Traditional cuisine, like that of the regional cuisines of Italy, evolves slowly through a tediously rigid process of training cooks to prepare locally available food in ways that make sense to the local population. Gross innovation is stifled by an almost political adherence to narrow, provincial tastes. While the clever cook can overcome some resistance to change by carefully calculating almost minuscule changes in recipes—the evolution of the cuisine is reduced to a slow crawl by long standing traditions.
The result is highly refined local food. Most times traditional cuisine emerges as the essence of food. It gets the most out of the things you’ve killed to eat. It’s the sort of food you don’t get in a place that places an extraordinary value on innovation and low prices. The US for instance.
It’s cheaper to raise a “heart healthy” and tasteless low-fat pig, the other white meat, on huge corporate farms that are more than willing to forgo the expensive process of fattening a pig properly for taste. Penning up thousands of pigs per acre makes it cheaper, too. And if you’re allowed by government agencies—who gleefully accept your lobbying and campaign contributions—to render nearby streams unable to support life because of the tremendous concentrations of toxic pig urine, well that’s gravy for you. And the land is cheap because these are places where the pigs are kept in such absolutely hellish conditions that the “farms” need to be kept out of sight and way far away from towns because the stench is unbearable. Bingo! Sky high profits, low taste and low cost. Everyone wins!
Well, except your taste buds and the streams…
A small-scale traditional pig farmer, of course, couldn’t operate in such an environment for long. Along with the inhabitants of his village, a farmer can’t live by pigs alone. He needs the watercourses to team with life. And pretty much everyone wants to breath decent air. For their part, inhabitants balance the higher cost of raising pigs with love and decent living conditions by educating (or even forcing through social action) members to develop a taste for good pig, which they’re willing to pay a fair price for.
And the thing is, you can hop a plane and taste this marvelous “de-evolution” in food just by walking into a decent restaurant and ordering it. You don’t have to go through the humiliation of cooking a dinner and being told your food is inedible because it hasn’t been seasoned exactly right. Lucky you.
Well folks, it’s pay back time.
If you want all this traditional stuff to continue, you might have to contribute to its well being. Remember that folks are predisposed to selection by price. Remember that big, publicly traded multinationals have to expand at unreasonable rates to appease their rich stockholders—at any (allowed by lack of regulation) cost.
And this could be fun. Really fun. You see, Eternally Cool, a blog from Rome, has collected some ways in which you can adopt some traditional foodstuffs, like an olive tree, a grape vine or a sheep. In return, you’ll get to participate in some harvests if you wish, or you can simply sit back and reap the output of your investment.
For example, there’s Nudo Olive Oil. You can pretty much figure what “nudo” means. You can sponsor a tree and then get a can of good olive oil in return. Put it on your coffee table. It will start a conversation for sure. Like, “So, is this the stuff you slather on your body for gourmet orgies?”
My favorite (and I’m looking forward to visiting and learning more) is the program of Sheep Adoption in the Abruzzo. You’ll go nuts tasting all the goodies you get in return for your investment. (Don’t eat the wool socks though.) The guy who runs the Agriturismo, Nunzio Marcelli, is one of those amazing people working tirelessly at creating change for good in a wild land. You can read all about him and his projects in Wild World
You can also Adopt a Vine
And here’s another Umbrian Agriturismo’s Adopt an Olive tree
So, c’mon—I urge you to put your money where your taste buds are. Preserve ancient cultural landscapes. Invest in yummy goodness. You could do worse.