Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Globalization Of Parochial Americana

I've submitted a conceptual piece to "Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology." I use the Pittsburgh Potty as a counterpoint to Richard Florida's book, "The Rise of the Creative Class." Quirky charm trumps tolerance in the fight to attract/retain talent. Parochial Pittsburgh is a legacy benefit instead of a legacy cost.

To explain what I mean, let me put aside my civic boosterism and Rust Belt pride. Journey with me to Minneapolis, US center for Scandinavia Chic:

And although Minnesota is not generally considered a nexus for new ideas in world cuisine, this Scandinavian surge is intersecting with the most avant-garde movement in food today: New Nordic cuisine, based on cold-weather crops, traditional foodways and naturalistic presentations.

“We kind of stumbled into the New Nordic thing,” said Eric Dayton, an owner of the Bachelor Farmer. “Our goal was something that was authentic to Minnesota, not necessarily authentic to Scandinavia.” ...

... The upper Midwest, with its forbidding climate, wasn’t thickly settled by American immigrants until the late 1800s, a period that was marked in Scandinavia by widespread food shortages. Thousands of Swedes and Finns, and even more Norwegians, arrived in this region, where timber and flour mills, mining and dairy farming were thriving. Some Danes immigrated as well, but according to Mr. Dregni, they found the conditions and climate even harsher than back home and many returned to Denmark.

“But for the Norwegians, this was a huge improvement over the old country,” he said.

In particular, Mr. Dregni said, the plentiful butter and cream that immigrants found in America guided the food culture. Butter was in short supply and often heavily taxed in Scandinavia. “There was almost a worship of butter among the early settlers,” he said, a cult that lives on at the Minnesota State Fair, where every year the heads of 12 “dairy princesses” — the finalists for the statewide title Princess Kay of the Milky Way — are still sculptured in butter and displayed in a refrigerated case.

Over the last few decades, Minneapolis has become cosmopolitan. You can find a wide range of ethnic food. Like Rust Belt cuisine in Pittsburgh, Scandinavian foods weren't part of the restaurant revolution. It didn't count as ethnically diverse. It wasn't as Creative Class cool as Vietnamese pho.

Minneapolis chefs are literally harvesting the region's roots. The city is developing a unique flavor. The allure of butter sculpted princesses is a lot like the Pittsburgh Potty.

Along with the locavore movement, I think return migration is fueling the renewed interest in regional culture. Leaving town creates quite an appetite for home cooking, "authentic" Minnesota. This is the grand irony of globalization. As the world shrinks and flattens out, places become more distinct. That's where talent wants to be.

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