Barbara York: As someone who has an interest in food, do you find food a particularly good way to explore and understand a culture?
Lana Harrigan: Absolutely. I’ve always been drawn to good food, but I’d never really understood—until I began to travel—that it is an essential conveyor of culture. In our food and drink lie glimpses of our history as well as our culture. In America, the Boston Tea Party is a perfect example. A simple beverage became a symbol of political oppression and a nation’s desire for freedom. With our high-speed lives, fast food has become an icon that defines one aspect of our current culture. Spain, on the other hand, still stops for lunch. When my fellow Smithsonian travelers and I sit down to a two-hour lunch of traditional foods in a shadowy restaurant, nestled amongst the narrow, twisting streets of medieval Córdoba, we truly experience Spain, its history, and its culture. When I eat bacalhao in Lisbon, it conjures up Portuguese history and fishermen braving Atlantic waters in their brightly painted boats. When I bite into a morsel of roast leg of lamb glazed with honey and dates, Moorish Spain comes alive. If food were only calories for survival, all cultures throughout history would not have gone to such lengths to prepare special food for special occasions. In all my Smithsonian lectures, I mention the food of the peoples who settled the Iberian Peninsula. Knowing what and how people ate in times past is another way to know them—and to connect with them across the centuries. (more…)