Category Archives: Food

How Do You Map Your Meat?

Delineating sectors of an animal’s carcass on the form of a living creature is particularly jarring.  It implies a clear category confusion that might be described as either breaching boundaries between the living and the dead, inappropriate, or deeply unheimlich or uncanny.  It affirms the double-existence of the cow, and of all farmed animals, for the modern carnivore, perhaps rooted in his new relation to the art of butchery.  The neat dotted lines that segmented the bovine suggests it is not a grazing animal, than a diagram of what we are invited to buy at the butchers; its very form invites us to navigate passage from the living to dead animals, performing a doubling of the animal portrayed in its domesticated setting, focussed on the socialization of our relation to the animal through our relations to the animal carcass.

Far from only defining the meat–or the cow–the butchery map defines our place as viewers.  It does so through the sorts of literacy that it presupposes, embodying the rationality of the butcher shop and the education of the prospective customer, elevating the sectioning of meat from a market or from mess.  We are asked to see the cow as it is best divided, not only by the best butcher, but in ways that cast the skill of the butcher as akin to that of the master-cartographer, and invites us to see the preparation of meat as process that is as solidly rooted in learned skill that transforms the cow that stands upright before us on the earthy meadow to a meal that is able to be consumed among the “animals that we eat.”  The division of the cow, sheep, and pig from beef, lamb, and pork is a master mapping of domains of food, rooted in the skillful raising of the animal and culminating in the division of the animal corpse., as if this will sanitize it before it reaches our tables

There is, it is true, an iconic appeal of some animals, whose icons provide arresting signs of their conversion to food on city streets and whose unbuttered outlines are tokens of the foods from which they are processed. But these are the exceptions, which succeed as they suffice to offer signs of the distance of many cuts of meat from the animals from which they were cleaved–and of which they once formed a part. And perhaps the pig is always so standard an early modern sign for butchery–and a familiar animal to be slaughtered for sausage or cold cuts–to be far from the true art of butchery.

However, the division of the cow seems to have set boundaries in our relations to meat, inn part because of ugh skill of its division for parts, and the greater difficulty in mapping out the sections of the slaughtered beast to convert them to our cooking skills–and to the levels of taste, and economy of meat cuts, that good butchery skills imply. If the low status of some slaughterhouses and cuts of meats is implied in the seedier areas of butchery in many urban szones–the Tenderloin, for example, that wedge of distinctively flat urban land  in San Francisco that is historically bounded on the north by Geary Street, on the east by Mason Street, on the south by Market Street in San Francisco, seen not as a meat-selling region but the “soft underbelly” of the city’s urban vice, much as the Tenderloin in New York City, and may suggest the higher wages of policemen in that part of the city–which allowed them to eat better cuts of meat–or the central site of urban graft–it suggests the transposition of meat cuts to class, and the social strata in urban life, analogous to the region of “outcast London” that emerged in the middle to late nineteenth century, studded by Gareth Stedman Jones.

The conversion of cuts of meat to social tiers of urban society seems to reflect the social acknowledgement of the art of butchery as setting a new frontier in the domestication of the animal for human consumers. The mapping of meat is a transformation of the animal to social level of the consumer, mapping a way to convert the mammal into cultural categories of human activity, in what may be the ultimate sort of structuralist dream of post-primitive categories, both in farming and the healthy preparation of meat in an age of increasing fears of food-born bacterial contamination of meat cuts that can give rise to the bacterial infetion of the gut from either the farm or abbatoir, and view the elegant sectioning of a lamb’s body as a of a piece with its breeding and raising, and a statement of the skillfulness of its preparation for the table, or at least for multiple modes of cooking–roasted or grilled–as the flesh is converted into food that is promised to be easily digested.


The image denies the differences between raw and cooked, and the living and dead, by providing a far more easy way to visualize cuts of meat as if inscribed on the surface of the living body, and indeed “mapping” regions of a territory by set precincts, creating a consensus erases any sense of the subjectivity of the animal, and displays the carcass as it exists for the carnivore, the regions of the living cow separated suddenly from any sense of the messiness of butchery.  In ways that echo the current rise of the artisanal nature of butchery that have so widely recuperated similar images of the unflawed carcass of the cows, pigs, or other quadrupeds, the cow is displaced by the craft:  for as it appears calm on its grassy meadow, the cow exists to be butchered, and seems not only quiescent but acceptant, prepared to sense no pain at the prospect of being not only divided but seen as it becomes transformed to a set of meat cuts.

As viewers of this fundamentally pleasant image, which invites us to accept the world from the perspective of the sophisticated carnivore, we accept the sectorization of an image of an animal as the surrogate for the actual division of its parts. The fine dotted red lines of that vectorize each region according to its musculature run against the rippling of the individual cow’s skin, and seems a striking way to translate the living animal by an artisanal tradition of apportioning an organism into cuts of meat.  While the marginal image of the butchered cadaver of a cow reminds viewers of the eventual division of the animal body for its human consumers, and a microscopic view of coliform bacteria reveal the dangers if the sanitary procedures of such a translation are not carefully followed.  The resurgent interest in butchery diagrams reveals not only a renaissance of artisanal butchery, and boutique butchers run by hipsters who cleave and sell meats sourced from local farms, of hormone-free and antibiotic-feed free stock, but use a map to communicate and establish shared consensus on the proportions of bone to fat, and flesh to fat, in distinct cuts of meat that we aim to prepare.  While such distinctions elevate their cost, they also draw clear criteria of taste, communicated in diagrams that recall medical textbooks if not just book learning, creating a needed consensus and useful shorthand around tacit levels of knowledge of their relative qualities for butcher, customer, and chef.

The portioning of what appears a living body, but reveals a sort of doubling that the alchemy of maps is particularly suited to perform.  For the farm animal that seems to have paused while grazing is transformed for the eye of other images of the same treatise are moe anaotmical–re learned viewer into a carcass: the guidelines for portioning the meat of the animal, before its slaughtering, is something of a championing of the dexterity of such division as an art that is akin to the technical skill of drawing maps–even if the art of butchery is, in general, judged far removed from the art or technical skills of drafting accurate maps, the orientation to the culinary arts served as a translation of the living animal to an edible form.  The origins of such a tradition of apportioning meat and carving the meat after it is cooked but before it is placed on the table goes back to the Renaissance, but a complex condensation of the civilizing process seems to be projected onto the process of dividing the cow’s meat in preparation for the table, in ways we’re starting to recover.  Unlike images from the treatise more anatomical in their copious level of descriptive detail to the sectioning of pork parts–


It is almost as if the doubling of the animal is removed from the objectivity of a medicalized image, but is rather a field that moves from three dimensions of a living animal’s body to a flat surface.

But the skill of dividing farmed animals and of recognizing individual cuts of meats suggest a transformative remapping of meat:  the subjects of good animal husbandry are rendered into regular configurations of cuts after they are slaughtered, in a metamorphosis of meat that is almost as important as the distinction between raw and cooked.  Indeed, the instruction in accurate cuts of beef was invested with a geometric regularity for Hylas de Puytorac, who would win a certificate of agricultural merit to the state which Jules Ferry had created, used to teach readers of the nature of the parts of animal we eat.

The award of merit de Puytorac won reflected his presentation of butchery as an moral message to instruct readers to eat in the most healthy manner.  The diagrams of Hilaire de Puytorac create not only a condensation of the civilizing process, but a confluence of a Cartesian sensibility and bourgeois lifestyle and attitudes toward food–they not only translate between the living and the dead, in an evidence of the uncanny, but effectively bring the cuts of meat from the butcher’s stall to the houses in which meat cuts are served.


De Puytorac artfully imagined the transformation of cow to carcass was a question of domestic economy circa 1920, and prepared the animal by distilling the principals of meat division as if they were naturalized in dotted lines atop the skins of living animals; long before they became suitable art hangings, charming for the endearing way that they represent the meat cuts that entered kitchens or butcher shops, their pedagogic clarity directly translated the bodies of living animals to meat, dividing the living animal to the names of meat cuts without needing to convert it to a carcass.

Hylas de Puytorac’s elegant line is far removed from the gross familiarity with which bovine animals seem to gaze right into the eyes of customers at some urban burger joints, now presented as if emblems of the high quality of meats that they use by virtue, perhaps, of their heft, without any sense of carefully portioning meat cuts as de Puytorac so prized.

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To be sure, there is something unseemly in the lack of drawing a boundary between the cow or farm animal whose carcass is offered to provide markets with meat and food preparation.  For de Puytorac, the naturalization of meat cuts followed crystal clear logic, echoed in those crispy defined dotted lines which almost elided the technical skill of slaughtering and butchering by which the sheep was made lamb, and the cow made beef:  the subject of each “map” was the translation of animal to meat, and clearly subtitled “the animals that we eat,” but the cuts of butchery were replaced by a sanitized map for public consideration by the educated or informed, as if this domesticated and civilized the very process of describing, cutting, and consuming cuts of meat.


Acts of butchery was the elegant mapping of edible meat were omitted because the map instructed viewers in a new relation to the body of the farm animal, even if they lived far from the farm and probably weren’t yet familiar with the butcher stall or the laboratory of the kitchen.  But the rise of meat portioning, recently returned to artisanal butcher shops as well as marketplaces and abattoirs, has lead to an increased interest in re-mapping the cuts of meat with an aesthetic elegance that the mass-market of food production had long forgotten.  With the return of the mapped body of meat at local butcher shops gain an aggressive economic presence in select metropolitan areas where the revisionist of the art of butchery gains a new appeal of reintroducing the varieties of beef, lamb, or pork made edible by the linguistic transformation of the living animal to a carcass, and the mapping of a beings’ edible elements, one detects not only an aesthetics of the ‘whole animal’ movement–


Sanagans Meat Locker, Toronto CA/Letters in Ink

–but the embrace of butchery, cookery and meat-consumption as a valued aesthetic has led to the revival of such once antiquated maps of meat in American and European visual cultures.  Indeed, the linguistic championing of the art of butchery seems an emphasis on the value of its learned, transmitted intellectual status of the names of meat cuts that frame the image of animal that looks straight into the customer’s eye at Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Toronto’s Kensington Market, and championing their first-hand familiarity with meat.

Meat Names Sanagans.JPG

The cultural transmission of adept skills of meat-carving is found, in other words, not only at the butcher-shop, but on the drafting table:  as much as the whole-animal ethos has increased consciousness of artisanal skills of portioning freshly butchered meat among a new generation of hipster butchers, the division of the animal body was defined in increasingly elegant diagrams of butchery echo the skills of discrimination encouraged at the dining tables of courts as well as the domestic dining tables of mid-nineteenth century.  New modes of mapping meat were drawn on the forms of living animals, and widely diffused in detailed diagrams that increased admiration in engravings that delineated meat cuts with the objectivity of an anatomical diagram–but that maintained the illusion that steers were divided for the table directly from nature, or from the farm, so that “Le Boeuf” is standing, hopes planted firmly on the ground, gazing duly ahead as the cuts into which his body will be divided are inscribed according to discrete cuts to be distinguished by their ratios of taste, toughness, fat and flesh.


The graphic sectorization of the animal “body” transformed the slaughtered carcass not only to butchered meat, but to a gastronomic culture of increasing and considerable sophistication.  The portioning of meat and the cutting of the cooked body maps onto a signifier of socioeconomic class, marking the transformation of the animal body into a recognizable and elegantly edible product.  One might continue the metaphor or dine out with it as more than a convenient or apt figure of speech.  Much as mapping is a practice of imposing clear configuration on space to codify spatial relations in a recognized form, the mapping of the cooked and the slaughtered carcass transformed the natural boundaries of the well-husbanded steer or other animal into shapes that we invest with meaning and naturalize by their own geometry, and were easily renamed in works of popular education that might be traced back to the efforts of Charles Dressiens’ hopes to ameliorate the lives of Frenchmen by “addressing their stomaches” by codifying “une science de ménage” as precepts of “education ménagère.”

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The domestic economy of middle class homes placed a strong emphasis on elegant cutting of cooked meats.  “One of the most important acquisitions in the routine of daily life is the ability to carve well,” advised the 1852 Illustrated London Cookery Book somewhat sanctimoniously; even if “the modes now adopted of sending meats, etc. to table are fast banishing the necessity for promiscuous carving from the elegantly served boards of the wealthy,” it continued, “in circles of middle life . . .  the utility of a skill in the use of a carving knife is sufficiently obvious.”  The accomplished decorum of severing joints, carving birds, and the dexterity of manipulating knife and fork garnered spousal approval and admiration, evidencing an ability to divide meat that designated class differences.


“Carving presents no difficulties; it requires simply knowledge,” Frederick Bishop continued to tell readers.  Lack of expertise is simply a question for Bishop of good decorum and tasteful bodily comportment.  “All displays of exertion or violence are in very bad taste; for, if not proved an evidence of the want of ability on the part of the carver, they present a very strong testimony of the toughness of a joint or the more than full age of a bird: in both cases they should be avoided.  A good knife of moderate size, sufficient length of handle, and very sharp, is requisite; for a lady it should be light, and smaller than that used by gentlemen. Fowls are very easily carved, and joints, such as loins, breasts, fore-quarters, etc, the butcher-should have strict injunctions to separate the joints well.”

The transformation or passage of animal carcass to meat suitable for preparation, and the linguistic conversion of indicating meat cuts distinct from an animal is an ethical question of renaming, but also a deeply cultural process rather than only mapping animal parts.  If all mapping is something of a conversion of nature into culture–and a creation of place as a known identity, able to exist as a set of coordinates, as well as recognized in one’s mind–the mapping of meat is more than a transformation of raw to cooked, but once-complex process of rendering meat subject to and fit for human consumption, in a combination of the arts of gastronomy and butchery far more than simply anatomy–if the language of mapping meat hides both the work and presence of the butcher and slaughterer as well as the cook by which the tender morsels are prepared, as clear linear divisions were imposed on the steer that was transformed into beef, ready to arrive into the stewing pots illustrated above the animal, or cut into pieces ready for consumption.


Far from only employing a sophisticated language, the mapping of meat is something like a deeply historical and cultural sedimentation of rites of renaming what was once alive in ways that entered local food cultures and prescribed models for the preparation of food that seem eerily akin to recipes.

But the decorum for separating cuts of meat or meat apportionment has a long history, and reveals a cultural form of mapping, and the artifice of mapping accurately.  I begin with such a polite and decorous image since I’m moving toward some diagrams of sectioning prime cuts that focus on the separation of cattle into meat cuts–maps that similarly separate the division of animals’  bodies by butchers and convert what was a body into portions of edible meat.  Although Nicola poetically described on “Edible Geography” “the sculptural discovery of secret shapes within the familiar architecture of an animal,” mapping the carcass is not only a process of unpacking, or of revealing, but a transcription as well as a form of translation of the body of the animal to the provision of cuts of meat–a renaming of body parts as forms of meat.  The transcription converts embodied form to table, dismembering the body by preparing of the cow’s carcass into pieces of prime cuts for the eyes of the chef.  The process of extracting individual cuts of meat from the body, and renaming them, is the ultimate denaturalization, or repackaging of meat cuts for the market place–as its unwanted head, horns, ears, and hooves are discarded and not destined for consumption.  And although the map suggests proximity to the steer, few folks who read the image would have first-hand relations to the carcass, but rather a naming of regular configurations once seen in the butcher shop.

everythingbeefflat-careful division

To be sure, the marginalization of butchery from a public act to a hidden practice, located more often in slaughterhouses or behind the scenes, may lead us to marginalize the slaughtering of animals from our current mental maps, as if the “Tenderloin” could refer only to a seedy neighborhood, as well as the cheaper notion of realty that might be named after the cheaper cut of beef in New York, maybe combining the inexpensive living in the neighborhood spanning from 23rd to 57th streets and Seventh and Eighth, but also displayed clear formal similarities to a strip–


–but also have gained new metaphorical legs during the intensive carving up of urban neighborhoods, and indeed molding urban space by sheer force by master planners who sought to carve up the city, as urban activists who treasured neighborhoods bemoaned development as “cleaving” organic districts of life by a brutal force of will, carving up an urban space by its neighborhoods in ways that display striking formal characteristics to the inviting “meatspace” of New York:


Nicholas de Monchaux

Such a cleaving of neighborhoods by what seem–on the city map–small and delicate cuts reflect not only the musculature and distribution of body fat on the animal, but the conversion of lived space to a space of good manners, social etiquette, and culture.

How did this division come to be codified?  As much as how we bring the meat to our table, it is a sort of map of how we ingest our meat, and deserves to be examined as such.  Rendering cows as canvasses to make maps, and imagining the coat of a European Holstein cow as  bearing a “natural” image of the world may universalize the breed, but is a pleasant fantasy, neatly naturalizing a global projection by a clever photoshop.


The photoshopped cow was clearly painted by stencil, but we’ve long mapped the cattle varieties specific to regions–as the Holsteins of France, who seem naturalized by region akin to a map of cheeses or wines, locating different breeds of cattle as if indigenous to different provinces and landscapes of France.  But rather than derive from specific regions or terroirs that distinguish the different qualities of wine–perhaps embodied by their local mineralogy, acidity, flavor, and earthiness–the mapping of meat is a more profound conversion of the natural to a cultural product, and indeed an illustration of the mastery over nature of the sort that finds expression in a map.


To be sure, there is considerable defense of the healthful or patriotic properties of “meat” that various nations produce.

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But mapping meat into prime cuts acts more like a practical sort of map of cuts, both by distancing bovine forms by labeling, converting limbs beneath its skin to an ownable set of parts and taking possession by some alchemy of them as cuts, renaming the animal as the edible.  The relabelling of the animal indeed turns it into the consumed:  and the artistry of the artisan translates the animal into anonymous cuts of meat that can be recognized as discrete.  In this butcher diagram–or butchery map–the cow becomes the territory, removed from ts location and subject to division into brightly colored prime cuts with far less specific local knowledge of the neck, cheek, and tongue:

beefcuts400 clear

This process of translation, and of unpacking distinct cuts, is familiar already in the below enumeration of prime cuts, respecting a basic division of chuck, rib, loin round, and brisket, plate, flank and shank, and hinting at the deeper cultural division of mapping styles, even if the act of butchering has been separated from the meat shop:

Cuts-of-Beef 1922 Jane Eayre Fryer

The point is restated in Sanagans, as well as in the Harlem Shambles, by openly distancing butchery from the slaughterhouse:


This is not so much a mapping of nature, as a culturally specific labeling of body parts.  For the naming of meat cuts serves as a way of processing the formerly live cow into discrete areas that arrive in the kitchen or chef’s table, or a distinct language by which to name regions in relation to distinct styles of meal preparation and indeed a form that they might be most consumed.  The idea is less to better know the topography of the steer’s divisions, than to mark the progression of the steer’s body in the slaughterhouse and to convert it into a new lexicon as it moves to the preparation of food.  The division of the steer’s body in many sectors is not merely about labelling, but about naturalizing the division by which the body of the steer becomes transformed to meat.

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Yet the work of translation in such diagrams follows a distinct set of practices–or so goes the hypothesis of this post–as the steer’s body and musculature meets distinct markets for meat cuts, in ways mediated by technologies of dividing as well as the art of butchery.  At one extreme, the very different division of cattle carcass best known is perhaps that mandated by Kosher laws of food preparation through expert division by which animal slaughterers prepare the meat suggest not only follow bodily sectors–despite the limitation of edible meat to the front quarters.  As much as a distinct form of meat-preparation, the sanctioned division of the steer seems to reflect a degree politesse in its avoidance of the rear quarters of the animal, as well as meat use–refusing to acknowledge the flank, rump, or sirloin cut, and sanctioning only the central cavity up to the thirteenth rib, or often stopping at the twelfth.  (In Israel, the rear leg is considered kasher, and trained slaughterers take the time to remove the sciatic nerve, leading butchers to sell meat from the leg as kosher meat and maximize the amount of meat available–even as they disdain and discard the “non-kosher” nether-quarters of the animal and its head:


Primal Cuts

kosher:non-koser -food

The division of the animal results in the celebration of the slow-roasted or braised brisket for the ritual meal.  The quite exact mapping of the sanctioned cuts of meat from the twelfth rib are quite distinct from the cuts of meat that are sold by kosher butchers, from Square Roast to French Roast to Ribs and the Deckle, or the fore shank, but all are separate from the cuts sold off for non-kosher consumption–

kosher beef diagramcr1.jpg

The sectioning an animal does not simply follow the form of the body, however, or the musculature of the steers:  different cultural styles of butchery may be geographically distinguished within the variety of ways meat is mapped in established diagrams, a rich subject for research, that reveal cultural division in the preparation of the animal–and sectioning does not only reflect sanctioning.

In Israel, the division of cattle can indeed be utterly more complex, where trained shochets divide the steer’s body not only into brisket, shank, ribs and rump and the like, but prizing the delicate tenderloin, reflecting what seems at first glance an old-school style of butchery, no doubt imported from Europe, irrespective of the laws of kashrut:


Scots butcher-cuts are similarly refined and complex, as if suggesting a professional transmission among artisans or animal slaughterers, emphasizing the neck and cloud, and different cuts around the round, leaving oddly absent and unnamed the often esteemed tenderloin:

beefcuts-scotch cuts

There is no doubt similarly complex division of the cow in Mexico suggests a distinctly artisanal culture of meat division, oddly similar to that in Israel in its emphasis on individual specialized cuts, each destined for different preparation, in a considerably complex practice of apportionment and distinction of the specific value of meat cuts:


In Greek meat markets, the culture of a distinct uses for meat cuts animates butchery around an even more comprehensive ‘whole-animal’ culture of meat consumption:


Farmer’s markets wholesale meat sellers have given rise to a new sense of wholesomeness of whole animal consumption, including the pig’s feet and jowl, as well as the “picnic.”

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But pride of place in the complexity of artisanal meatcuts must go to the Austrian butchers, whose care of carving carcasses is perhaps a legacy of the Hapsburg court:  dividing the steer’s carcass into some 65 distinct cuts from the Rostbraten to the Tafelspitz and Waldschinkin suggests the survival of local ingenuity and refined taste.  Rather than informed by a unique whole-animal ethos, the sophisticated division seems oriented to the distinct preparation different parts of the steer are due in the old empire, and perhaps the difficulty any but the best butcher will have in locating the desired filet:


The partitioning of the entire denatured and bisected carcass of the steer that arrives from the slaughtering house is converted to distinct portions, often destined for different dishes, betraying a distinct level of refinement in both traditional techniques of meat preparation and the codification of a high local level of butchery skills:

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Of course, the greater simplicity of bisecting the cow’s body and dividing it into quarters is, in many ways, an American invention of which we can be proud:  it is a reflection of the rise of industrial butchery, which process multiple carcasses based on sawing the linear saw-lines to create a division and cross-sections–and a consequent decline in the taste for specialized cuts of meat.  The shop for buying meat has long migrated from the site of slaughtering–although there’s a been a return in some communities for fresh meats.

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The predominant most current divisions of meat preparation have tended towards overtly linear cuts and schematization, mapping cuts readily performed by sawing bovine bodies fresh from the slaughterhouses to showcase “chuck” and “round” as generic qualities of ground meat–as much as cuts–and perhaps made more distinct by gradations of marbling than specific bodily origin:


Or, in an alarmingly denatured schematic image of a side of contemporary “retail beef,” removed from a steer and ready for shrink-wrapped packaging at your local COSTCO– the schematic rendering of the steer seems cut by a cleaver, rather than with attention to recipes, as if the cuts would break apart as so many quadrants of a chocolate bar:

Retail Beef Cuts and Recommended Cooking Methods

The meat-packing industry has developed its own form of mapping, easily transferred from veal to beef in ways that render the butchered animal ready to eat:

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A near identical imagery survives in Costco and in many food service outlets.  But the range of meat cuts that one associates with the artisanal has however made quite a comeback in certain niche markets recently, where the elegance of butchery as a form of sectioning has returned, less often perhaps for immediate consumption of prepared meats than the careful preparation of meats in restaurants:

Beef Cuts for Foodservices

But the disembodied icon of denatured cuts is far less disturbing than the brightly packaged glistening cuts stacked in freezer bins in supermarket meat sections, value packs of USDA Choice that serve as opulent illustrations of plenty for consumers unlikely to ever undertake butchering skills.

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–or those recognizable cuts, stacked in rows beside fake plastic grass in butcher windows, fake grass whose presence itself suggests the meat’s remove from the scenes of butchery but oddly conjure the fields where the slaughtered cows presumably once pastured.

There seems to be far less of a lexicon for differentiating meat cuts, as they are more denatured from the animal or steer, and familiar only as varieties of steaks:

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Removed from the active division of the steer’s body, such meat cuts appear as if shorn of the animal, in the plastic packaging in which one might meet them in the refrigeration section of a supermarket, or beneath butcher glass.


Yet to remember the distinct interest in distinguishing distinct diverse cuts of meat, take the time to compare the elegant distinctions for dividing beef clarified in a later nineteenth-century image of the range of cuts by which those technically adept can elegantly carve a cow’s carcass, around its neck and shoulders, corresponding to a bull’s musculature, so as to refine desirable neck and chuck meat, that convey the aura of a mustachioed blade-sharpening daintily aproned overweight butcher sipping wine, if not the wisdom they would pass on to good raisers of livestock in the later nineteenth century by thatnwonderfully didactic educator de Puytorac:


Dividing the animal is the clear precursor to eating one.  For Hylas de Puytorac, Chevalier du Mérite agricole, images as”Le Boeuf” were destined more for schoolkids than for butchers; primarily didactic in nature, they sought to preserve an agricultural knowledge in danger of disappearance.

Tableaux demonstratifs

The multiple images he carefully engraved of pigs, cows, and other animals reflect the basic prime cuts suggest a tripartite sectioning of each half of the cow, but are elided with a naturalistic rendering of the bull whose musculature he would have recognized–an appreciation whose embodied animality were not so distant from the art of butchery.  Cuts are clearly subdivided by muscle-groups, in ways that recall the deeply artisanal skill set of butchery.  The division of the body of cattle is far more refined in this 1852 engraving of the over forty available cuts on the bullock:

A-Bullock-marked-as-cut-into-joints-by-the-Butcher (1852)

A 1928 division of the cow for butchering is similarly detailed; although its portioning is far less refined, it similarly covers the whole animal, dividing the brisket in multiple cuts as well as the shank in ways that suggest a process of repackaging bordering on schematization of an almost Tayloristic fashion:

Cuts-of-Beef 1922 Jane Eayre Fryer

Much modern meat-portioning may lack so much of a map, even in its more refined images, as they privilege “fine: cuts, sadly, as the division of animals is performed by saws and only rarely is the butchery of the entire animal actually on view:


The generic division into sectors seems far more readily sawed for repackaging, which, disturbingly, somehow acquire their greatest color and tactile proximity only after being segmented:


This occurs in ways that, unhealthily to me, threaten to elide for perpetuity the distinction between cow and beef for customers, and ignoring as inedible a good amount of bones (and meat) that seem too reminiscent of their bovine origins, a transformation that seems elegantly if somehow quite inappropriately elided in this condensation of the remapping of the live cow to a carcass in this image of meat cuts from the Encyclopedia Britannica:

cow to cuts


Filed under diet, Food, food history, meat, meat diagrams

On the Ethics of Mapping and Mapping of Food: a 5-part blogpost


Annibale Carracci, “The Bean Eater,” circa 1583-85

Captured at the very moment he is poised to bring cucchiaio to mouth and taste the spiced beans he is set to enjoy with bread, green onions and wine, the hungry if iconic “Beaneater” or “Mangiafagioli” captures the early modern appetite. It is tempting to map the goods on his table as a record of subsistence. Caught in the act of devouring spoonfuls of lunch by the late Renaissance Bolognese painter Annibale Caracci, the anonymous portrait has become an icon of local food and a snapshot of culinary history from early modern Italy.  Literally engaged in the moment of pleasure of joining food to his body, poised above his plate mouth open, spoon raised, the Beaneater shows the contents of the spoon to the viewer by a perspective of an odd but undeniable intimacy.

The Beaneater’s expectant stare engages us to consider his soup of beans–more than the rolls of bread or glass of wine, or the bunched scallions below his wrist, as a moment of pleasure on which we as viewers concentrate.  For as much as the personhood of the Beaneater, food is undeniably its subject, and his food–the spatial specificity of eating in late sixteenth century Italy.

The image of eating is celebrated enough to provide the cover of cook books, and compelling because it is rooted in a specific place:  it reveals a joy in  the simple pasta of beans, onions, bread, and wine, immersed in the Mediterranean economy of oil that defined cuisine in northern Italy and Rome around 1590.  The painting, which indulges the Caracci family’s taste for painting everyday life, from butchers to fish-sellers, may belong to a genre of the performative nature of eating, but is so iconic as one of the earliest images of the simplicity of the so-called Mediterranean diet–and condenses a map of the food habits that defined class behavior, or social strata in cities–and the pleasure of local, familiar food.

The image became iconic unlike Caracci’s other images of butchers or later images of fish-mongers bas the template for the Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso’s classic illustration of Italian eating, which was the cover of Elizabeth David’s Italian Food (Penguin 1965)–a series of books on regional cooking that preserved food as local and fresh, in ways associated with Alice Waters and, in Europe, the Slow Food movement.  The image is an icon of local eating, where vegetables, oil and wine engross bean-eater absorbed in consuming local Roman food.


Guttuso’s images of earthy, sun-drenched vegetables of Sicily evoked a strong tie to place that David presented to English readers; the cover of her book echoed Guttuso’s rendering of earthy qualities of local cuisine, in ways that seemed to give a fresh awareness of the stuff of foods, and their origins, for a postwar country waking up from packaged rations and voyaging abroad, and eager to discover its own cuisine.


Maps help untangle how highly personal eating habits and practices relate to place.  In the winter, we buy and eat blueberries and grapes from Chile, tomatoes from the Netherlands, garlic from China, or just don’t know from where the multi-sourced food that arrives in confected packages was grown.  Mapping food supplies, food circulation, and the economics of its price forces us to come to relate food to place–and follow the routes food travels as it reaches our plate, teaching us how food systems mediate our relation to the space where it is grown.

The call to action to “vote with our forks” reflects not only a desire to eat good food, but to appreciate the origins of grown food, from its cultivation to practices of animal husbandry, and a call for responsibly to map the food on our plates.  It raises possibilities for historical maps of shifts in food supplies, of understanding the first airlifts of tomatoes from Dutch greenhouses, or the economy by which fish are flown around the world–in the hope of reclaiming an awareness of mapping food, this blogpost discusses the ethics and benefits of rendering food cartographically.

1.  The project of mapping extends far beyond enjoying local cuisines–that’s a great thing, but mapping is here a critical project.  The volume aims to achieve a re-mapping of our relation to the land in understanding the routes by which food arrives in our refrigerators, kitchens, and plates.  As we search for maps to excavate or understand how food ties us to a basic relation to the land, it’s not surprising that food-mapping, as much as food-writing, is a way to call to attention the problematic estrangement of food from place in contemporary life.  For maps of food prices and growing regions attempt to preserve a clearer relation of food to place and to help understand how complex our relation to food has become.

The maps compiled in FOOD:  An Atlas–discussed in my first post in this blog–raise a number of thought-problems about the relation of food to place. Each attempts to preserve and privilege local notions of our relation to food as we are starting to situate traffic in food within an age of the global circulation of goods.  It is the ideal gift for fans of farmers markets, and to those interested in taking back their relation to food.  The interest in mapping food starts from mapping the sources of the food we eat, but advocates a new ethics for mapping food to understand our relation to space.  In a series of crowd-sourced maps of different scale that are grouped thematically, they image eaters’ relations to regions and the mediation of local to global in foods.  What is compelling about this “atlas” is how each of the maps subverts the universalizing authority of the map by privileging access, availability, and the distribution of food and by asking us to start to remap our own relation to networks of food supply.

The maps were drawn to create a living geography that mirrors a geography of food through questions of local availability and exchange, as well as by mapping food consumption:  they reveal how all food exists in a network that links us to place.  The mapping of food is a necessary extension of writing about food if we are going to take seriously what place and location mean in our food supplies.

2.  Food has long been mapped.

Food tastes define regions; the resources of food are often mapped to define the integrity of geographic areas, patterns of transhumance, and geographic divides. Take, for instance, an early historical map of the divide between the consumption of oil and butter in early modern Europe, of the sort used as critical tools to understand the material basis of civilizations by members of “the Annales school” of French historiography, and exemplified by the work of Fernand Braudel, who sought to illuminate the “deep structures” and rhythms of a Mediterranean mapped by vines and olive groves.

The division was seen as as basic to the nation, rooted in north-south divides, and presented as easily able to orient oneself to as by a compass, even if more likely through regional themed restaurants, bistrots, and cookbooks–as if geography underpinned destiny, even allowing for multi-ethnic tolerance and a myth of national coherence in the pentagram that seems to capture the European divide of Mediterranean and on-Mediterranean cuisine on a simple index exactly corresponding to national départments, even if it suggests a shaded spectrum as much as a firm geographical divide.

To be sure, this generalizes in part the divisions in France to understand the divisions in European consumption at large, separating the Mediterranean economies into vegetal and animal fats.  One might compare the amount of disposable money spent on vegetable oil versus butter, to reveal the mythic divide of the “butter line” in France, an image that was perpetuated in school textbooks ten years ago as a sharp culinary divide that smacked of the persistence of localism in the nation, if not lines of national fracturing:  the north is the land of butter, school kids learn, even if it fades into the orange-hued Mediterranean south the land of oil through a fuzzy land of light green, where butter only slightly dominates households’ grocery bill.

consommation de beurre et d7huile

Knafou, Géographie:  Les hommes et la Terre (1997)

The map echoes with deep structures of fat use and food preparation that structure the land, as uses of sweet butter or salted butter distinguishing each départment of la France, along less clear north-south divides, although the lack of serious gradations of color in this map where many reveal fairly equal divides are betrayed by the stark chromatic divides that preserve regional fracture lines:


But it also used maps to delineate a lived space that expanded beyond the experience of its actors, their emotions, and relations to life.  The nation may be a culinary map, of sorts encouraged by cookbooks on “French Cooking” the combine culinary divides,


but the tradition of local distinctions of food tastes in départments, even with increasing geographic mobility, is reflexive, and belts have been mapped between the uses of butter, margarine, and oil, that may map more complex and fluid divides in food use, in this 2012 map of what presents a picture of  greater regional complexity to map readers.

butter:margarine:huiles veg, in 2012

In Francophone fashion, the Annaliste maps statistical divides as learning aids that exploit the objectivity of cartographical accuracy as a scientific foundation for historical inquiry.  Rather than map routes of historical exchange or structures of daily life, they map agronomic foundation of political cataclysms or events s  to draw distinctions that are not viewable to actual participants, rather than the finer grain of local variations.  Such a map of butter and oil maps the habits of consumption and reliance on fats to draw a line of difference that distinguish and demarcate the Mediterranean, but  have an odor of essentialism that perpetuates the naturalization of differences.  These lines of division return along different latitudes:


What’s lost in drawing such crisp lines of division is the meaning of local.   We privilege lines of regional and national differing as explanations of difference, without looking at how meaning was made on the ground, even as these maps seek to reveal the coherence of deeper structures from the “folds of the Mediterranean” to the proportion of arable lands.  A related if distinct danger in mapping food differences is that we elide consumption and production, or view the economies of production and consumption as a unit, rather than examine the choices available in a market that could reveal how populations relate to a complex global market of food.

The Annaliste maps made sense as a way to understand the distribution of goods or the distribution of resources in a map of zones of caloric intake:


Of course, when one thinks of how French map food, one thinks of terroir as a championing the authority of local wines:

Cotes du Rhone
Region of Bordeaux

Maps such as the above value place, location, and authenticity.  But authenticity is a scarce commodity, and food maps look far more strange as food choices are mediated by the vagaries of a food economy, responding often to the availability of disposable income, scarcity, or market forces.  We have seen a recent rise of islands of awareness of food and islands of distinct eating patterns and even archipelagoes.  Such islands are created or emerge near to fresh produce growing areas, or farms, as farmers’ markets arrive in cities with the promise of “fresh” food grown in a “local” way–if not in the cities where the markets occur, but in farms that promise sanctioned growing practices–and access to a sense of place in our plates.  To be sure, the creation of farmers markets in cities can be active ways of reclaiming pubic spaces as sites of sociability and exchange, and probably are tied to the ‘greening’ of urban space associated with projects of urban agriculture of the sort that has also begun to be mapped.

But there is a way that the issues staked out in these maps engage the globalization of food consumption, the mediation of foods in the urban marketplace, where food is removed from place and eating removed from the places of growing food, consumers lack a clear set of tools for remapping one’s relations to food, as there is of restoring a sense of place to one’s dining plate.  “Place” is not understood in terms of cuisine, however, but geographic specificity:  as wine is regionally grown, coffee beans or honey are sourced, linked to “origins” that we’ve lost sight of in a global marketplace, and high-end markets promise to recapture a specific place of origin–presumably one cleaner than the spaces in which we live–and a sense of authenticity that we used to look for in local cuisines or while traveling.

3.  Maps draw our attention to the local through the maps in FOOD:  An Atlas.  

For the maps that it includes focus an eye on the manner it maps how food travels over space through an ethics of cartographical representation.  The open-sourcing of maps for this volume suggested an attempt at recovering a transparency in understanding the sources of food, and removed the project from a single authorial bias.  There is indeed a shared pleasure of providing different maps of food sources, and at revealing exchanges in a variety of food products in different cartographic formats and conventions.   The many maps of modern practices of food consumption clarify our current (confused) relation to the land in relation to questions of the just access to food and food supplies in ways that mirror a new concern with food and social justice activism, by revealing the value of a new ethics for mapping food.  Such an ethics of mapping were raised by the late Brian Harley in the early 1990s, when he called for guidelines in formulating principles to help formulate maps that are themselves made to support moral or ethical judgments.

The geographer Brian Harley was preoccupied (he seems always to have been preoccupied by something pressing in the meaning of maps) by an ethics of mapping and the ethical nature of the questions that mapping practices inevitably raise.  He raised a set of questions in the spate of short articles that preceded his untimely decease including:  what are the ethics of cartographical practices? could a more ethical cartography exist? can we move from “what map is good?” to “what map is just?”  Isn’t the problem of map making not only in preserving standards of cartographical illiteracy in an age of the rise of automated and computer-generated cartography (Google Earth?), but in a failure of attending to the ethics that are concealed in the universalizing project of mapping and the interested nature of any map?  It would be unjust not to map sites of toxic waste, and to pretend that they didn’t exist or were not worthy of consideration.

To do so would be to indulge in the cartographical illusion of mapping a sanitized relation to space.


Familiarity with such questions might explain the interest generated in maps of food.  They present our relation to the land, or map how food mediates that relation to the land.  They recognize that our relation to the land is mediated in maps, how we eat food is also a way to construct or relation to place.  The gathering in one book of a set of particularly inventive means for mapping our relation to place pioneer a new iconography to map food that questions the uniform distribution of space in maps, and our relation to what we eat.

Beyond being maps of the appropriation and distribution of food, the maps found in FOOD pose questions of the justness of mapping that recap how social justice has become a concern in food supply and policy.  This makes food-chains and consumption the perfect focus for  Harley’s focus on making the map “a socially responsible representation of the world.”   Harley was troubled by the historical Eurocentric value of cartographical projections, but concerned with the need to bridge practical commitments to precision, accuracy, and exactitude with questions of the morals of cartographical representations that moved beyond the pretense or illusion of objectivity.  His concern with ideological naturalization might begin from how mapping oceans as bright blue concealed environmental impact of industry on water-safety, and universalizing one blue concealed variations in clean water supplies by creating the illusion of abundance; created a misleading uniformity in soil-qualities; how USGS maps omitted sites of toxic waste.

Harley’s concern partly echoed worries that the majority of information imparted to students is removed from ethics, and concern that the aesthetic or perceptual questions of mapmakers needed to be returned to an awareness of the moral judgments made in cartographical design.  This concern is evident in the search for a new iconography of mapping in FOOD to reveal the implications of how food circulates in the modern world, removed from caravans and naval routes, but suddenly dictated by market forces and global exchange:   the concept of mapping the transaction of food supplies illuminates the all-too-easy naturalization of a relation to food.  There is a danger to forget discrepancies in the availability and scarcity of fresh food; lest we forget this, witness the urban “food swamps” where more junk food is sold than fresh produce.  We might forget where tomatoes come from, viewing them as located only in a grocery:  yet witness the established routes of the importation of tomatoes across Europe, where crops move and circulate along routes removed from natural settings.  And witness the uneven distribution of major crops in the United States.  We can learn more about our food, and increase awareness of its sources, by continuing to map where our food comes from by reading how foods are distributed in maps, rather than letting maps naturalize our relation to space.

Harley’s concerns with such an ethics of cartography no doubt began from keen historical awareness of the basis in maps as the English Ordnance Survey with military needs, or the uses of mapping in processes of colonialization in South Asia or the naturalization of Apartheid in the former South Africa, downgrading or erasing informal black settlements in maps; this cartographical distortion suggested either the illegitimate nature of their claims to space or lesser place within the consciousness of the maps’ intended audience:

south african towns and townships

These maps of South Africa distorted the social landscape of townships in ways that masked actual size of settlement towns, making it impossible to locate the settlements or place them in collective knowledge, and granting greater prominence to a network of white settlements which the maps treat as more historically permanent and hence more legitimate.  Such maps are perhaps inherently conservative to a dangerous degree, as they retained “white” cities as the most important for their users, erasing the stability or permanence of settlements–or presuming that no user would be interested in locating them in the map.

Harley’s consternation at the dilemmas of mapping led him to challenge mapping as primarily mathematical and note that it was fundamentally illusory in how it  re-described the world.  In calling for a more “self-critical, socially sensitive, politically street-wise approach to the practices of map making and the objectives of cartographical activity” Harley hoped that cartographers could “recapture control over the morality of the map” in ways that exercised moral judgment, rather than “being relegated to becoming a robotic arm of an institutional or commercial patron” (Harley 1991).  Although he devoted less attention to the consumption of maps or the levels of literacy of reading maps, focussed as he was on the construction of maps and the contexts in which they constructed a social reality, Harley valorized the literacy of reading maps as a way that ethical statements could be made by mappers.  He was particularly concerned lest the makers of maps unintentionally become instrumental in undermining an ethical relation to the landscape in which we live–and perpetuate a simulacrum restricting our relations to social space as well as to agrarian place.

4.  Harley’s work has usually been read in relation to critical deconstruction, have the rise of the moral cartographer.  Many of Harley’s critics have called him optimistic (or utopian) for hoping that maps could change our attitudes to social space.  But perhaps it is not so utopic at all in an age of globalism.  Since Harley asked that we consider the moral benefits of mapping the world in a new way, and how questions of social justice can be endorsed by cartographers, the proliferation of GoogleMaps have distorted or make misleading links between places, and their totalizing claims to objectivity have revealed their flaws or limited reliability.  Crucial to Harley’s call for an ethics of cartography was a refusal to accept only official data that might obscure or silence local variations and local meanings:  we have seen a range of new mapping forms in recent years that call attention to the overlooked, from maps of superfund sites to Crow and Lodha’s Atlas of Global Inequalities (2011;

These maps use the familiar cartographical certainties to define monolithically uniform spaces in relation to each other, without much fine grain for local differences and, despite their illuminating observations of inequalities, sacrifice relations to place to draw and reveal stark contrasts in national GDP.


The losses of the erasure of local meanings was central to Harley’s call for a new ethics of cartographic practice, engaging not only the conventions of mapmaking that create stark hierarchies of meaning and prominence, but the iconographies by which distributions were noted.  Harley was particularly preoccupied that the increasing institutionalization of technologies of Geographic Information Systems and automated cartography would  omit a local relation to the landscape–and indeed promote a uniform mode of mapping often   insensitive to local social or environmental issues.  But the malleability of the computer-generated statistical map has created the opportunity for expanding the map as a critical tool in Crow and Lodhi’s Atlas, so that questions about global relationships can be readily viewed across space and time with iconic power.

A more seriously revisionist approach might play off of our familiarity with the significance of cartographic icons or even color schemes.  One example of engaging the familiar color-schema of maps that have dominated the media in recent election cycles to create a new map of meaning in our political divides lies below.  This map re-appropriates the stark red-blue division in its syntax, re-presenting how we understand the divisions between red and blue states not in terms of ethnicity, race, or the voting tendencies of segmented pie charts of the population.  We can understand this stock division by mapping underlying social practices, as revealed this map of the prevalence of bookstores versus churches across states:

Bookstores versus Churches

The mapping of the prevalence of bookstores generally follows patters of urban settlement–the places most likely for a bookstore to occur that would be economically viable, to be sure.  Although a telling snapshot of American, the map may not hold as bookstores dwindle or become less economically feasible in more states; one might be tempted to  extrapolate that with the greater likelihood of the closure of bookstores, as Amazon and online sales expand, the expansion of red states threatens–but the map is a tool to reveal social practices, rather than a map of the characteristics that determine a population.

The statistical map reveals how the occupants of each region view space, however, and the sorts of spaces in which they chose to live.  And we can see that there is no such thing as a homogeneous red or blue space, or a clear map between, as Zook and Graham put it, faith and reason.  The density of bookstores or churches in each place is divided by a national average, we can map a propensity for lifestyle choices, rather than the actual decisions or actions of a given population.

This sort of a map as an ethical intervention, in other words, by revealing the complexity of a landscape and asking us to relate it to the sort of landscape in which we live or want to live, rather than draw clear divisions based on statistical averages or means.  We should have maps of food that allow us to know what foods we chose to eat, and what foods are most available in our environment–or the agrarian environments or marketplaces from which the food we eat derives.

5.  The maps in the self-published curated collection FOOD: An Atlas are all inventive uses of cartographical iconography to illuminate the local by mapping local meanings and currencies of food.  They offer provocative templates to examine our own relation to food.  The editors reveal their commitments to food justice activism, mapping eating habits over space to reveal how constraints of economy, availability, and attitudes to food inform discrepancies of food consumption.

Does the density of farmers’ markets in Berkeley whose vendors are required to sell food from a minimum of ten mile radius reveal a geographic pocket that will encourage new attitudes to food?  does the actual access of the produce sold at farmers’ markets provide an index into local attitudes to changing patterns in the consumption of food?


Does the way that the food industry draws with surprising ease from a range of geographic sources create a new sense of how we relate food to place?  It is particularly compelling to view a map of how regions protect or safeguard local food specialties in the European Union, protections no doubt militated in part to protect local economies:

PDO-PGI-TSG_v2.2b - transp copia

It is in some way an act of resistance and a way of framing spatial knowledge to assemble a new “map” on a regional plate.  Take the time, in other words, as you eat, to map the origins of the food that shows up on your plate.  If you’d like to do so with more precision, or are uncertain of the origins of what you eat, feel free to use a handy program as a guide, at

Or, if possible, please do consider ordering a copy of the atlas,

There will be an informal collective publication party for the book of maps and an ongoing discussion about its February 17 release party at Smilodon Plaza outside McCone Hall at the University of California at Berkeley: Food: An Atlas Release Party.

Where: Smilodon Plaza at McCone Hall** University of California Berkeley, California

When: Sunday, February 17, 2013 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

 This even being long past, for an absolutely free download of the maps in the atlas, click here…

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Filed under data visualization, early modern Europe, Food, foodscapes, national divides

Mapping Knowledge and Mapping Food


What relevance do maps have in a world often organized by database systems that are in themselves often impossible to visualize?  One answer is that the map is not only a visual register of data, but prepares an active correlation of information patterns and raises questions about human relations.  Rather than arranging data, maps show or highlight selective relations between data in graphic form.  Maps do so in ways that generate questions about our relations to space, if not the variety of relations each of us occupy to an otherwise uniform expanse, in order to make space our own; they are as a result particularly useful tools to ask us to consider our sense of place in ways that we might not otherwise find a way to puzzle over and consider, or find a way to concretize.  Although the size of massive database systems escape the kind of an individual, the maps that guerilla cartographer Darin Jensen has solicited and assembled in FOOD: An Atlas raise chart the spaces we organize around through food, and understand place through the intersection of place with how food is produced, exchanged and consumed.

In an age of the unwarranted expansion globalization of food consumption patterns and trade, where the importation and circulation of foods to their consumers often seem shaped by processes irrational in nature, the rationality of the map provides a way to raise questions about how to understand the ways that food sources and substances travel across space both in commercial ways and in raising questions about the efficiency of these systems.   In identifying and rendering a joint database of food production and consumption, we can grasp in an entertaining visual form multiple questions about how we value the place of our food and how food is now valued and exchanged over spaces far beyond the places where it is grown.  We may not know what bacillus of yeast helped the fermentation of the glass of beer we are drinking, even if we prize the origin of our coffee; we can’t visualize or often even know what field of tomatoes provided the basis for our pasta sauce, or the huge range of regions united in the foodstuffs in a plate of school lunch, or where the almonds of northern and central California travel in order to reach consumers from the Central Valley.  The maps in FOOD:  An Atlas provides a range of provocative maps of how food interacts with space that provide a compelling set of questions about our relation to place, and indeed the relation of food to space.  Maps of the global distribution of grains, or of the costs of the same foodstuffs, remind us of how food exists in relation to place, even if food travels globally—as well as the places where food grows.

The compilation is a true atlas of modern life—or of modern tastes for foodstuffs.  The Dutch engraver and cartogapher Abraham Ortelius compiled the first global atlas by sourcing maps from different areas in Europe from his multiple correspondents in the 1560s, obtaining a range of extant cartographical forms of nautical and terrestrial form that he collated in a synthesis of terrestrial coverage that canonically redefined the image of the inhabited world.  Refined and expanded in his own lifetime and after his death, the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum bound these multiple maps obtained from different parts of Europe and vetted in Amsterdam in a single commodity that was immensely popular and, though dedicated to Philip II of Spain, was disseminated over a huge geographic expanse.

The crowd-sourced maps collected in FOOD were sourced in a considerably shorter period of time over the global internet, solicited from cartography listserves and Berkeley classrooms alike, starting from the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) and coordinated through a GIS lab where proposals for mapping were often linked to potential owners of databases, and submitted maps refined for their persuasive visual organization, the transparency of their cartographical iconography and the appeal of their format.  The variety of graphic skills that are applied to map food and food’s distribution are themselves inventive exercises, and suggest the degree of invention that

The crowd-sourcing of the atlas is not only a question of pragmatics, but itself an instance of informational exchange.  On the one hand, Jensen describes how he arrived at “a project of guerrilla cartography and publishing” as the result of a natural desire to make the sort of compilation of maps that “take too long to make,” which led him to “an experiment in doing it faster,” both by relying on crowd-sourcing and local publishing. “It doesn’t have to take two or three years to put out a book or an atlas.”  The anonymity of the crowd sourcing generated a far more imaginatively diverse use of mapping conventions—unlike Ortelius’ interest in universalized norms, they celebrate local diversity of mapping abilities in keeping with the polycentrism of a post-modern age.  Rather than conforming to a single style or aesthetic, each crystallizes specific issues in an individual fashion.  The maps provoke us to consider the relations of place and food, and alter or tweak our relations to the world in mapping the circulation of food wastes, the sites for importing tomatoes for that pasta sauce, or the “food swamps” where junk food constitutes a dominant share of the foods for sale.  Each is brilliant in its own way.  Whereas we know the many authors of the maps that Ortelius collected primarily from his extensive correspondence, as well as the “elencum auctorum” that provided a comprehensive list of the different authors of maps in his atlas and sources that were consulted in its creation, Jensen lists the individual or joint authors of each map–and even invites us to construct our own!

Why create a set of maps of the relations between food and space?  This volume is a way to rehabilitate the use of the map as a way to consider and contemplate relations we construct between place, as well as the product of a local culture of food.  All food is local, even if the world we live in has globalized food as a resource.  The open arguments of maps Darin Jensen and his team assembled in FOOD:  An Atlas provide a collective tool to understand what might be called the irrationality of the globalization of food sources in the transparent and supremely rational language of cartographical forms.  Much as the previous MISSION:  POSSIBLE led us to view one neighborhood in San Francisco in new terms of the distribution of coffee-shops, trees, ethnicities, restaurants, underground gas reserves, parking spaces or sounds, each map in FOOD:  An Atlas provides a distinct corner of the exchange of food as commodities and elegant goods we value for their local origins, as well as celebrating the recent growth in the valuation of the locally produced good.  As Jensen’s map of the Mission noted the rise of artisans in the neighborhood, the mapping of Farmers’ Markets—both in Berkeley and in the United States—offers a view of the rising value of the locally farmed (and even the changing definition of what local farming means) as well as the access and audiences of these markets.  As MISSION:  POSSIBLE provides both a map of a region of San Francisco and a sort of surrogate for orienting oneself in any modern city, FOOD:  An Atlas provides a tool to orient oneself within the global exchange and local production of foods.  The map of areas of urban agriculture in San Francisco that is included in FOOD is a great model of a collective interest in the local production of food in that city, and a sort of template for resisting a growing divorce of food and a local landscape.

To order a copy, visit

How better to understand the pathways by which select regions of almond-growing enter the chocolate bars sold across our nation, or consider the inequalities of food that dominate the urban and rural landscapes in an era that celebrates famers’ markets?


Filed under Abraham Ortelius, crowd-sourcing, Darin Jensen, data visualization, data visualizations, datamaps, Food, Food Maps, Geographical Information Systems, Guerilla Cartography, NACIS, The American Beershed, Uncategorized