Between shows today, I went home and made soup. It wasn’t meant to be gourmet soup, it was just meant to be warm. (The backstage is really cold.) I wanted something solid, warm, familiar. I wanted comfort food.
So I made Coconut Curried Squash Soup. It isn’t fancy. It’s what happens when I through all the root vegetables (except the beets) into a sauce pan and boil them to mush, then cover them in curry powder and coconut milk. It is, for me, a fall back recipe. Something I pull out when my creativity is directed elsewhere, or when I need to not think about food.
I realized today, that this everyday pleasure might not exist in the mid-near future. To make it, I need curry powder. Curry powder is made up of cinnamon from Southeast Asia or South America; cumin from Southeast Asia; turmeric which grows in tropical climates; coriander and ginger which I can grow,; and black pepper which is imported from warmer climes. Canned coconut milk is widely available in my area, but is imported from Southeast Asia.
At some point in our history, spices like these were so valuable that they drove the age of exploration. The search for a shorter route to the Spice Isles drove Europeans to found colonies in the Americas, round Cape Horn and explore the South Pacific. The wealth of spices like these wove together trade in the South China Sea for a millennia. Control of the flow of spices like these made the Somalian coast a major trade hub between India and Greece. These spices have long held a value nearly as high as gold. And the trade networks they created, have knitted the world together and lined the pockets of the already- well-to-do.
We here in the United States, and much of the Western world, have cheap, easy access to these spices. We assume our local grocer will be stocked with curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, basil, thyme, and any other spice we desire. And we assume a bottle of this spice will cost between $2-10. Less than the cost of a t-shirt or a book.
This has not always been true in our history, and is part of what makes our standard of living so high. Access to a dominant market position in the global trade network makes our lives more comfortable, more pleasurable, and more interesting. And it might not last.
If we ban imports, reduce exports, block immigration, and isolate ourselves from the world, we also isolate ourselves from trade. We isolate ourselves from cheap spice and cheap clothes. We isolate ourselves from ideas, education, and technological advancement.
I don’t know what else to say about our political climate. I know it is full of hate and fear and terribly policy. But today, I was struck by it on the personal level. I like Coconut Curry Squash Soup. I want to maintain my access to spice, to coconut milk, to fresh vegetables in the winter. I want to maintain my quality of life. And I want to lift up global quality of life to meet it, not degrade the world in pursuit of an unsustainable future for the rich.