On November 9, Catalonia conducted a straw poll on independence, with more than 80 percent voting in favor of secession, and more than 10 percent voting for statehood without independence. In spite of a ruling from Spain’s Constitutional Court to suspend the vote, the regional government, under the leadership of Catalan president Artur Mas, was able to proceed with this more symbolic poll thanks to support from 40,930 volunteers. The general atmosphere was civil and calm, but the prevailing mood was clear from the numerous flags, pro-independence T-shirts and yellow signs everywhere proclaiming, “We want a new country!”
There have been implicit messages too, especially where culinary matters are concerned. Food, like industry and culture, is closely tied to politics. Throughout this important process, we have continued cooking lunch and meeting friends for tapas at our favorite bars and restaurants. And in this daily context, gazing at what’s on our tables, we wonder: How is independence affecting food and kitchens? Is it somehow going to alter Catalan or Spanish markets and restaurants? The final answers to these questions might not yet be clear, but there is already some change underway.
First of all, gastronomy in Spain is deeply connected to regional identity, with protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications indicative of that. But in Catalonia especially, food products and culinary traditions are inextricably tied to local identity. On the one hand, Catalan products have been recognized for their quality and origin and promoted by the Catalan and local governments. But also an extraordinarily rich collection of documented recipes dating from medieval times have been researched, collected and promoted by institutions such as Fundació Alícia (founded by world-renowned chef Ferran Adrià) and the Fundació Institut Català de la Cuina i la Cultura Gastronòmica (FICCG, created with private and public funds) and are being put forth in an application to include Catalan cuisine in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. In recent years, there’s been an international trend for local, seasonal food, and in Catalonia, that inclination was already strong and has grown stronger still (as demonstrated by the annual fair Mercat de Mercats). Every day more chefs are embracing a cuisine that is connected to the land, not only as a way of distinguishing themselves, but also out of a sense of identity. Consequently, it’s easier than ever to really get to know Catalan cuisine – from different points in history, from different landscapes and in a range of styles.
That sense of Catalan pride and identity is keenly felt elsewhere in Spain. Citizens of other regions have begun boycotting Catalan products, including food and wine – and especially cava. The loss in cava sales due to the boycott purportedly doesn’t make a substantial difference in what is attributed to the economic crisis, but Catalan cava producers have sold much less in Spain in the last two years: Codorníu has suffered a loss of €5.9 million, and Freixenet’s sales are down 15 percent. Fortunately, many producers and shops say that the majority of the food lovers and connoisseurs are over this matter.
Food is always connected to the economy and politics, and so the independence movement in Catalonia is something we’ve been able to see, hear and also literally taste in months leading up to the vote. As a reflection of the enthusiasm in the streets – and also a marketing ploy – some food producers have created their own tributes to the movement. We’ve seen pro-independence sentiments in many shops in town and market stalls, on bottles of wine, cava and beer, on bread and cake and even on hamburgers. In Catalonia, we vote with our stomachs, too.
(photos by Paula Mourenza)