If we all stopped buying, producers would probably have to think about it and change something.
The topic you specialize in has countless aspects. You can talk about food in the context of culture, economy, politics, environment, health, psychology, and design. In fact, it is difficult to find an area with which food has no connection. What are you most interested in?
An important element of sustainable development linked to the drastic climate change we are currently experiencing comes to the fore. There has been much talk lately about the way climate change affects agriculture, but the impact
of agricultural activity on the environment must also be taken into account. We use most of our land to produce food. However, depending on the technologies used, we can reduce the devastation of nature. We need to think about what will happen to our planet in 20 years.
We must also learn not to throw away food.
We buy too much. Environmental responsibility can be practiced at different levels, starting from our refrigerator, but the process of producing waste begins in the fields as well as during transport and distribution to retailers.
A somewhat frustrating question arises: what we can do about it ourselves?
If we all stopped buying, producers would probably have to think about it and change something. Our choices matter, we can exert pressure as consumers.
Your book “FOOD” was just published.
It is difficult for people to understand this network of connections and dependencies and what the food process looks like—from production to what happens later with garbage. That’s why MIT asked me to work on this topic. In the past, comfort and low price were more important. Nowadays, regardless of their status, people want to eat healthily. They are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of a bad diet.
But ideas such as sustainable development and conscious use of resources are difficult to implement other than systemically.
That’s why we must also be citizens who make informed political choices. If the government wants to cut down trees and extract hard coal, it means that the way it thinks about food and energy production is obsolete. Yes, people will lose their jobs, but the government will have to give them a new one based on the new economy. This requires a comprehensive transformation.
In Poland, local producers, drawing on nature and tradition, are becoming more and more popular. Perhaps it is a solution to global problems with environmental degradation and food distribution?
Of course, we should be thinking locally. In New Zealand, for example, sheep farming is a very environmentally sustainable process. This is natural in a situation where there is a lot of space for pastures. Breeding takes more time, but lamb meat is of better quality. However, if you lived in Arizona, raising sheep would be crazy in environments where water is not available, so it is much better to breed them where the conditions are less demanding and more sustainable. What I mean by this is that we cannot avoid global trade. It is hard for us to imagine food stores without bananas or coffee. The question is how we can create a better model of food circulation.
In your book you write about the phenomenon of culinary luddism, what is it?
In the US, there is a trend among foodies that farmers should only produce food using traditional methods. The concept
of Culinary Luddism assumes that technology is harmful. And yet technology can be used wisely to produce food in an even more ecological manner. On the one hand, we can draw on old, proven agricultural systems, but at the same time, we can also use the achievements of modern technology.
On the one hand, there’s growing food awareness and the desire to know where it comes from, what lands on our plate, but on the other, economic issues are forcing us to buy in supermarkets. What’s in the middle?
Most of us sometimes have lunch in a good restaurant, but sometimes just buy cheese for dinner at the supermarket.
As consumers, we have limited choices. At the same time, food is still not a topic that politicians would be interested in.
But that is changing. Four years ago, I organized a debate in New York where the candidates for the mayor’s office answered questions about how they would approach the issue of food in the city. This was the first time this happened. If food becomes a topic that is not only subject to our consumer choices, but is discussed at a more systemic level as a socially important issue, bridges will be built. During the elections, politicians should be asked questions such as: what will happen to farmers in Poland, France, and Italy? What about the fishermen? What if, as
a result of climate change, we are unable to produce as much food as we have done up to now? Solving these issues determines what we find on the shelves in the store, what we do every day. It is not easy, it requires initiative, but it is necessary.
You have been working on a project with the Polish Academy of Sciences for a year now. You watch the changes in the Polish food industry and the trends in its development.
I have traveled a lot in Poland before, as a journalist. I was shocked at how fast food changes in Poland. After opening up to the world, there was a lot of international cuisines available, but today I can observe a great interest in Polish traditional food. I am trying to find out how this trend is changing and whether it is limited to specific social groups. Consumers have become increasingly aware of the origin of products, they want to know them—I study how it influences the decisions made by producers.
What exactly attracts your attention in Polish cuisine now?
An old trend—pickling. This practice can be modernized in many different ways. Moreover, it is also a global trend present e.g. in the US. We do not know much about it in southern Europe, probably because fruit and vegetables are available here all year round and there is no need to process them. In addition, freshwater fish such as carp and catfish are leading the way in Poland. Local varieties of potatoes or apples are being rediscovered. Farmers who have kept several species of trees or seedlings that are more difficult to cultivate and grow are now planting them again. People are beginning to appreciate the diversity, uniqueness and original taste.
In addition, I can see a growing interest in local dishes that are reinterpreted by modern chefs who worked abroad in the past. They have gained a wider perspective which allows them to rediscover Polish specialties. There are also many small regional breweries, which is also part of the global trend, and in the United States people now produce beer in their own cellars. I’m curious where this leads. Will it remain in a small bubble for connoisseurs or will it be possible to redesign the system so as to consciously draw on tradition and local resources?
– Italian culinary researcher and writer, professor in the department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, editor of
“A Cultural History of Food,” long-time collaborator of the Italian magazine “Gambero Rosso.” He is interested in the dynamic changes that take place in Polish cuisine. From September 2019 to August 2021, together with Mateusz Halawa, he is carrying out a research project at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences dubbed “The transformation of Polish food in the cosmopolitan food landscape.” The research concerns the interest in Polish food among metropolitan middle classes and the processes of its re-evaluation in terms of locality, regionality, and nationality.