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Friday, December 01, 2006

Food and Travel for Everyone

According to recent figures, 20% of the Spanish population lies below the poverty level. This is about the same figure as the United States. Spain has come a long way in its effort to eliminate poverty and provide housing for their citizens while the United States is going in the opposite direction.

I mentioned before a cooking show that I have seen several times in which the host chef teaches people how to cook and entire meal and then we watch as they take this knowledge home with them to entertain their friends. We follow as the guests shop for the ingredients either in a big grocery store or their favorite street market. They bring everything they need home to their kitchens and prepare the meal.

I have seen my share of cooking programs in the States and they are almost always some version of yuppie culinary heaven. Martha Stewart provides more of a fantasy than an instructional guide. I think that most American cooking shows are more sophisticated than their Spanish counterparts, but the Spanish programs seem more geared to everyday life, meals that people would actually cook every day of the week.

My favorite part is when the guests begin cooking in their own kitchens. Every kitchen I have seen so far is an extremely modest affair—most aren’t even as nice as where I now live now. In Spain, almost everyone lives in an apartment. In Valencia I have yet to see a private home. I’m sure that there are lots of fantastic apartments in town, but most people live at pretty much the same level.

When the meal is prepared the guests and their guests sit down in their modest dining rooms to eat. This is how most Spanish live, in small apartments with small kitchens and dining room tables that seat four people. I can’t imagine many people could think that the way they live is inadequate from seeing these modest Spanish homes. This program isn’t about turning food into a symbol of status; it is about sharing with friends. During one segment I noticed the clock on the dining room wall. They were eating at the very Spanish hour of 12:30 at night.

As I write this a travel show came on the TV. A Spanish guy who speaks almost no English travels to London. Like other Europeans, the Spanish are very concerned with vacations and travel. They see these things as a right, like health care and housing. In the same report on Spanish poverty levels, there was also a statistic lamenting the fact the 40% of Spaniards can only afford one week of vacation a year.

The host of the travel show takes the viewers to all of the usual London attractions and at the same time he seems fairly obsessed with prices. Who isn’t concerned with prices when they travel? As a goof, he goes to the Savoy Hotel for tea at 60 Euros per person. He totally mocks the high life and soon ditches his Saville Row suit for blue jeans. He also makes fun of his tiny hotel room. His advice for visiting London: good shoes and a lot of money.

Once again, like the way food is presented in the cooking show, travel is shown not as some wild extravagance, but as an essential ingredient in life and should be available to everyone. This is a theme I will search out and explore.

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