OPINION: Globalisation in the world of food

Date published: 2020-12-03   — by Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy doesn’t want to be able to find the same food everywhere he travels and globalisation makes everything a little bit less special.

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Dry-cured ham food photography recipe idea

One of the things I like least about globalisation is being able to find food I like almost anywhere on the planet.

That seems like an absurd thing to say I realise. How great is it that I can buy Parma ham in Sydney or Roquefort in New York? How great is it that I can have a real Punjabi feast in London or Mexican street food in Milan? It is great, but I don’t like it.

I grew up in Rome at a time when the city didn’t have a single non-Italian restaurant. I still remember the day someone told me that a Bangladeshi restaurant had opened. I went the following week. I don’t think the owners could have been more surprised to see an Italian walk in. It was a restaurant by recent immigrants for recent immigrants, not Italians. A few years later we got our first McDonald’s. 

So why wouldn’t I want foreign restaurants or foreign foods where I live? 

Negative effects of the globalisation of food

Two reasons:

  1. I’m a food snob.
  2. It makes travel less special.

Essentially, I care about food. I care about where it comes from and how it’s prepared. For food to travel it almost always has to be adulterated to meet safety norms. When food ideas travel, connections are lost, and the ideas are less powerful than the original.

Travel is fun for a lot of reasons, but one of them is getting to see things you can’t normally see. Unless you live in Las Vegas, you have to go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower. If every city had an Eiffel Tower, the one in Paris wouldn’t be so special. 

I’m not going to claim that a great risotto is like the Eiffel Tower. But, it would be more special if I could only find it in its native context. One of the things that excites me most about travel is getting to eat things I can’t normally eat. 

I used to love going to North America and having maple syrup. But, now I can buy relatively good maple syrup at my local grocery store. Therefore, an American breakfast is less special. When I lived in America, I used to love coming back to Italy just to have a good bowl of pasta. Now I can have a pretty good bowl of pasta in most cities in America. 

Globalisation of coffee

Setting aside regional dishes, let’s talk about a beverage that is so pervasive that most of us don’t know where it came from: coffee.

Coffee in America used to be undrinkable. That’s not fair. It was just a different beverage, and I made my peace with it. Nonetheless, as soon as I cleared customs at an Italian airport I used to head straight for the airport bar for my first cappuccino. Today I don’t do that anymore. I can get a good cup of coffee just about anywhere in the world, except for France of course. So now I walk right by the bar. Nothing special there. 

Even bad food

Incredibly, I even miss mediocre food. Going to London in the 80s was such an adventure. It was difficult to find anything worth eating. The UK still has a reputation for terrible food. However, that reputation is out of date. Today, it’s as difficult to have a bad meal in England as it is to have a good meal in France. I miss the terrible food in London because it used to make me think about how little it ultimately mattered in a larger context. Britain was a world power because of its industry, not its food. Inedible food was an important part of a culture that conquered a large portion of the world. Obsessing over food leaves less time for conquest. At least that’s the conclusion I came to.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.

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Tags: food | globalisation

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