In his recent book, Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the role of cooking in human society, illustrating powerfully how the transformation of the ingredients offered by nature into specific foods or dishes connects us both with our communities and nature at large. At a personal level, food has always been the key factor that connects me to places, peoples, and experiences. Talking to a friend recently about traveling and choosing where to go, the topic of food came up. She mentioned that food is important but it is not the reason for traveling. That stopped me dead on my tracks. “What do you mean?? Food is definitely the reason I travel.” She asked me to explain what I mean. Like everyone else, I may learn about a destination either through reading a book, browsing the internet, leafing through a magazine, watching a movie… That may foster in me an interest for the place. For example, I spent half my undergraduate years studying the history of modern Germany. As a result, I became intellectually interested in the country. My German history prof recommended a number of novels written by German authors, which turned me onto German literature and made me interested in learning the language. I still didn’t think of actually traveling to Germany for my next vacations. Then I lived in Spain, had lots of German friends, learned yet more about German culture and how amazing Berlin is now. Still no plans to go there. And then my German friend, who also happens to be a cook, makes us a traditional German meal and suddenly the thought occurs to me “I must visit Germany!” It is inevitable. I learned to appreciate European-style beers in Toronto, to love all manners of charcuteries in Catalonia. Suddenly I HAD to go to Germany and try local German beers, German sausages, find out what modern German cuisine is like. And we now have a trip to Berlin scheduled in about two weeks. It is hard to explain what it is – but it is as if I suddenly, through eating someone’s food, I suddenly feel connected. It is not that the food rocks my world. That plate of käsespätzle was not the best noodles with cheese I had ever eaten. Yer, it did seem to awaken inside of me the curiosity to explore the culture further, to see how its people live, what they eat for breakfast, what they buy at the market… 11 days and counting… stay tuned.
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