Dear Sir, Humphrey Carter's review of Thomas Graves's new book, ”Pa'amb Oli, Bread and Oil, Majorcan Culture's Last Stand” was a fascinating and revealing piece. I find it incredible that Mr Graves seems to attach so much importance to the subject of bread and oil and in so doing, adopts a posture which, in my opinion, is both condescending and most unbecoming.

It appears that the good Mr Graves elevates a piece of bread smeared with oil and tomato to the status of “the key to the survival of Majorcan culture in the future” and that it “sums up the peasant culture.” That betrays what is, in my opinion, an artfully condescending and more than slightly insulting view he has of Majorca and its traditions. Good heavens man, which planet is your ivory tower situated on? I ask only because, should the location be identified by any self-respecting Majorcan, who is both conscious of his history and who values his culture above simple gustatory habits, then not only will he beat a path to your door but he will also probably demolish it! The whole history of the island is one of adaptability to incoming civilisations and cultures. The Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Christian cultures all brought their values, habits and diets with them. The Majorcans sensibly took what worked for them and used it to best effect. To attempt to encapsulate the proud and long history of tolerance, initiative and survival in a piece of peasant bread, which as he says was actually introduced by the Romans anyway, is to my mind nothing short of bizarre! What is happening today is simply history repeated. Surely, sentient Majorcans - and that seems to be a vast majority - are casting a baleful eye at one tiny part of the incoming cultures and just rejecting it. No song and dance, no demonstrations in the street or unloading lorryloads of hamburgers onto the highway in protest. They are simply reverting to or perhaps rediscovering a dietary habit that sustained their forefathers and which they happen to find pleasing. The fact that is healthy, traditional and pleasing to eat surely constitutes a bonus, not a cause.

I have yet to hear of numbers of gourmet Majorcans proclaiming loudly that they are eating Pa'amb Oli because “they are fighting for their roots, for example, they don't want to see what happened to the Ploughman's Lunch in England.” I wonder just how many Majorcans know or care about the Ploughman's Lunch. Anyway, if they are interested, it went the way of the horse drawn plough, pickled larks brains and gruel. Out! People simply chose to eat other things instead as they became available.

I fear that Mr Graves is rattling the bars of his gilded cage and somewhat pompously is espousing a cause that is more the result of his fertile imagination than of fact. I am also slightly suspicious of his reasons.

Look, Pa'amb Oli is good to eat, there's no denying it. It's a fairly harmless food and less damaging than most fast foods. The bonus for me is that the European Union is collectively annoyed by its continuing popularity because it doesn't fit neatly into one of their contrived regulatory schedules. Now that alone makes it a bit of culture worth fighting for! However, just ask yourself this. Can you really believe a Majorcan future with long lines of people queuing for the opening of the latest Planet Binissalem Pa'amb Oli Restaurant in downtown Pensicola, Florida? I think not. No, bread and oil will never be “the weapon against the American way” as he puts it. The best you can hope for is that it becomes fashionable.

Mono-cultural junk food is here to stay. As yet there is no European regulation demanding that we eat it. The eminently sensible Majorcans know this and will keep making choices for themselves. By so doing, they will be reinforcing their long tradition of independence and tolerance. They have managed very nicely for the last two millennia or so without the support of Mr Graves. I'm positive they will manage just fine now.

Roger Harrison
By e-mail


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