to come and take everything away.
JINICHIt's a matter of giving those -- I love that concept of booster shop that Frank was saying or what Matt was saying about mitigating these forces. And the way to do it is strengthen this group. And I have to say in what Matt was saying before that I have been humbled time and again about the beauty and richness and diversity of regional cuisine in the U.S. I came here, you know, thinking, oh, Mexican food is millennial. We have so many.
JINICHYou know, regional cuisines are so incredible and diverse ingredients. And U.S. food, well, I had the thoughts of, you know, macaroni and cheese and hamburgers and hotdog. And I've had the opportunity last year to travel to Mississippi and Arkansas and Tennessee and I was just in awe from all of these unique ingredients that the listener was just asking about, the special kinds of beans and the way that the local people deal with these ingredients.
JINICHAnd we have to do our work. We have to go and write about them and bring to chefs and hopefully the chefs will showcase them and -- yeah.
GOLBECKYeah. So, yeah, there's this interesting tension between on one hand you see this globalization and corporatization of the food supply chain. And on the other hand, you see chefs very focused on these unique and heirloom ingredients and trying to bring that out more. So, Matt, I'd like to turn to you on that and your thoughts about this sort of globalizing food supply and how that relates to this interest in preserving traditional cuisines.
GOULDINGYeah. I mean, I think it's exactly what Pati was saying. I mean, I think that the, you know, the forces of these larger companies, as the listener is pointing out, are quite strong across the planet. In places like Japan, the need for food security is so strong that often that, you know, the food diversity comes second. And so, it takes this type of recognition, I think, for people to really sort of come to the forefront and say it's really time to not just worry about specific dishes but all the elements and ingredients that comprise these dishes.
GOULDINGYou know, and it starts with a very, very sort of frontlines of the sort of the food chain. And I think that starts with chefs who have some kind of influence, with writers who have influence, with political figures who are sort of brave enough to say, you know what, like, in this case, Monsanto, like we don't -- you know, we know that you want to get in Japan. We know that Monsanto specifically wants to change a lot of the small agricultural systems of Japan.
GOULDINGBut how do we preserve every one of those elements that we have just seen recognized by UNESCO. It's a really, really, really tricky balance. And, you know, it's tough to see, on one side, so many individuals, great spirit, you know, spirited, passionate individuals talking about sort of reviving seeds and protecting seeds and trying to keep this diversity. And then you see this massive giant on the other end of the spectrum sort of looming and casting a shadow over it all.
GOULDINGAnd, you know, it's hard to feel really, really confident about the chances of smaller group. But we get the sense that it's growing. You know, you get the sense that there's a certain movement afoot both in the United States and globally to sort of hold on to those traditions in ways that we didn't feel before. And in the case of the United States, I think it's not just hold on but sort of rediscover and reinvent. And that to me is the part that's most exciting.
GOLBECKSo, Pati, you wanted to follow-up on this.
JINICHYes, absolutely. I agree and I think that individual actions matter immensely and people choose with their feet. Let me tell you in Mexico, you know how many times they've tried to open Taco Bells? I cannot tell you. People walk out, they will not stay in there. And I think in the Starbucks, it's been slower, unfortunately. People still go, but not as much, I shouldn't be saying this publicly, but I don't like Starbucks coffee.
JINICHMexico has such fabulous coffee. And I think people are really choosing one by one. So it hasn't been the success I think that Starbucks has hoped. And you have individual people choosing to go to Café Punta del Cielo or all these different coffee shops that -- you know the ironic thing is? They're copying the Starbucks model with Mexican-grown coffee and treats. And so, in a way, it's really hard to generalize and say, oh, it's terrible.
JINICHYou know, maybe Mexico will get stronger and build its own few chains of fabulous Mexican coffee.
GOLBECKInteresting way to integrate the globalizing influence with what's going on locally. So let's take one more call. We have Katherine from Woodbine, MD. Katherine, you're on the air. Go ahead.
KATHERINEYes, hi. I just wanted to say, I grew up with Pennsylvania with, you know, the standard food. Mom didn't teach me to cook and my husband, he went to El Salvador for two years and I lived in California for five, introduced to a whole world of food. In fact, my favorite food was pupusas. And I actually just had a pupusa party and introduced a bunch of my friends to it because they're very intimidated.
KATHERINEAnd all of them have requested the recipe. And so because I'm looking for more than the standard, I've been very disappointed with the East Coast. I use Pinterest, the internet, more raw foods, more authentic foods because the basic foods, I'm finding, I don't really enjoy anymore.
GOLBECKThat's interesting. And, Pati, so this attaches to something that you've said before which is not only people are picking up traditions from other places, but also that depending on where you're experiencing a cuisine that's been imported, it's different. So if I went to Chicago and had Mexican food and I went to New York and had Mexican, it would actually be very different.
JINICHYou're right and you are just touching on a topic that I am fascinated by, which is the evolution of Mexican food in the United States. So forget about borders and frontiers, you know, you have these different communities of Mexicans that come from different regions from Mexico that are adapting and growing roots in different parts of the U.S. that different geography, different weather, different ingredients.
JINICHAnd you have new regional foods, like, being created by the minute. And so it never stops. And it's fabulous. But it is -- it's hard to say what is traditional Mexican food anymore. So I think all of these nominations and awards and recognitions are so valuable because of that.
GOLBECKYeah. So, Matt, I'd like to turn this to you. Do you see the same thing with Spanish food in Spain? Because we have some great Spanish food here in D.C. but I imagine it's quite different than what you have there in Barcelona.
GOULDINGIt is. And I think Spanish food has been more faithfully recreated in the United States than Mexican food is. Mostly because it's -- there isn't such a huge wave of Spanish immigrants living in there who kind of over time sort of adapted to the American supermarkets. You know, the evolution of a cuisine takes a number of generations. And in the case of Mexican cuisine, Chinese cuisine, Italian cuisine, these sort of subgenres have been developed rather organically in the United States.
GOULDINGAnd it's -- and the funny thing is that we have a lot of food writers and a lot of people who sort of look down at a red sauce, Italian joint as somehow inauthentic. Well, inauthentic compared to what? I mean, it is its own genre of food and it's one of the great things about living in the United States is that you suddenly get this off-shoot of Italian cuisine that's been reinvented and filtered through the lens of American culture.
GOULDINGYou may not always love the results, but it's nevertheless valid and is important. So I think that, you know, when we start talking about authenticity, it's a very slippery slope. On one hand, we want to be able to taste the traditional flavors of the culture and recognize it for what it is. You know, in Mexico, people -- we want people to understand that Mexican cuisine isn't just nachos and burritos or this Tex-Mex cuisine that we've created.
GOULDINGBut we should also be able to celebrate that in its own right as being something that's really awesome and a byproduct of sort of American cultural mash-up.
GOLBECKThat's great. So I want to follow that on with a question for you, Pati, because like I said, I was cooking from your book last night. And I was very happy to see there's a vegetarian section because I'm a vegetarian so I have a hard time with cookbooks because a lot of times there's so much meat and I don't know how to adapt it. And I loved that you had this section at the beginning that you had been pushed to included more vegetarians and said, no, no, no, it's not vegetarian.
GOLBECKAnd then actually found out that, you know, a lot of foods fit there. And so I'm thinking, you know, there's a lot more vegetarians now than there used to be. And in fact you see lots of these kind of cultures changing with people's preferences and how do you think that impacts either the cuisine itself or how we preserve it where you kind of recognize a lot of vegetarian things in what you've been making.
JINICHIt is so interesting because it's the way that cultures categorize and perceive their own culture and food. So when I was writing the cookbook and I kept getting, you know, advice from my -- Pati, you have to include a vegetarian cookbook. I would say, no, what about the meat and the chicken and the chorizo? I can't live with that. But then, think about it, most of Mexican food and especially traditional foods are vegetarians.
JINICHWe didn't have any cows or pigs or, you know, so many animals before the Spanish people arrived.
JINICHAnd most of that food that was nominated or received the award from the UNESCO is vegetarian food. And it's a way of how to yourself. Here's the thing, in Mexico, we haven't gotten to that level of sophistication to compartmentalize or categorize the different -- ways of eating food. So there's a lot of people that are vegetarian but we just don't use the vegetarian term.
JINICHSo all that labeling and encasing, it's just that the U.S. is such a sophisticated culture that has all these ways of categorizing. So I think people are rediscovering that, you know, in their culture, in their own cuisine there is vegan naturally and vegetarian naturally.
GOLBECKThat's great. So I'd like to thank my guests for being here. We had Pati Jinich, author of "Pati's Mexican Table." And her PBS show is going to be just beginning, airing on PBS stations. And Matt Goulding from Barcelona, publisher of "Roads & Kingdoms." Thank you both for joining us.
JINICHThank you for having us.
GOLBECKI'm Jen Golbeck sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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