26 January 2014 – traditions and change

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Julian Baggini has just written a book called ‘The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think’. In a recent article, he talks about traditional food and change and how traditions are dynamic. He makes a distinction between the living tradition and historical heritage arguing that they may overlap, but they are not the same thing. To make his point, he gives examples of how one of the down-sides of PDO and PGIs (protected designation of origin and protected geographic indication) is that they somehow ‘freeze’ the distinctive status of these protected regional food products and deny any prospect of innovation, whereas traditional recipes change organically over time with societal change.

 These are interesting points – and I think that parallel arguments can be drawn with innovation and change associated with traditional food markets and the growth of farmers’ markets. Traditional food markets in Western Europe have a history of adaptation and innovation for example, adopting what some call ‘cosmopolitan localism’ as they cater to the changing needs and diversity of local populations. But the current ‘re-invention’ of some traditional markets as part of the (re)-gentrification of inner-city neighbourhoods runs the risk of ‘freezing’ their status as central attractions that attempt to invoke the past.  In this instance their primary purpose of providing access to affordable fresh food for all – and especially for those that live and work in the neighbourhood – is put under threat. In the same way that Baggini argues PDOs and PGIs run the risk of ‘pickling’ the status of these protected foods, I wonder if similar arguments can also be made about farmers’ markets – what does the strict enforcement of farmers’ market rules in the UK and an opposition to merging those trading on traditional and farmers’ markets in one market (as we see in other European countries)?  As Baggini sums up, ‘tradition at its best is not about looking backwards, but about looking both ways, taking the good that has come from the past into the future, while not being afraid to see it continue to change and grow’.

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