Gastronationalism and the cultural conflicts of food

Ashwanta Jackson examined the way some foods become the subject of cultural debates for the sake of protecting their national identities. Who knew hummus could be so controversial?

That light might be shining brightest on hummus. The version of the chickpea puree that comes closest to the modern-day version was a thirteenth-century book, Kitab Wasf al-At’ima al-Mu’tada (The Description of Familiar Foods). But before this printed example, scholars have noted that some version of the dish was seen in both Egypt and Syria in medieval times. And as Ariel explains, “some historians have speculated that the ancient Egyptians prepared chickpeas mashed with vinegar.” But through the years, the modern version of the dish has been claimed as a product of several countries.

In 2008, for example, the Association of Lebanese Industrialists sought to trademark several Middle Eastern dishes with the intention of “stopp[ing] Israel from marketing hummus and other dishes as Israeli.” The Association’s claims relied on the “feta precedent,” explains cultural anthropologist Nir Avieli, “whereby a European court granted Greece the sole right to use the term feta as the name of the cheese it produced.” This claim would also prevent the term hummus being used in other countries where hummus is also commonly eaten. With this claim, hummus became more than a food, it became a stand-in for a long-established conflict, as Avielli explains, “the culinary sphere is among the richest sources of metaphors for social relations and social structures.”

The term ‘gastronationalism’ came from Michael Owen Jones in Pig Tales: Assumptions, Beliefs, and Perceptions Regarding Pork Bans Real and Rumored to describe “the practice of labeling food based on national origins to protect it as part of a nation’s heritage.” An example is how, in Europe, you can’t call sherry “sherry” unless it comes from an area in the province of Cádiz in Spain (known as the “Sherry Triangle”).

30 days, 30 maps

Visionscarto spent the 30 days of November publishing daily map data visualisations for a variety of areas both geographically and mathematically. Here he explained why he is so fascinated by mapping algorithms:

Why am I so fascinated by the early computer mapping algorithms? Maybe another way of framing that question is to ask, what have we lost when geographic information systems (GIS) became dominant? Looking back at the research from the 1970’s and 80’s, it’s obvious that maps were not just the layering of tons of data on top of one another (if I can caricature what GIS does). Cartography was meant to be transformative, to show relations, movements, networks, structures of power. With the access we have now to fantastic new classes of algorithms, easy to plug in with data in notebooks that run instantly, there is a lot to invent, and we can iterate quickly, mix and match, try things out. We just need to do a bit of homework to learn and rediscover (and sometimes resuscitate) what the previous generation explored.

Some of the maps include guessing a map of Czechoslavakia, a bi-hexagonal projection of Earth, and oceans represented by dots. I couldn’t choose one to screenshot for this blog post so fill your boots with all 30 by visiting the Observable link.

Guy Shrubsole’s ambitious plan to map Britain's rainforests

Atlas Obscura spoke to Guy Shrubsole about his conversation project aiming to map the rainforests of Britain:

Woodland conservationists consider the few fragments of ancient temperate rainforests that survive in Britain to be in more danger than their tropical counterparts, says Shrubsole, who describes himself as a “very amateur, but very enthusiastic naturalist.” “Knowing where the rainforests are is a crucial part of knowing how to save them,” he says. So Shrubsole, using crowdsourced information collected through his Lost Rainforests of Britain website, has begun plotting Britain’s first comprehensive rainforest map.

I had no idea Britain had rainforests but, after reading, these aren’t the same kind as you find in the Amazon. Due to the wet and mild conditions, Britain has temperate rainforests where plants called epiphytes can grow on other plants. It’s an interesting project and I wish Guy the best of luck.

The Woodland Trust has a great page on temperate rainforests, noting that they’re possibly more threatened than tropical rainforests like the Amazon. But I think we need to save them all regardless of priority. Damn humans and their pollution and expediting of climate change.

How many countries can you name in Europe? (QUIZ)

Can you name 47 of the European countries listed in this Sporcle quiz?

This will put your geography knowledge to the test, particularly some of the name changes of certain countries and how many of the tiny nations you can remember. Oh, and those pesky municipalities. I’ve said too much already…

I got 43/47, although (spoiler alert) I think Georgia not getting mentioned as a separate country was unfair.

For a bigger quiz, see how many countries you can name in 15 minutes.

The history of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

DefunctTV: The History of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

I LOVED ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?‘ and I’m happy that Defunctland made an in-depth video about it. The show had an a cappella vocal group, taught kids geography and problem solving, and a cool cartoon to boot. It also had interesting—and thematically relevant—ways of funding:

The show was primarily funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by the annual financial support from the viewers/stations of PBS (1991–1995). Toyota funded the show for its first three seasons with Holiday Inn co-funded for the second half of the first season and all of season two. Delta Air Lines provided funding for the show’s final two seasons (1994–95).

Helsingin Sanomat's 'Climate Crisis' font weights shrink with the Arctic sea ice

Climate change font graph

Helsingin Sanomat is Finland’s largest subscription newspaper, based in the nation’s capital, Helsinki. In response to the growing climate crisis, the publication created The Climate Crisis Font, a variable font with weights that change gradually but dramatically:

The font’s design is based on data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center ( and predictions provided by the IPCC ( The heaviest font weight represents the minimum extent of the Arctic sea ice in the year 1979, when satellite measuring began. The lightest weight represents IPCC’s 2050 forecast, when the Arctic sea ice minimum is expected to have shrunk to only 30 % of the 1979 extent.

Volcano pizza is hot, hot, hot!

An enterprising gentleman in Guatemala decided to put a fiery volcano to work for him, and bake his pizza.
It’s an idea that probably shouldn’t be copied, but it sure is adventurous, and if we’re to believe chef David Garcia, the intense heat of the (very active) Pacaya volcano lends the pizza a delicious flavor.

For more on pizzas and volcanos: La Soufrière’s eruption: before and after photos and sexy MFing pizza

The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Deep in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan lies something extraordinary: a 230ft-wide hole with fire in it. Known to locals as “The Gates of Hell”, the crater (officially known as the Darvaza gas crater) was the result of a disputed accident:

[…] a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.

To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”

The hole has been on fire for 40 years. For more pictures and the story of a Canadian explorer who went down, check out this Guardian article.

(via Atlas Obscura)

Update: the Turkmenistan president is planning to close the crater

La Soufrière's eruption: before and after photos

The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission captured the above images of La Soufrière before and after its eruption on 9th April.

La Soufrière is an active stratovolcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. A series of explosive events began in April 2021, forming a plume of volcanic ash reaching 8 km in height, and generating pyroclastic flows down the volcano’s south and southwest flanks.

According to the BBC, La Soufriere had been inactive for decades before it started erupting last week. No reported injuries but thousands have fled their homes.

(via SciTechDaily)

12 abandoned islands #

Of all the many places around the world that have been abandoned by their inhabitants and left to slump into obscurity and ruin, islands seem among the most unlikely. What’s not to love about an island? Yet there are dozens of isles scattered throughout the world’s oceans that have been deserted by their residents and left all but forgotten.

Of course Disney has an entry in the list:

Disney’s abandoned animal island was almost the coolest attraction ever. Disney opened it as a lush zoological park as the island was home to a number of exotic animals. When the attraction was closed in 1999, the remaining animals were moved to Disney World’s new Animal Kingdom resort, yet the island was simply left to nature, its buildings deteriorating.

Today, the island remains abandoned and off-limits. However some brave urban explorers have managed to infiltrate the island take pictures of what remains. Disney has threatened to ban these adventurers from all Disney properties just for setting foot on Discovery Island, making the whole kingdom seem a little less than magic.

(via Atlas Obscura)

How many countries can you name in 15 minutes?

A part of a globe showing Europe

There are 197 countries in this Sporcle quiz as of 2nd January 2021. How many can you name in 15 minutes?

I could only manage 121 as my mind went blank for a lot of them. I got all but 20 African countries which could have been better but could have been a lot worse. I struggled with Central America/the Caribbean.

It’s strange because you’ll have heard of most of the countries in the list but when you’re asked to recall them all, it’s impossible.

Related: Places I want to visit when it’s safe to do so and, if I do, I might want to read Tom Comitta’s airport novella at the airport.