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Food and Trade

This post is a little different than the other ones. I wrote a paper on Food and Trade and how they relate, and I thought It would be a good thing post. Enjoy.

Blue Zones are places where the life expectancy is greater than 100. The Blue Zones on islands in the Mediterranean sea are known for their traditional recipes and diets that have not changed for hundreds of years (Buettner 19). This is why the people in the Blue Zones live so long; their diets do not have unhealthy, processed foods. Surprisingly, most of their dishes, have many non-native foods. This is due to interactions between different groups of people. In his book An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage explains that throughout history, food has influenced trade and trade has influenced food (Standage 238). This trend can be seen by examining recipes from the islands of Sardinia and Ikaria, where it is clear that the traditional meals are, in reality, the product of trade. Trade connects different cuisines from all over the world, transforming traditional dishes from isolated places like small towns on islands in the Mediterranean into dishes influenced by many cooks from kitchens across the planet.

One traditional recipe that has ingredients from all over the world is a Minestrone recipe from Sardinia. According to the Blue Zones cookbook by Dan Buettner, the soup has olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, parsley, basil, fava beans, cranberry beans, chickpeas, fregula, and black pepper (Buettner 48). Surprisingly, most of these ingredients are not from Sardinia. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, basil is native to India, carrots are native to western Asia and eastern Europe, onions are native to Southwestern Asia, garlic is native to central Asia, and pepper is native to the Moluccas islands in Indonesia. Potatoes and tomatoes, both central to this recipe, are native to the Peruvian Andes and did not actually get to Europe until the 16th century. They never would have if it were not for the Spanish conquest of the Americas (Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Basil”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Carrot”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Onion”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Garlic”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Pepper”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Potato”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Tomato”). Tia Ghose, a writer for Live Science, explains that olive trees are from the frontier between Turkey and Syria, and in their book Heirloom Beans, Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington explain that cranberry beans are from Colombia (Ghose; Sando, Barrington). Even the fregula, a traditional Sardinian pasta, has wheat in it, which is native to the Fertile Crescent ( This recipe is the Melis family recipe, who have lived in Sardinia for a very long time. The Melis’ eat this dish every day, and the rest of their town eats it almost as often (Buettner 48). Despite this, it has mostly non-native ingredients. Only the celery, fennel, chickpeas, fava beans, and parsley are native to Sardinia and the closely surrounding areas (Lotha, Petruzzello, et al.). This mixing of foreign and familiar ingredients is reflective of Sardinia’s long and diverse history. “Sardinia didn’t become a part of Italy until 1861, and the island's food reflects the diverse influences of its invaders: the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, Arabs, and Spaniards all occupied the island throughout its history” (Buettner 79). Sardinia was influenced by their rulers in many ways and was introduced to food from their rulers’ homelands, which is why their recipes have so many foreign ingredients. The two to one ratio of non-native to native ingredients is proof that the Sardinian people have been trading with other cultures for a long time.

Ikaria, another isolated island in the Mediterranean, has many altered recipes. The Seasonal Ikarian Stews are some of the main stews of the Ikarian people. The Summer Ikarian stew contains black-eyed peas, collard greens, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, and pepper (Buettner 198). This is the main summer stew of the Ikarian people and is very popular. Adrian Miller, a culinary historian, explains that black-eyed peas are native to Africa and have been a popular dish there since the middle ages. When European empires started conquering Africa, they took black-eyed peas back home with them (Miller). The onion, potatoes, tomatoes, and pepper are also non-native (Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Onion”;1 Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Pepper”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Potato”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Tomato”). This recipe is different from the Spring Ikarian stew because all of the ingredients are grown in the local gardens, and different things are ripe at different times of the year. While the ingredients are grown in Ikaria, they are originally from other places and were transplanted in Ikaria years before. Like Sardinia, Ikaria has been influenced by its many rulers. At different times, Ikaria has been controlled by the Athenians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, and the Ottoman Turks (Ikaria Holiday and Travel Guide). Ikaria was conquered by many different places and has been a part of lots of different cultures, so the Ikarian people have acquired many foreign foods. In fact, of all of the ingredients of the stew, only the collard greens are native to Ikaria and the closely surrounding areas. The traditional stew of a tiny, isolated island in Greece has almost all non-native ingredients because of the global trade networks that connect kitchens across the globe.

Even the deserts in the Blue Zones of the Mediterranean are products of cultural blending as seen by Ikarian Finika (honey cookies). These cookies have oranges, honey, lemon, vanilla, cognac, olives, baking soda, baking powder, flour, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg (Buettner 227). Encyclopedia Britannica explains that many of these ingredients are not native to Ikaria. Oranges are native to the tropical regions of Asia, lemons are native to China and India, vanilla is from Mexico, cognac is from France, cloves are native to the Moluccas islands in Indonesia, cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, the neighboring Malabar Coast of India, and Myanmar, and nutmeg is native to the Moluccas islands in Indonesia (Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Orange”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Lemon”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Vanilla”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Cognac”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Cloves”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Cinnamon”; Lotha, Petruzzello, et al, “Nutmeg”). Many of these ingredients, particularly cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper according to food historian Tom Standage, reached Europe because of the spice trade, which was active from the times of the Roman and Egyptian empires to the times of the Dutch and Portugees empires (Standage 66). According to Kaitlyn Berkheiser, Baking Soda is made from soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate, which can be obtained by mining, which Ikaria does not do, or manufacturing it in big factories, which Ikaria does not have. She later explains that baking powder and its ingredients (baking soda; cream of tartar, and cornstarch) are all non-native to Ikaria (Berkheiser). An article by the Nibble, a gourmet food magazine, explains that honeybees are from Southeast Asia, honey itself probably originated in Tropical Africa and spread from there to Northern Europe and East into Asia, and the oldest written reference to honey dates back to the Egyptians in 5500 B.C.E. While honey itself spread through bee migration, the ideas of harvesting it spread along trade routes (Nibble). This recipe is five generations old, yet it has all non-native ingredients. This dessert is so central in Ikarian diets that it is the only Ikarian desert mentioned in the Blue Zones cookbook. These foreign ingredients arrived in Ikaria at different times. While wheat got to Europe about 10,000 years ago, vanilla only got to Europe in the 1520s during Cortez’s conquests (Standage 116). Ikaria uses so many foreign ingredients because the Ikarian natives have been active in trade for thousands of years, and continue to trade today. During the Greek, Egyptian, and Roman empires, Ikaria was surrounded by trade routes because the Mediterranean was the center of it all. Even though Ikaria is very isolated and hard to trade with, the trade hubs were nearby so Ikaria still managed to get a hold of ingredients from all over the world.

Trade brings cultural and culinary influences from across the globe, making each dish a unique blend of many cooks in many kitchens. In his book An Edible History of Humanity, Standage alludes to the fact that humans do better with more, not less (Standage 238). Humans started trading because they could be more successful with more. That is why our world is so interconnected and global trade routes still criss-cross the world. Humans as a species pursue more, especially when it helps them. Even though having very connected societies is dangerous, as diseases spread faster and wars over resources start, it is worth it. Humans as a whole will continue to advance and these setbacks will be overshadowed by the accomplishments.

This is the Melis Family Minestrone

Links: black-pepper-plant. Accessed 21 Apr. 2020 Accessed 21 Apr. 2020.

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