Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coffee vs. Tequila

UNESCO; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; is having the annual meeting of it’s World Heritage committee this week, and, as always there will be a heated private debate to decided which tourist traps will be designated “World Heritage Sites.”

These “inscriptions” have been called the “Oscars of the Environment,” mainly because a good number of the nearly one thousand sites are natural wonders, such as Ayer’s Rock in Australia and The Grand Canyon in Arizona. The Committee also designates important architectural and archeological sites, such as Stonehenge in Great Britain and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

These are more controversial; for example, the Gibraltar defenses, carved out of the famous rock in the 18th century and submitted in 1996, were never “inscribed” primarily because of Spanish opposition. Spain has considered the British occupation an open sore for over 300 years, and the designation would be a slap in the face, and so, it remains on the tentative list for the time.

Size isn’t a consideration, these things range from a single small building, in the case of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, to a huge swath of land in subarctic Alaska and the Yukon comprising three large mountain ranges.

Then there are just some that are inexplicable. Take Tequila for example: Now the noxious beverage has it’s fans, I know, but do the blue Agave fields from which the ingredients are grown and the distilleries in the area really deserve the designation they got five years ago?

NO! Now this little travesty has spawned other attempts to “sanctify” one of their country’s major products. Colombia’s attempting to designate its Coffee plantations this year, and so is Jamaica. Now whether or not Jamaica or Colombia grows better coffee than the other is neither here nor there, but France has never had the gall to submit the vineyards of Bordeaux or Champagne for World Heritage Status, and Kazakstan hasn’t tried to get it for the fruit forest in the Zailijskei Alatau mountains (where apples and walnuts, among other things, evolved).

If coffee does indeed get two World Heritage designations, what then? Germany recently tried to get an ethereal “List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” listing for the 1516 Beer Purity Law, and while French cooking and the Tango have made the list, I don’t think a law that was repealed ages ago belongs. Maybe an ancient brewery, like the one in Budweis, Czech Republic, might do.

While Colombian coffee or Tequila might be intangible cultural treasures, the places where their ingredients are grown aren’t really worthy.


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