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From Earth to Plate

​Do you remember that time, quite a while ago now, when our ancestors used to munch on raw mammoth garnished with a few roots and wild herbs? They didn't have any sauce or mustard in those days….
Things have changed since, and now we cook our mammoth over a wood fire and dress our roots and herbs with cold pressed olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. We still eat roots - carrots, radishes, beetroot - but we like to vary how we eat them: raw carrot sticks, grated carrot, carrots cooked with cumin.
Alma mater, mother earth. It provides us with an infinite variety of things to eat, and man has learnt how to make them even more palatable: this is what's known as cooking.
There are some faraway countries where only two staple foods are eaten: rice, and flatbreads, or pitta bread. And on special days they might have kebabs, maybe two or three times a year, if they can afford it.
Clearly food has a key role in our lives, whether plain or fancy. And it all starts with us modifying what the earth has given us in some way. The wheat we use to make our bread has been a symbol of this process since time immemorial. When Jason went off to fight and bring back the Golden Fleece, he occupied rich wheat-growing lands in today's Georgia. But he forgot to bring back any cocoa beans to make our wonderful chocolate. Maybe he just didn't have a sweet tooth.
Vegetables are planted and harvested, we have fruit growing on trees. Picking, harvesting, growing - words that dreams are made of, words that have come down to us through the ages. According to good (French) King Henry, who wanted to be sure his subjects had enough to eat, ploughing and grazing were France's wet-nurse. And when one of France's greatest men, Antoine-Augustine Parmentier, went about promoting the benefits of the potato in France, he saved the world from famine.

Food has its fashions too. The humble swede, so trendy and cool nowadays and served at the classiest dinners, reminds our grandparents only of the deprivations of war. Some transformation! A vegetable that once was spurned has been totally revamped. Other foods once forgotten have come to the surface once more. And the latest trends are no more than the edible echo of changes in society and the way the world is going. Fusion food is simply globalisation on a plate. Everything fits together, tangles up, marries and mixes for better and for worse: in other words, globalisation. Foods from Vietnam alongside a blanquette de veau, Japanese sushi with chorba from Morocco, borscht and baked apples. Who would counter such combinations? Not in the least parochialist, cooking is free, open, welcoming. If it comes from the earth then it's got to be good. So let's toss the salad, stir the stew, and enjoy the result - that's what gastronomy is all about, it's just a bit more of a shared experience than eating bread and salt. Sharing a meal means sharing friendship, sharing a bit of your life. In Oriental tradition you never eat with the enemy - because once you've shared a meal they are no longer the enemy.