Culinary Landscape

From Eating Asturias, the Encyclopedia of Asturian Gastronomy
Paisaje Asturiano, Joaquín Sorolla, 1903
Paisaje Asturiano, Joaquín Sorolla, 1903

What do I mean when I say the culinary landscape?

I mean the hard facts that, right now, define the gastronomy of a place. Both the natural and the human conditions that make up the actually existing place. I think of that culinary landscape as being made up of two interdependent pieces; the natural environment and the built environment. Taken together, and defined mostly by their interplay, the culinary landscape emerges.

I use this term to think about something that is usually missing from discussions of food systems. While technically a food system takes into account the physical and human factors of production and consumption, most discussion of food systems these days tends to either be focused on the global span of transportation systems that make up many macro-scale food systems, or on meta questions of environmental, racial, animal, and colonial issues.

I am not dismissive of those concerns. I am simply not focused quite so heavily on them. There are many experts who write about food systems from a critical perspective that I enjoy reading and think are vital voices. Among them are Marion Nestle, The World Food System blog at ETH Zurich, Charles Levkoe, and Molly D. Anderson.

If food systems are comprised of four parts; production, processing, distribution, and consumption, then what I am talking about with the culinary landscape concept is the factors that shape and determine the first part of the food system - the production of food.

I suppose there is quite a bit of overlap between my term culinary landscape and the French term terroir, in that we are both interested primarily in the factors that influence the phenotype of of a crop: the environmental context, the farming practices, and the attitudes of the farmers producing them. Collectively these contextual characteristics have an effect on the crops that are grown - that is their terroir. They also have an effect on the habits, attitudes, and tastes, of the people who produce and consume those crops, especially when the four stages of a food system (production, processing, distribution, and consumption) are kept relatively local. That effect on the humans and their lived experiences makes up their culinary landscape.

When we talk about how the locations and processes used in Production and Processing impacts the organoleptic qualities of the food, we are discussing terroir. When we discuss how the geography, psychogeography, architecture, and infrastructure impact the locations and processes chosen for producing food, we are discussing the culinary landscape.

Natural Environment

main article: Natural Environment

The natural environment is the geography, the climate, the soil, the plants and animals, both native and adapted. The human animal is included in this insofar as their attitudes and predilections are shaped by their surroundings. We as humans have not completely mastered nature. We are not capable of simply growing whatever we like, wherever we like. There are no Himalayan bananas nor Ghanaian cranberries - at least not yet. Cows and chickens much prefer to live on warm grasslands than on frozen tundra. These, and a thousand other factors, large and small, determine what kinds of plants and animals can thrive in an area. They also determine what techniques or technologies humans will employ to exploit those natural communities. We can be trusted to always aim for the low hanging fruit first, both literally and metaphorically.

In this section of the wiki, I explore the various natural factors that contribute to Asturian gastronomy - the mountains that cover more than 80% of the region, the sea with it's myriad of coves perfect for fishing ports, it's rolling hills with temperate oceanic climate, its limestone caves... Each of these things in some way contributes to what makes Asturian food what it is, and to what makes it unique.

Built Environment

main article: Built Environment

The built environment is the changes we as humans have made to the landscape. Our farms, fields, houses, towns, cities, and infrastructure all become part of the wider culinary landscape. This is the area in which you see the most direct human impact on the culinary landscape, though that impact is in one way or another molded by the natural environment as well. At the point in time when most Asturian farms, towns, villages, and cities arose the technology did not exist to simply put a human habitation anywhere we wanted without considering the natural environment. There is no Asturian Las Vegas for instance (technically there are at least two them, but you get my point).

Here I explore all of the pieces of the landscape that make Asturias the agropolitan region that it is. From the iconic hórreos to the clusters of family farm buildings that grow into rural towns, and from the smaller size of the cities to the greater rural population density - the human landscape of Asturias is here. I am particularly interested in the individual buildings and how they come together into productive units.