Space, Food Processing and the City

There’s a conference here in Austin later this week on Food, the City and Innovation so ideas about food and cities have been rattling around in the back of my head.

One of them is how much space traditional food processing takes. Here are Icelandic women drying cod.

Space to dry fish, Iceland

Drying cod in Iceland 1910.
Reykjavik Museum of Photography

And here’s one of drying pasta in Italy.

Pasta_ALI 179194_SM

And I am always struck in Mexican villages by the amount of space in a traditional household dedicated to grinding maize.

So I’m toying with the idea that one factor contributing to the growth of cities was the development of space-saving methods of processing foods, such as commercial drying facilities for pasta.

In early days (ancient Rome, for example) this commercial milling and baking would have dramatically reduced the space needed to produce daily bread.  In the Industrial Revolution, steel roller mills, huge bakeries, vacuum pans for evaporating liquids, and so on would similarly have made operations more compact.

I wouldn’t want to claim that such compaction was as crucial as better transport, for example.  But I do think it’s an idea worth kicking around.

So what do you think? Is there anything to this or am I just barking up a gum tree?

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One thought on “Space, Food Processing and the City

  1. Adam Balic

    I would have though that a lot of processing activity was on the periphery of cities, either because they were undesirable (tanning, butchering) or due to constraints on the technology used. For instance, a mill to grind flour needs a suitable site, either a source of running water or somewhere for the sails to catch the wind. I think that many towns/cities would have been more constrained in size by the need for protection (city walls, build the town on a hilltop or ridge). Only once the need for protection was lost, did Edinburgh expand for instance. Even once it expanded beyond the old city walls, in still contained a lot of areas for industrial/commercial use rather then residential. Next residential streets there were factories, breweries, linen drying fields, pig stys etc..

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