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Fat Guy

The importance of travel

77 posts in this topic

I'd be interested to hear people's thoughts on the role of travel in the future of cuisine.

I'm always surprised to learn how few Americans have passports -- I believe the number is something like 22 percent. Not that the statistic is directly comparable to Europe, where a trip from New York to Florida would be a trip through five countries, but still it means that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never left America. Those that have, may only have gone to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.

And yet, the most popular foods in America are imports: Italian, Chinese, Mexican.

I assume over time travel will become easier and cheaper, even if the short term doesn't look all that great for travel. Eventually, faster and more efficient air travel has got to come along. Will this foster more of a spirit of adventure among diners, or will it cause homogenization, or will it just create a lot of tourist traps?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In the 70's I did two years in Stevens Point, dead smack in the center of Wisconsin. In my work I got to meet many moderate to medium income types. For many, a vacation was a trip to the Dells or to Door County. I met a number who were pround that they've never been outside the state of Wisconsin. Since then as I travel about the country I encounter many similar - they've never been outside their home state, they've never been to one of the US's major cities, they've never been further south than Maryland or further north than Tenn.

Steven's point about the number of Americans who don't have passport is definitely a concern. But I'm wondering how many more American's have never been more than three states away from their home state.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I think it’s impossible to fully appreciate a countries cuisine without going there. What percentage of Americans considers what the olive garden serves to be authentic Italian cooking? Never mind the countless Sysco ‘Chinese’ restaurants all over the country.

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travel has been perhaps the biggest influence on the food industry, ever, and I don't think it's going to stop any time soon...

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Is it travel or is it immigration? OK, immigration is travel, but I take travel in this thread to mean tourism.

Over the past couple of years a lot of US cities have seen a growth in the number of authentic Mexican restaurants. They have been well received. In Philadelphia, at least, the core customers are fellow Mexican immigrants. But their popularity has spread far beyond their base.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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There are Mexican immigrants cooking all over the country, but Mexico is no small place and the vast majority of Mexican restaurants are serving the same dishes. You can't up and move a cuisine from one place to another, as the ingredients change so does the dish.

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While in London last year, I got into a political conversation with a local gentleman who expressed surprise at my views and told me that I was the only liberal American he had ever met. I was stunned by this. Mentioned this in an email to my mother who, stunned as well, did a little research and learned that only 10% of Americans hold passports. I've also seen information stating only 7% do, so, averaging those numbers and Steven's 22%, it comes to a shockingly low number.

Holly mentioned immigration as well as tourism which is certainly relevant. In Europe, immigration will most definitely affect tourism and cuisines. As borders have opened between countries (and distances between countries are relatively short), I imagine that cuisines may meld more, somewhere down the road. I hope not. It was for this reason (and a very romantic and selfish one it was!) that I didn't want the EU to come about. But thinking about it, I believe it will be the large cities that are most affected by this and, hopefully, the smaller towns and rural communities will maintain their traditions in food.


kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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If I hadn't travelled, I wouldn't have eaten the best lemon meringue pie I've ever eaten in Brisbane, and the best breads and fudge in Melbourne, the best savory pies in Perth, best cherry tart and continental pastries in Lucerne, divine croissants in Paris, tried shoofly pie in an Amish community, eaten cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, and, etc....

Malaysia don't have immigrants other than from our neighboring countries, so, you can't find many Greek or Middle-eastern or African restaurants. We have a lot of non-authentic Mexican (more Tex-Mex) and anything goes Italian restaurants. However, increasingly, we do have many students going overseas, and these are the people who having tasted such food, bring it back with them, to open restaurants. Fortunately, the bar is being raised and we're seeing people who crave for authenticity. Yes, travelling opens our eyes to cuisines other than our own.


TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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O.k. so let me see if I can bring anything to this conversation.

What do you think the average tab is for a person say flying from Chicago to Italy, plus 6 nights accomidations, food, ground transportation.........the whole nine yards for a week in Italy?

The answer is: it's too much money for the average American couple.

Remember what the average income is folks. Then consider those who might be most interesting in dining in other countries are people employeed by the food industry, which is a poorly paying career. Those of us in the industry can barely afford to live on our incomes yet alone eat at fine restuarants locally. Forget traveling for food.

Then we take our hard earned dollars and gamble everytime we step into a restaurant. Will the food be worth the money or not? I think serious cooks of average income eat like I do. They eat mostly at home because that's where the best value and meal is. To spend your money on something risky overseas is too big of a gamble for Mrs. Average Income.

Instead I can get two maybe three vacations for the same price in North America as traveling abroad. I'm already fat, so when I vacation I'm not looking to pack on more pounds.

The whole conversation only works if your talking to people who make descent incomes.

"Travel" has come to me, I don't have to go far to find it. It's in my neighborhood, it's at my bookstore, it's at my job, it's in the room that I plug my computor into.................

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The whole conversation only works if your talking to people who make descent incomes.

*cough* When we started on our travel bug, my husband and I were far from making a 'decent income'...we literally used up all our savings for the year just to travel. Although, we are still far from wealthy now, we still make it a point to fit in one overseas travel a year, as we find it exceedingly worth the money, to experience local food and environment, more so now that we have children.

You may live in a huge country or in a state bigger than a country. But, if you don't travel, your life would be so much smaller. The world is not only your country. How many of you has tasted real Malaysian food? Or, perhaps, I should ask, how many of you are even curious enough to want to know what Malaysian food is all about? I rest my case.


Edited by Tepee (log)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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I think thats a huge luxury to use up a year of your savings to travel........... I can't afford that. My world, my future isn't guarenteed. I don't know how I will pay for the cost of living when I get old.

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I think thats a huge luxury to use up a year of your savings to travel........... I can't afford that. My world, my future isn't guarenteed. I don't know how I will pay for the cost of living when I get old.

I was talking about our younger (carefree) days....

but there are many ways one can save up for a holiday....besides, do you know how big your currency is compared to many asian currencies?


Edited by Tepee (log)

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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While in London last year, I got into a political conversation with a local gentleman who expressed surprise at my views and told me that I was the only liberal American he had ever met.  I was stunned by this.  Mentioned this in an email to my mother who, stunned as well, did a little research and learned that only 10% of Americans hold passports.  I've also seen information stating only 7% do, so, averaging those numbers and Steven's 22%, it comes to a shockingly low number.

Holly mentioned immigration as well as tourism which is certainly relevant.  In Europe, immigration will most definitely affect tourism and cuisines.  As borders have opened between countries (and distances between countries are relatively short), I imagine that cuisines may meld more, somewhere down the road.  I hope not.  It was for this reason (and a very romantic and selfish one it was!) that I didn't want the EU to come about.  But thinking about it, I believe it will be the large cities that are most affected by this and, hopefully, the smaller towns and rural communities will maintain their traditions in food.

I think that EU has done some great things in keeping good food versatile and good, especially with all their DOC-markings on good quality products, forcing low-quality producers not using the name of a thing with good rumour. And also protecting small countryside producers. And the Slow Food moment is excellent too.


Edited by Hector (log)

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I'm always surprised to learn how few Americans have passports -- I believe the number is something like 22 percent. Not that the statistic is directly comparable to Europe, where a trip from New York to Florida would be a trip through five countries, but still it means that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never left America. Those that have, may only have gone to all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.

A passport isn't required for travel to Mexico, Canada, and possibly other countries IIRC.

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In Sweden where I live, partly thanks to the EU and immigration there's definitly been a bigger increase in more exotic and good food.

E g. Better meat products, (game, chorizo, lean beef) great new and better vegetable (sweet potatoes, belgian endive, RIPE tomatoes, coconuts, herbs, new spices, hundreds of different varities of chillies etcetra) lots of groceries were Middle Eastern, Iranian, Thai, Malaysian, Eastern European, Carribean, Chinese, Somali specialities is sold. And that's mostly in the last ten years (as long as Sweden has been a member of the EU=. This is mainly because the immigration has given us very much new products to work, and because people travel. There's not very much Thai people in Sweden, but there's lots of Thai style food stores that both has it's customers in the Thai community and in Swedes who's been to Thailand.

This is mostly home-cooking wise. The average "immigrant-food" in Sweden is found everywhere, is rather boring fast food, except in places where the number of immigrants outnumber Swedes, over there it's always great.


Edited by Hector (log)

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...but still it means that the overwhelming majority of Americans have never left America.

A passport isn't required for travel to Mexico, Canada, and possibly other countries IIRC.

Correct that a passport is (currently) not needed for US citizens to travel throughout much of America, but I think that's what FG meant, right?


Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Too true, Wendy. With the exception of our awesome neighbors, Americans have a long and expensive road to travel in order to get elsewhere and this is certainly one of the reasons so few of us hold passports. It's just a very interesting demographic fact. And, being such an international website, I don't think we're strictly talking about overseas travel on this thread but it could be travel within our own countries...

Travel is the most important aspect of some people's lives -- their hobby -- their passion. Some of us manage to put a little money away and then blow it all on a trip we've dreamed of taking. I'll be working until my dying day in order to support my travel habit. Several years can go by before I might be able to get away, but I'm almost always working and planning the next trip -- it is that important to me that I will blow all my savings then come home and start all over again!

Hector, I totally agree that it's terrific that more exotic, foreign foods are available to us all as home cooks. But, as a traveler, I still want to sample Swedish food when I visit you ( :wink: ), and the traditional foods of any region and country in which I find myself. Although who knows, some fabulous fusion of foods amongst EU countries may come to be. I'm not one to turn down much of anything!


Edited by kitwilliams (log)

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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I apologise to Wendy and to all if I sounded too aggressive up there. Too passionate about travelling.... :hmmm:


TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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Hector, I totally agree that it's terrific that more exotic, foreign foods are available to us all as home cooks.  But, as travelers, I still want to sample Swedish food when I visit you ( :wink: )

You should come by this November and I'll make you a terrific South Swedish local soup with dried fruit, brandy, goose intestines and goose blood! :biggrin:

No I think it's great to try diversity in cuisines, just as long that you not forget your own tradition and value it.. There are great Swedish restaurant here, especially in the country side, they are just getting somewhat hard to find in the big cities (except for Stockholm)

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I apologise to Wendy and to all if I sounded too aggressive up there. Too passionate about travelling.... :hmmm:

It's partly a matter of priorities. jeunefilleparis has mentioned how she saves her money very severely in other areas of her life in order to be able to pay for big blowout meals at places like Alain Ducasse. For you, travelling is so important that you're willing to max out your savings account for that purpose. But as you know, many people just aren't quite that passionate about travelling, high-end dining, whatever.

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In response to the comments about how few Americans hold passports, might I offer one possible explanation?

The fact remains that America is very big and exceedingly diverse so maybe there isn’t as much need or even desire to travel. Also have to acknowledge the fact that American vacations aren't as long as some of the European vacations or "holidays".

Just how many people from poor countries have passports? Countries like Tanzania or Morocco or Turkey. Many of their citizens simply want to get their passports so they can go to another country and get a job.


Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Perhaps I was lucky to discover travel at a tiime when the dollar was relatively strong and the European economy was very weak. The standard of living was lower in Europe as well so that middle class hotels with plumbing facilities down the hall were common. A rise in standards of living and the accompanying rise in the price of even dumpy hotels together with career choices for me, put travel out of the picture for a number of years. Thus it's not hard for me to understand why others haven't been abroad even if they share my desire.

Nevertheless, it's travel that opened my eyes to the fact that there were many reasonable options to the way I lived and the way I was raised. More than anything else, food took on an importance I had never given it before. I was not alone, nor was my generation the first to be affected by a booming US post war economy combined with cheap hotels and incredible food in places such as France and Italy. American travelers returning from low budget (Europe on Five dollars a day) trips frequently on student charter flights. We produced an audience ripe for Julia Child and dining in America has never been the same since.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I'd travel all over the world if I had the money. You don't have to be rich to travel, but if you're just scraping by, it's close to impossible. People who don't travel aren't necessarily people who don't want to travel. Sometimes they're just people who can't.

As far as having a passport, I don't currently have one either--most people get one right before taking a big trip. I've had a passport in 20 of the past 40 years, but it's just another expense if you don't need it. I've been to Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Israel, and Egypt. But for the past ten years, I'm lucky to get a yearly trip to Seattle, from Montana.

Sometimes I feel there's an elitist attitude about travel, and about food, too. Even those of us who can't afford the good life may well have knowledge, education, and the desire to try something different. Hell, even people who live in the Midwest might be cultured and literate. You just never know.

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