S: “Why does philosophy matter?”
P: “I don’t know, why does science matter?”
S: “Well because scie-“
P: “Annnnnnnd there you are doing philosophy.”
Country (big C Country) cooking is maintenance, myth, and medicine all in one. Long before there was any organised medicine or even shamanism, cooking determined the Country and was determined by it. To this day you can make your cooking taste like any regional cuisine of the world just by knowing the geography, geology, botany, zoology, and climate there. And vice a versa, by knowing a regional cuisine you can know some broad details of the Country it comes from. Sometimes even quite specific details.
I know from experience what a Middle Eastern seaport feels, smells, and sounds like. Spent five years on Bahrain island in the Persian Gulf as a young child and I can remember quite a bit. I can taste and smell it in any Arabic foods I cook.
Similarly, Bombay (as it was then, known by its proper name Mumbai now) had certain properties that I can still taste in Indian food to this day. Papua New Guinea gave me the foods of the tropical island jungle, from the highlands to the coastal regions and surrounding islands.
I can taste what Greece, Malta, Italy, Turkey, or Cyprus will look like when I eat foods prepared to those recipes. Austrian Eisbein or a good strudel similarly remind me of where I was born and can barely remember, but I know what that Country would be like if I went back there.
For Polish, Ukraine, Chinese, Vietnamese, Norse, or Alaskan foods, show me the ingredients, let me study where they came from and how they grow, and I can tell you a lot about the land.
If you have a surfeit of beans and mild herbs growing in your region, you’ll know how to use those to advantage in any style of food from a salad to a hearty main to a dessert.
If your land is hot and dry then you can best preserve food by drying it, perhaps rubbed with biltong spices. If your climate is cool and rainy, you might be better off preserving things by pickling them and storing them underground in cellars.
You might bury fish in the frostline and let them ferment by cycles, or store fish or soybeans in salt and in clay pots that you then bury or keep in a spot with stable temperature, and end up with fish sauces, soy sauces, soy curds, or something similar.
And each of those foods will have a special place in the hearts of Country dwellers.
You’ll discover along the way in your Country, the medicinal properties of local foods. That plant’s root breaks fevers, that one causes you to break wind but it also relieves constipation, and that one there stops diarrhoea in its tracks. Feeling a bit peaked? Let me make a tea of this plant and use it more in cooking, that’ll fix you right up. And if you’re bored and need some recreation, THAT one is a real out of body psychedelic TRIP!
Speaking of which, that’s very likely the way you meet your God, the great hallucination that all humans seem hard-wired to believe in against all evidence to the contrary. We make up stories and pass them on, each person hoping THEIR story is the one that takes off and becomes the story in everyone’s mind. Laurie Anderson had that right – language IS a virus, it seems the viral thing is ingrained into human nature, survival of both the DNA and the culture.
And of course, language is also tied intimately to your Country, when you have snow then you have more words for different kinds of snow, when you have large wild cats then you have names for ALL the various species of them, if your survival depends on knowing which trees grow in areas where edible mushrooms grow as opposed to toxic ones, then you have a word for every tree at every stage of its life cycle.
All of these things combine to make Country, Country. YOUR heritage, YOUR past, YOUR present. YOUR mythos, YOUR religion(s). And it’s why food prejudices are among the best things to break down. My father told me that a common saying in Austria and the rest of Europe was that “the more languages one speaks, the more one is a person.”
Australian Aboriginals? They eat Witchetty grubs ffs! (Never mind that South Americans eat a lot of this most sensible of proteins, the insects. You’ll NEVER catch me eating insects he says as he munches down on a square if chocolate which contains a significant percentage of insect body parts and secretions due the way it’s harvested and processed.)
And Chinese food will leave you hungry an hour later. Italian food wil give you greasy skin and hair, Greek food makes you fart, Turkish food gives you such a body odour omg… The list goes on, all reasons why YOUR Country’s foods are the best in the world, why YOUR God is the only real God, etc.
The correct version of that old Austrian saying might be “The more cultures one experiences, the more one is an Earthling.”