Plant figs, not flags.

Flags are the usual shorthand for referring to places on Earth: you associate each place with the nation-state that claims ownership of that place. But flags are often brutal objects, symbols of colonization, nationalism, xenophobia. What else could we use?

I propose we try using foods instead. Many centers of human civilization have distinctive native foods: tomatoes and peppers in the americas, pearl millet in west africa, figs and olives in the mediterranean, apples in central asia, bananas in southeast asia, blueberries in the frozen north, and so on.

Food is our human legacy: although regional crops differ, we all eat, we gather where the food is, we use our ingenuity to look after the earth. Food is nurturing as well as a symbol of our common humanity.

Food is also timeless: empires rise and fall in an ecological instant, and their flags fall with them. Rather than marking places with the nearest tyrant's logo, we can mark places with the foods that were born there long ago.

Finally, food is borderless: it travels. While regional crops and cuisines start in one place, we carry them with us to new homes. The result is cultural creation: imagine asian food without hot peppers (migrants from the american continent), or south american foods without rice (migrants from the asian continent). So food-origins let us point to a place while remembering the migration paths that flow freely through it.

Now, I know we still sometimes need to mention flags: sometimes we do want to talk about local political arrangements, for example. And determining where foods originated isn't a clear-cut, fine-grained, politically neutral process. Finally, food origins aren't generally common knowledge—to use them, we'd have to learn a new geographical organizing system.

But just imagine what else we might see! Imagine learning the world in terms of where our favorite foods come from and how they've spread through the ages. The culinary approach is not just a mapmaking gimmick, but a concrete political perspective: it emphasizes the long view, the food-rhythms that bring us together, our intellectual heritage as keepers of sustenance. I think we might benefit from the re-orientation.

Date: 30/Sept/2022

Author: Dylan Holmes

Created: 2022-09-30 Fri 19:23