Monday, August 12, 2013

Eating Out of Place

For some odd reason I vividly remember learning the word anachronism in junior high.  I have no idea why we needed to know that word, but must admit that I have found it useful from time to time.  Driving through northeastern Ohio at 70 miles an hour, looking out the window, and seeing a horse and buggy traveling through an Amish community certainly brings the word to mind.  Getting excited to watch a movie like Breakfast at Tiffany’s or even Dirty Dancing feels rather anachronistic. The current trend in speakeasy-style bars and throwback cocktails captures the essence.  Eating out recently forced me to find a new, but similar word.  If an anachronism is something seemingly out of proper time, what is it when something is caught out of proper geography?

While visiting family in New England we needed to find an easy place to grab a lunch.  We decided that a Cracker Barrel would fit the bill.  I’ve never been a real lover of the place for anything but breakfast and have never been in one outside the Midwest and South.  In fact, I pretty much identify everything about the place with the Midwest and South.  We walked up the front patio, and like many chains, it simply felt like every other Cracker Barrel.  Then we opened the door.  Right in front was a table decked out in New England Patriots garb.  I suddenly felt completely confused.  Where was the John Deere table?  Wasn’t there a selection of Atlanta Braves or St. Louis Cardinals pajamas, shot glasses and hats?  A model of a red barn with See Rock City on the roof?   Patriots shirts, really?  This can’t be right.  Upon further inspection the rest of this Cracker Barrel looked like the others – classic candy, odd Halloween decorations, classic Coca Cola trays and flowery candle holders.  The menu even looked the same – not a lobster roll or clam dinner in sight.  The only thing on the menu I could place in New England was Vermont maple syrup.  I ate still wrapping my brain around seeing a Patriots table in a Cracker Barrel.  It felt so dramatically out of geographic place.  So what is a word for this? 
The word I needed, I later found out, is anatopism.  I got to thinking about this idea – of things being out of geographic context.  Of course I saw the intersection of food and travel.  Recently having some incredible avocadoes in Minneapolis rather than San Diego felt anatopistic.  Finding a good BBQ joint back home along Monterey Bay feels anatopistic.  I once had fried clams with bellies in a restaurant in Del Ray, Florida and was surrounded by Boston Celtics paraphernalia and other people wearing Red Sox gear sporting Bostonian accents and that sure felt like an anatopism.  Aren’t all Irish and British pubs outside the British Isles anatopisms?  American fast food places worldwide, some serving beer and wine and varieties of local foods – are they anapropisms or have they adapted to local culture? 

If we can agree that trying preserve local character, customs, and culture is important, are anatopisms threatening?  Do they threaten the local culture or just add to the diversity and curiosity of a place?  Do they bring far flung experiences to us when we can’t all afford elaborate travel?
Is pineapple on a pizza a mini-anatopism on a plate?  How about lobster in a burrito or sushi made with Maryland crab?  Are any of these things anatopisms or just evidence of globalization – or both?

What are your favorite or most disorienting anatopisms?   
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