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Carmo Blog: What's Tropical?


This is our new virtual space for sharing news, ideas, upcoming events and the expansive narrative of tropical foodways. To begin with, there's a question which comes up on nearly a daily basis at Carmo, which is "What's a tropical restaurant?" So we figure that a very good place to begin. Maybe an investigation of the word "tropical" is in order ...


Definitions According to Wikipedia, “The tropics is a region of the Earth surrounding the Equator. It is limited in latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere at 23° 26′ 16″ (or 23.4378°) N and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere at 23° 26′ 16″ (or 23.4378°) S; these latitudes correspond to the axial tilt of the Earth. The tropics are also referred to as the tropical zone and the torrid zone (see geographical zone). The tropics include all the areas on the Earth where the Sun reaches a subsolar point, a point directly overhead at least once during the solar year.”

Climatically, it’s easy to define what is truly “tropical” based on species that flourish in temperate environments, technically those with average temperatures of 64 degrees Fahrenheit all twelve months of the year. But broader definitions might prove more "fruitful," as it were. For example, the climactic definition would exclude the mountain and highland regions found throughout the tropics. As recent studies have shown, however, that would ignore the fact that biodiversity in tropical mountain regions is very high, primarily due to the stable temperatures afforded by the surrounding warmer lower-elevations. Consequently, we’ll include some specific mountain regions in our definition of “tropical.”

Beyond Definitions For those who have traveled or lived in the tropics extensively, there exists some recognition that there are certain "tropical truths" which may become evident. These could be as mundane as the rapidity of rot and decay of organic matter, which also helps create excellent soil and speeds the fermentation of many wonderful foods and beverages, or the ironically peaceful, yet painful time spent waiting in an hour-long line at the bank while commerce ironically passes you by. Or it could be as significant as the close, yet sometimes stifling, extended family relationships and social structures which bind communities and may provide shelter from adversity, both literally and figuratively. This contrast of "truths" is an ever-present subtext to life throughout much of the tropics, a disparity in motion ... it could be described as an extreme proximity to the relativity and reality of being. To characterize it another way, if one's comfort zone is a gated community with nameless neighbors, good luck. Often, while observing economic and social disparity in other parts of the world, our "developed-world" minds seek overly-simplified explanations, offer insulting critiques, and generally denounce and denigrate ... if we could create a painting which would exemplify that blindered, outside-in vision it might resemble a Daliesque painting of a tall, stern-browed, pin-striped white man peering down from a sparkling granite tower onto a abysmally beautiful green landscape where time is skewed and stretched, and rum, blood, sex, sand, sweat, coconut and corruption run together into a meandering river which flows to the sea. That portrait is an ugly fabrication, irreverent and irrelevant, and its message has rightly become a punchline to jokes about "gringos," who will rarely if ever see any "tropical truth." To quote Anaïs Nin, perhaps "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."


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