Geography Through Food Essay

Geography. The subject that launched a thousand boring textbooks, colored a million blank outline maps, and created untold blank stares. Geography.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you want to see your students’ eyes light up, let them explore geography through food. 

It’s really the perfect tool for understanding a location and the people that live there. Few connections are closer than those between people, the food they eat, and the land where they live. Here’s a smattering of what food can teach us:

  • Food tells us about the climate and physical geography of a location.  
    Certain crops and livestock need certain conditions. Why is fondue and cheese in general popular in Switzerland? You find a lot of herds in those mountain valleys. The Mediterranean climate and hills of Italy are perfect for growing grapes. 
  • Food reveals the history of a location. Pasta and pizza are Italian, right? Pasta didn’t come to Italy until Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road and brought back the technique from Mongol China.The tomatoes for pizza sauce weren’t even found in Europe until u went and bumbled into the Western Hemisphere. Columbus of course was from Genoa, and carried with him a letter for the Great Khan of the Yuan Dynasty that Marco Polo had written about. 
  • Food speaks to us about the culture of a country. 
    Some foods are eaten only on special occasions, some have religious connotations, and some tell us about certain groups of people. Take everyone’s favorite French dish, Ratatouille. It was traditionally a food for peasant farmers. Too poor to afford meat they would chop up all the vegetables they had and season liberally with herbs. This they would leave to simmer all day while they worked the fields, and upon returning viola a hot and delicious meal. Or take the delicious desserts you can find in the coffee houses of Vienna. In Vienna you’ll find customers lingering for hours over coffee and apfelstrudel, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone reading a newspaper.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many different, unique, and distinct foods found all over the world. You could teach a geography course solely through food. 

I’ve turned Geography Through Food into a project as part of my Europe unit. Students picked a country and a dish, and have started researching the connection between their food and the physical geography, history, and culture of their location. They are enthusiastic, excited, and 100% engaged, all things that warm my teacher heart.

Best of all will be when they present, they’ll all bring enough for everyone in the class to have a bite. It’ll be a great day of learning, discovery, and food.

High School
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