Interview with Vincent Moriniaux, Lecturer in Geography at the University of Paris-Sorbonne

03 May 2018

Vincent Moriniaux

  • Where does your interest in the geography of food come from?

In a very prosaic fashion, I would have say, as I am sure most of my colleagues would, that my interest in this field came from my taste for the good things in life! This element is, of course, essential but I am also attracted to the scientific side of this human dynamic which is holistically unified, yet so very diverse. Food particularly lends itself to the role of a geographer who seeks factors which explain distribution, and their evolution or permanence. It is also a global characteristic, impacting on ethnology, economy, demography, history, sociology, etc. By its very nature, geography is a discipline which acts as an interface between all these human sciences. Finally, my interest in this topic was also sparked by reading books and articles by my mentor and friend, Jean-Robert Pitte (I recommend his recent work, Atlas gastronomique de la France (Gastronomic Atlas of France), which was published by Colin in October 2017).

  • Your discipline also touches upon more global issues, born from debates about food in society, which examine the relationship with oneself, such as meat consumption, banned foods, gaining a sense of identity through food, etc. What is your opinion?

Today, the general public is extremely sensitive about everything relating to the food they consume. There are several explanations for this, which are combined and interconnected. The increasing industrialization of our food and the multiplication of food products being exchanged on a global scale mean that we have lost direct contact with the production of what we are consuming. This lack of contact with the origin of our food creates doubt and fear (safety of additives, zoonoses, GMO etc). The political ideologies, which have marked the 20th century, are not qualified to address this fear: neither planned economy nor liberalism have halted food scandals, whether famine, zoonoses (mad cow’s disease), or scams (horse meat in beef lasagne) etc. Hence the need to return either to traditional ways of thinking, which have the virtue of governing eating behaviour in line with transcendent laws (halal in Islam, casher in Judaism, vegetarianism in Hinduism) or to focus on new ways of thinking, which are more individualistic, and which often provide a balance between concerns about the environment (we need to save the planet), health (I am careful about what I eat to ensure I remain healthy) and ethics (what gives me the right to eat animals?).

The result of all this today, just as in the past, and perhaps even more so than in the past (because on other issues, we are more and more alike: we all have a Smartphone, the same idols, clothing and music fashions spread around the globe in major cities etc.), is that food gives us an identity, a sense of belonging to a group. It is a way in which to affirm our culture, our faith, our personal choices.

  • What have you learned from your role teaching at HEG and what would you like to transmit to our students?

The diversity of both the origins and backgrounds of the HEG students is extremely enriching for the teacher, who is constantly confronted with new points of view and experiences. The interest that this cosmopolitan group shows in French food culture is very stimulating and it is always a great pleasure to share your knowledge and examine issues with the students.

  • Could you share a taste sensation with us that you truly cherish?

It is quite banal to state that the majority of taste sensations can be traced back to childhood, but I am not going to be an exception to the rule. My Proust madeleines are associated with memories of eating them at my paternal grandparents, who lived at the foot of the Château-Chalon hill in the Jura: pan-fried golden chanterelle mushrooms upon returning from foraging them, tasting a Savagnin grape variety Côte du Jura or a Château-Chalon with a piece of 18 month matured comté or a walnut tart. I believe that these culinary experiences with my family enabled me to understand the extremely fascinating concept of terroir from a very early age.

  • What future research do you have planned?

I am currently focusing on continuing my work on the relationships between religions and food, on studying the ethical aspects of food aid: religious bans, meals as a means of integration, the aider/aided relationship. Reaching beyond the notions of food safety and the right to eat, instigated during the second half of the 20th century by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), key players and researchers in the field of food aid are today carrying out brainstorming on the subject of dignified access to food.

Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des des Arts de la Table

  • Phone: +33 6 60 46 40 81
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