Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Right Stuff

I was very fortunate to spend a week in Barcelona, Spain.  The Gaudi architecture was stunning, not a straight line or square corner anywhere, but what's really staying with me is the food.  Yes it was excellent, whether from one of the bakeries that are everywhere,  one of the hundreds of restaurants around the city, or the fabulous markets.  I saw things that would make a PEI food inspector or PETA member gasp, hanging cuts of meat that made it obvious they came from living creatures, not the sterile cuts on white trays we get in supermarkets here.  I saw dozens of prepared sandwiches in bakery windows, barrels of olives, unwrapped cheeses. It felt raw and genuine. What I didn't see were blocks of fast food restaurants run by teenagers, or, and this was really noticeable, large numbers of unhealthy and clearly overweight consumers. Yes everything looks better when you're on holiday but there was an artistry to the way meat was cut, coffee was made, fresh gelato (ice cream) created  that I don't see very often in North America (the big world traveler that I am).  It's not surprising that the slow food movement started in this region. There's a culture of pride in how food is produced and presented, not the cheapest and quickest is "always the best" like here.

I'm also just starting to read Michael Pollan's new book about cooking,  and he touches on many of the same  themes, that big food corporations here have taken over our food preparation, and that we're  losing a lot because of that including our health.  The difference for me is that there's an elitism here associated with slow food (I don't think it's intentional, it's just the contrast with the fast food culture) that you don't get in Spain.  They just haven't done things any differently for hundreds of years. I know many European countries like Spain are in financial trouble, and that I was seeing the best the country has to offer. I just saw a determined look in the faces of the farmers, butchers, restaurant and shop owners that producing, preparing and eating food properly is just too central to their culture to give up.  I hope they never have to. It's something we could learn from. I suspect I'll be coming back to this in the months ahead.

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