dinsdag 20 mei 2014

Rene Redzepi and Alfred W. Crosby

Yarrow (Gerarde 1597)

To most people the common yarrow will be a weedy roadside plant best kept out of the garden. It is easy to overlook that this humble plant was a witness to all of the 'Rise of the West' (McNeill). Its botanical name refers to Achilles who purportedly took it along as an antibiotic on his travels, the Norse introduced it to Greenland about 1000AD and it is now common in large parts of the world.

Yarrow also features as a foraged green in Rene Redzepi's NOMA kitchen where it is a common ingredient. It is also included several times in Redzepi's tome: 'Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine' (2010). Out of thin air, despite its generalist cosmopolitanism, Yarrow (or bloodwort or milfoil) was made to stand as a symbol of environmental awareness, hyper-regionality and creative idealism, a pawn in the battle for global food security and Michelin Stars. Yes the yarrow is local but it is local to, back of the envelope calculation, everybody living in the temperate zone. This is a pattern, not just a particular aspect of yarrow which is actually a very bad example as the new world already possessed yarrow, a variation with a genetic link so close that it continues to baffle taxonomists. 

The foraging locavore (from Euell Gibbons to Richard Mabey) is almost always subsisting on plants that have long ago left their natural boundaries and gone global. Yarrow, nettle, dandelion, cowslip, garlic mustard, chickweed and sorrel, all used at NOMA, are all extremely hardy and thrive on human disturbance. These are plants that were introduced to the Americas and Australia as a consequence of European farming practices, as so well described by Alfred W. Crosby in The Columbian Exchange (1972) and Ecological Imperialism (1986).

The ironies are several. Regionality is celebrated by making use of plants that have gone global (making it possible for a cook in New Zealand to reproduce a Nordic recipe). The chef who made his stake claiming that at least one third of his ingredients was foraged is relying heavily on plants associated with farming to do so. The plants that are used to make his food 'distinct' are some of the commonest plants on earth. The dandelion, after all, is the plant on which the sun never sets (Crosby).

Redzepi is famous for not using olive oil as the token symbol of him turning his back on the high tradition of French cuisine. When running the entire ingredient list of the NOMA book through Map Your Recipe you would expect a large part of the plant-ingredients to be domesticated in the Euro-Siberia center. A relatively small center missing from the original scheme proposed by Vavilov but added by his students. It is the origin of such plants as kale and kohlrabi. It has those but the book includes ingredients originally domesticated in every global center of diversity bar Tropical Africa and Australia, just like the Big Mac:

Earlier I already reported that food pairing visualizations may suggest that Redzepi still thinks like a classical (read French) chef. The abundance of plants domesticated in the Mediterranean also confirms this.
I am not a geo-food fundamentalist; there is no cuisine in the world that does not make use of globalized plant resources (perhaps only apart from the one you find in the Eskimo Cookbook). Cooking is culture not nature and the concept of an evasive plant makes no culinary sense. This is not meant to detract from Redzepi's project, which I continue to find admirable, but it is meant to remind us of the fact that in a globalized, anthropogenic landscape every claim made about regionality needs to be understood and evaluated against a backdrop of global environmental transformation.

World history weighs in on every locality on the planet, plants tells that story.

1 opmerking:

  1. My daughter and I stumbled upon an art exhibit which commemorates the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's landing in Florida at the FGCU art gallery. The exhibit depicts 500 original native flowers species by 500 area artists. It was an impressive exhibit on so many levels. I invite you to take a look, view the flowers present(ed) here in Florida before 'the Deleon exchange.' "World history weighs in on every locality on the planet, plants tells that story." Now we need an exhibit which would certainly number in the thousands for introduced species and focus on the weeds which testify to human disturbance.