Friday, July 20, 2007

Spain wants their good food recognized

And who doesn't want recognition for the things they do well?

In the latest example of perverse globalization, Spain wants Mediterranean food qualified as a world-heritage cultural…item?
It's not a completely absurd idea: Elena Espinosa, Spain's Minister of Agriculture and Fishing, suggested at an EU meeting on Monday that Mediterranean food should be added to UNESCO's list of "intangible" world-heritage contributions, which would lift the international profile of paella and gazpacho to the level of pygmy dances in Africa or death rituals in Mexico.
I call it perverse globalization because it’s an inevitable byproduct of a world in which every item of value is classified, commodified, and marketed to its maximum potential. The world market really means that the world becomes a market. (Does that make sense?) Countries and regions have long been known for things they do, grow, prepare, or produce better than anywhere else. Vodka (Russia), maple syrup (Canada), kabuki (Japan), drums (Africa).

Getting a Unesco heritage for food of a specific region is taking it one step further. The region is going to improve and protect its image by getting their unique and world-famous cuisine (which I guess covers the vast space of Mediterranean cuisines in all Mediterranean countries? Or is this just Europe here? Oooh—how are they going to decide which countries can get in on this? Depends on their selection criteria, I guess) officially recognized, which de facto lifts it above other non-recognized cuisines, which in theory are competing in the world market for the educated consumer's money. Unesco: helping the cream rise to the top.

The point is, Spain’s appeal to Unesco is kind of silly. But in int’l tourism and marketing terms, it makes total sense. The Mediterranean diet is special, delicious, and the food products that go into the cuisine are all very well respected and big sellers worldwide. So with a Unesco seal of approval, everyone wins, right? That is, until all the other micro-regional culinary traditions of the world follow suit. Then you’ll have a big brouhaha about how the world market should be divided. Europe alone will be host to the nastiest bureaucratic foodfight one is likely to see (though that wouldn't be surprising to those familiar with current EU food, vodka, and wine wars). And if they believe the Unseco designations will help boost their country’s prestige and tourism, then the rest of the world is likely to follow suit. Soon the great Unesco food fight will spread across the globe, with some cuisines making the cut (south east Asian, Indian), and others not so much (Peruvian). And around the earth until all foods are categorized appropriately! Unesco designations will be like some perverse combination of Zagat’s and what's his face, the dorky travel guru, with the TV shows and books and corny voice but eternally pleasant disposition.

Spain’s airtight application even has some evidence to back up their claim:
Spain's written bid calls the Mediterranean diet "rich, varied, balanced, healthy and delicious." It wants to promote the cuisine as a contribution to world nutrition, and it bucks up its case with evidence from a US researcher, Ancel Keys, who published a study in the 1950s making the now-conventional claim that a diet rich in olive oil, fruit, vegetables and fruit -- plus measured doses of wine -- could lower the risk of heart disease. Keys died in 2004, at the age of 100.
The coup de grace: "Eat like us and you'll live longer!" Unesco, ya'll betta recognize!

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