Ecocentricity Blog: Cultural Roots

By: John A. Lanier
Feb 3, 2021 9:30 AM ET

This week's Ecocentricity Blog meets at the intersection of culture, food, music and environment.


Honest question for you, my most favorite reader (shhhhh, don’t tell the other readers I said you were my favorite). Which is the purer reflection of a people’s culture – food or music? I’d genuinely like to know what you think, because I’m torn between the two.

I think there are some clarifying questions we need to wrestle with at the outset. First, I know that in our globalized society, both food and music have lost some of their connection to cultural roots. I don’t think the menu at Outback Steakhouse or the top hits on the Country Music Chart have deep cultural significance, for instance. So set those aside – I’m talking about authentic cultural connections of music and food.

Second, I realize the answer may be culture-specific. I’ve been to Sicilian restaurants, but I don’t think I’ve heard any Sicilian songs. Bluegrass music calls to mind the peoples of Appalachia, but I’m not sure what dish to associate with them. I’m not saying they lack such cultural icons, only that for some cultures the answer is easy. So let’s generalize – taken all together, is culture rooted deeper in music or cuisine?

Ask me tomorrow and my answer might change, but I think I’d give the edge to food. I find it compelling that food is so closely tied to the place where a culture resides. Only certain types of food and flavorings are locally available in any particular place, and food cultures sprung up around what was available. I’ve even read that cultures with spicy food tend to be in hotter locales, where food is more prone to spoil and the antimicrobial properties of some spices can improve dietary health. When you eat a cultural food, you are experiencing both a people and a place, and I’m drawn to the environmental aspect of cuisine.

That doesn’t mean music lacks an environmental connection though! I recently happened upon the NPR syndicated show The Thistle and Shamrock. It’s a weekly music program that’s been running since 1981, featuring primarily Celtic music. Each week’s show is an hour long and centers around a theme of some sort, and on October 9, 2020 the theme was Biomimicry! The host, Fiona Ritchie, had curated a series of songs that were inspired by nature, and I loved every bit of it. Give it a listen yourself.

And while you do, it should give you plenty of time to think about my question. So what say you – food or music?

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