Ginger is a rhizome. It grows horizontally and forms an underground network. In fact, what you see above is a stem that grows laterally, just underneath the surface of the Earth. Given enough time, an interconnected population of individual plants emerges. In 'A Thousand Plateaus' Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari describe the rhizome as a non-hierarchial mode of social organization.
We are fascinated by the common saying 'You are what you eat', and we've been wondering about the implications (physical and metaphorical!) of what we put in our bodies. Food has the capacity to nurture us at the same time as holding great ethical and symbolic significance. Specifically, we want to know what happens when we eat rhizomes (and there are many edible rhizomatic plants).
In Green Light: Toward an Art of Evolution, the artist George Gessert discusses the meaning of ornamental plants as historical markers of class. Basically, fancy flowers which require careful cultivation have been used again and again to denote status.
We were particularly struck by two examples of ornamental flowers from North Korea. One is a purple dendrobium orchid named Kimilsungia for Kim-il Sung; the other is a red tuberous begonia named Kimjongilia for Kim Jong-il. Grown in greenhouses or outside, these flowers are used as part of large scale cultural displays, and fields of the red Kimjongilias bloom for the citizens' enjoyment every spring.
Gessert frames this examination of ornamentals through a larger discussion about our preferences towards wild things vs. domesticated plants and animals. Deleuze & Guattari make many references to wild animals who run in packs, such as wolves. They describe the activity and relationships within packs as rhizomatic, in fact. Referring to this, Gessert points out the time-worn pattern of elevating wildness over domestication, reminding us that perhaps the put-upon laying hen or fluffy puppy are valuable reminders of our vulnerabilty.
While wandering around Seoul, we have been charmed by Pochangmachas, or Tent Restaurants. We've been thinking about them as spaces not only for quick bite, but also the symbolic nature of tents as mobile containers for culture. Yes, it is January in Seoul and it is a bit cold for tents, but plenty of people are gathering in them as we write, and of course, the more the merrier: it doesn't take long for one to heat-up. That's part of the fun. As a space for food consumption they play the role - as with most street food - as an inherently democratic food dissemination point. They are an every day occupation of the sidewalk, with cheap food for city dwellers. It may be that we are little more vulnerable while dwelling in a tent, but they are social spaces where we can be vulnerable together.
Lotte Mart at Seoul Station has installed a lettuce factory. While we didn't pick any up that day, we assume that customers can find very fresh lettuce for sale some days. While this is a nod towards sustainability, the indoor garden probably can't supply enough lettuce for the entire customer base of Lotte Mart. It is part of a trend towards supermarkets diving into the local food movement. While it is often lip-service, at least the garden is a reminder that vegetables must be grown and in fact have an entire life that must be nurtured before they make it to the store shelves.
We're on the hunt for cultivated rhizomes here: ginger, of course, cardamon, tumeric, bamboo, and a few others. We're also delving into Korean cuisine and thinking a lot about cooking as an art form. While most of the food we'll find here in the city will be cultivated on farms (many of them local to Korea), we understand that much of Korean cuisine developed in relation to the mountainous geography and therefore many of the foods are those that are seasonal and were often picked wild, such as Doraji, or bellflower. While Doraji is not technically a rhizome, the roots are eaten, and we are definitely planning to make some of them into a tasty salad. More on our culinary wanderings to follow soon.