It is November 1, 2016, and my fiancé and I are in Europe. Everyone wants to know whom we’re going to vote for. Taxi drivers, waiters, store clerks, strangers we meet while sipping a pint in the pub. We assume this is because the England we’re visiting is one still reeling from Brexit and trying to figure out how to define itself; because its people know that our country—over 3,000 miles west of here—is simmering with a similar question; because they want to know if theirs is the only country that’s boiling, begging for a lid to cover the spitting heat of the pot.
A week passes and we all find out the answer: It’s not.
“What are politics if not a recipe?” said one of the many men we encountered on our trip, a chef originally from Hungary. “Everyone closes their eyes and listens to ingredients and how they’re going to be prepared. Some mouths water; some people stick out their tongues in disgust. The person that wins is not the best cook, but the one with the best-sounding recipe.”
The more I travel, the more I find that my notion of what constitutes the “best recipe” changes a lot. When I leave Italy, I list cacio e pepe as one of life’s essential ingredients. When I leave France, I do so with a baguette tucked carefully under my arm. Everywhere I go, I find a place with something to offer; a cuisine that either changes or confirms my palate; a culture that asks me to consider new dishes—whether I wind up re-creating them or not.
The stories collected in this issue will present you with many different recipes. In Costa Rica, you’ll travel to a lodge in the rainforest for a bite of eco-tourism unlike any you’ve tasted before. In the Mississippi Delta, you’ll visit a world in which old-school culinary favorites like barbecue and crawfish intersect with the sounds of truly revolutionary blues. In Cuba, you’ll find a country transformed by guerilla gardening, a place where abandoned urban lots have become sustainable farms and gardens capable of supplementing once-meager rations of food.
Every destination you encounter in this issue will offer something new. Take home what you like. Discard what you don’t. Add what you love to your notion of the perfect recipe.
Because just as any meal can be improved by the use of spices—saffron from Iran, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, sumac from Sicily—our country can be improved by adapting at home the recipes that work so well elsewhere.
This is how a good cook becomes a great cook—and it just might be how we achieve that “more perfect union” for our country.
Wishing you the happiest, most rewarding travels,