Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Dinner at Finca Bella Vista in Costa Rica

"Ecogastronomics." When my daughter told me yesterday that she just registered for a college course with this title, my first thought was, "What the heck is ecogastronomics?" My second thought was, "Why is this a credited course at a University?" My third thought was "When is that girl going to get serious about her college career and start working on a "real" major!?"

Thus, I found myself awake in the middle of the night, once again, Googling for information, where all of my questions seem to find an answer these days. Ecogastronomics, by simple linguistic analysis, is the study of the ecology and economics of food. Okay, I thought, that is definitely relevant. To answer my second question, it turns out that the University of New Hampshire made the news back in 2008 by pioneering Ecogastronomy as an official major area of study. Their aim is to integrate the study of agriculture, nutrition and food services management into a course that examines the effects of our food choices on local and global scales. Or something like that. Michael Pollan's books, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Food Rules" are obvious choices for primary texts; the "Slow Food Movement" is the philosophical foundation of this new trend of study.

My third question does not have an answer on the Internet, but I realized that one of the reasons my daughter chose to go to college is to explore the world beyond the heavily plodded pathways of "normal" careers and lifestyles. These first two years are a golden opportunity to learn about other cultures and topics that just aren't part of the standard middle class American public school system. Yoga, Argentine Tango, Vietnamese History, Western Philosophy, Photojournalism and now, Ecogastronomy, are somehow colluding into something unique and exciting for Brooke. I can't wait to see what she cooks up!

So now I turn to my pantry and refrigerator and ponder the idea of ecogastronomy in my own life. As I snack on almonds (from California) and sip my Yerba Mate (from Argentina), I'm intrigued at how most of our food has absolutely no ecological relationship to the local landscape. Phoenix is no longer well known for it's agriculture, although Cattle and Citrus were once the economic engines of the region. My veggie gardening skills are weak. However, I do have a bag of mesquite flour in my freezer, ground from seed pods that I gathered in my front yard. Might mesquite be a key ingredient in the restoration of ecological and economic sustainability here in the Sonoran Desert? And maybe a culinary ingredient that could be reintroduced to the local culture?

Mesquite bean pods

Some nutritionists of aboriginal cultures suggest that restoring indigenous food cultures could cure a lot of health problems, such as diabetes and obesity. In that case, I'd like to live wherever cacao is part of the native ecosystem!

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