Saturday, July 28, 2007

Think locally, eat globally

Tonight while shopping at my local supermarket I noticed that the American- made Doritos brand of nacho chips boasts a new flavour called "Tandoori Sizzler". (Despite being well aware that any variety of Doritos represents a nutritional dead- end, I bought a bag, and found it to quite yummy too, at least when taken with beer -- courageously spicy, in fact.) In other aisles I also noticed freshly made naan bread, as well as a variety of chutneys and tinned Indian sauces. All this was is in a store serving a catchment area of perhaps ten thousand rural people, of whom only a couple dozen, at most, are from the Indian subcontinent.

I've said or at least suggested in the past that globalization should never get a free pass just because it is the buzzword of the moment, and to be accepted uncritically as inevitable or desirable whatever its effects. But it is fair to say that in gastronomical terms, at least, the importation of foreign ideas and items has been an unmixed blessing. I was born and at least partly raised in Scotland and, while I believe there are underestimated glories in Scottish and British cuisine, for the most part I look back on the food of my childhood and wonder how I managed to keep most of it down. I can just about get away with claiming Italian cooking as part of my family heritage thanks to my wife, whose mother hails from the region between Rome and Naples, but apart from that if I were going to try to be a purist and reject foreign influences in my cuisine I'd probably never eat again at all. (The staple dish of the Scottish Gaels -- a small but great people distinguished for their magnificent tradition of poetry and song, not to mention their martial valour -- is a mixture of smoked herring with potato.) --I've been told by local old- timers in Cape Breton that when broccoli first appeared in stores here a few decades ago it languished on the shelves unbought, since nobody knew what it was or what was to be done with it.

And so, if ever we find that the world is changing far more quickly than we would like, we can at least always find consolation for that fact in stuffing ourselves silly with the latest imported treat to hit our shelves.

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