We begun by accident early one Spring in ’09.
I’d been evicted from the warehouse on Brick Lane for one too many parties so I thought I’d start gently with the new flatmates. I suggested we co-host fortnightly dinners to get to know each other. It was going to be called the Roscoe Dozens, after our street. We lived in an old supermarket, above a Chinese restaurant. There was no real plan; just an intuition to learn from the world by cooking from it, country by country, and a whiff of the latitudinal theory of the evolution of world cuisine.
The flatmates didn’t turn up so I invited some friends. It was a Monday yet somehow it still went on til 8am – the only one ever. It was magical; a night of many evenings. We played football on the roof and wrapped people in chocolate and cling film and talked way past sunrise, and some people had an especially good time. But the flatmates weren’t keen, and thus began our migration around London, seeking refuge in the generosity of other peoples’ homes as we sought to learn from the rituals and wisdoms of other cultures.
We paused for a month as I set up an installation in Australia (ironically, it was all about crowdsourcing sunrises from all around the world). On our recommencement, a friend bet me that we couldn’t do it weekly; and that’s where it really all began, even more methodical, even more rhythmical in its rotations around London, as each week we devoted a set of seven days to each line of latitude.
The system had its limits. Our technique started the year at the equator but quickly went bipolar, sourcing food from Latitudes both North & South; so by the end of the year we were both nearing both Patagonia and London, sampling winter and summer simultaneously. The geographic divergence felt schizo. And it meant we’d never reach Scandinavia, or Iceland, or most of Russia – or Antarctica, though there’s comparatively little landmass below 51ºS in the Southern Hemisphere.
So on the uber-binary date of 1.1.10 we did an about-turn on our very own doorstop and began to scan longitudinally, flipping from London’s 51st degree latitude to the 0th longitudinal degree of Greenwich’s Prime Meridian. And we began to go much faster – a degree a day, not a week, travelling East, so our journey on any map using equirectangular projection (where the longitude lines are vertical) read like a score or timeline (and, seen from the South Pole, looks like a clock with a single slow annual hand) – a plot across space and time, touring 360 degrees in as many days, ensuring we meet the whole range of the world.
The term fast is relative. At the poles, we don’t move at all, and nor, in a way, does time. At the equator we average about 60 miles a day – a walkable pace for a day’s work, if you can skip on some sleep. So the maths still feels human, like the dinners. They’re still “Latitude” dinners because everyone gets assigned the longitude but has to pick their own latitude; because our trajectory follows a latitudinal thrust eastwards; and because we believe in the wider metaphorical promise – of freedom, and breadth – that the idea of “latitude” bears.
We’ve cooked in bedrooms and garages, galleries and gardens, penthouses and rooftops, spyships and churchyards, workspaces and warehouses. We’ve eaten in London at all points of the compass, on the Welsh borders, and beaches in the Bahamas, in Amsterdam and Stockholm, Vienna and Saigon. We’ve sat on the floor and at 30-metre long tables, in groups of 6 or 100, on and offline (we also Skyp-eat across nations). Last summer we erected edible edifices for the London Festival of Architecture, joined the nationwide Big Lunch, and held our own World Sup – a hundred banquet guests each cooking and explaining dishes from their own country at the Kings Cross Dairy. On the eve of 9/11 and the end of Ramadan – the night of Eid-el-fitr – we gathered in the Newington Green Shed for an evening of “the Politics of Food”; in the Autumn we celebrated the Winter Harvest at the Union Street Orchard. Guest Projects and Creative Data co-hosted an evening of Local/Global Thanksgiving, cooking food from the populations within the local radial mile; and at the Hub Culture Pavilion a fortnight ago we cooked Christmas food from all round the world.
I’m an architect by training so I tend to numerate and measure. I love mapping; visualising; quantifying relationships. Though I hate the austere banality of grids, we resort to one here. Our route is almost anal – unflinching, ultra-methodical, over-determined, neurotically precise. Occasionally someone opines that we’d be better off doing French; that the summer’s a nightmare with its confetti of obscure Pacific islands; that with all this beauty to choose from, why fill it with all that random cuisine?
But that’s precisely the point, the flip side of the coin and the world; the chance operation and embrace of the aleatory and serendipitous that makes each event unknowable, unrepeatable, unique. How would we know French was better until we’d tried Tongan, or Niuian? That the French baguette wasn’t better in Bien Hoa, the boeuf bourguignon not more brilliant with chilli and lemongrass in Laos? And how else might we all have known that French, with Chinese, was the start of more modern ways of cooking with the birth of fusion in California? Or that fifty other countries actually speak French as their main language, in the kitchen and over the table??..
I’ve never learned so much from all of my senses; from my ears and my eyes and the smells and tastes on my tongue. And I learned it all from others.
On our third setting out, it has never tasted so fresh.
Come join us. Or start your own. Get to know the world around you – next door and beyond.
4th January 2011