“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Food is one among life’s endless delights. Throughout history, everything to do with food; its capture, cultivation, preparation and consumption; has molded human culture.Civilizations were inadvertently shaped by food as the early agrarian societies formed around the production of food; they developed social structures that allowed some people to focus on farming and others to work outside of agriculture, eventually leading to the stratification of classes.
The use of spices as flavouring was the next great gastronomically motivated game-changer. Because spices often came from other lands than the ones in which they were enjoyed, whole mythologies formed around their source. With such wild stories about the origins of spices, it was no wonder that they were so expensive. Europeans’ taste for spices led them to begin exploring the planet in search of direct access to the sources. This, of course, led to the discovery of new lands, as well as international trade networks through which knowledge and cultures spread.
Since time immemorial, food has been a celebration and unsurprisingly, culinary festivals have evolved on all four corners of the earth. A few of the amusing, bizarre or just plain hilarious ones have been listed in this article for your reading pleasure.
Since 1945, the quaint Spanish town of Buñol has been celebrating the world’s biggest annual food fight. The fight lasts for an hour, after which the whole town square is covered with tomato paste. Fire trucks hose down the streets and participants use hoses that locals provide to remove the tomato paste from their bodies. After the cleaning, the village cobblestone streets are pristine due to the acidity of the tomato disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces.Though the first few editions of the festival did not go down well with the local police, now the town is known for little else.
The RoadKill Grill cook-off gives visitors the opportunity to sample a wide range of dishes, each freshly peeled from the nearest road. Held in West Virginia on September 28 with the unofficial tagline “You kill it, we grill it”. If you’ve ever wanted to sample squished squirrel gravy over biscuits or trampled teriyaki-marinated bear, you know where to go.
Olney Pancake Race
The market town of Olney in the county of Buckinghamshire holds an annual Pancake Race on Shrove Tuesday. At the race, participants are required to wear an apron and hold a frying pan in one hand. The tradition is thought to have originated in the 15th century after a woman lost track of time while cooking pancakes. When the bells for mass rang, she ran out of her house with the pan and pancake still in hand.
The Lopburi province of Thailand celebrates a culinary festival with a unique twist. The celebrants at this festival are 3000 monkeys living in the area who receive an extensive lunch buffet at the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple. 4000 kilograms of fruits, vegetables, cakes and candies are laid out in the shape of pyramids or just in a simple mat much to the delight of theboisterous simian troops.
Cheese-rolling at Cooper’s Hill
Closer to home,Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire is best known for the annual Cheese Rolling festival. On the Spring Bank Holiday, visitors flock to watch competitors race an eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese down a dangerously steep incline. The first person over the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In theory, competitors are aiming to catch the cheese; however, it has around a one-second head start and can reach speeds up to 112 km/h. Although injuries are aplenty, the contest lives on due to its sheer popularity.
Despite their diversity, culinary festival,have one common theme: to celebrate the oneness of humanity. For some, they are emotional experiences that lead down memory lane. For others, they are simply a time to unwind and soak up the spirit of love.Regardless, food festivals are brilliant ways of learning about different cultures and unravelling more pieces in the mystery of our beautiful planet.