Five for Friday: Pasta

1) Pasta Origins 

The first two things that come to mind when most people think of pasta are spaghetti and Italians. But there are many different types of pasta, from Amori to Ziti. What’s more, pasta’s origins don’t lie in Italy.


Pasta has its origins in China where it was discovered by Marco Polo, who later introduced it to the rest of the world. Pasta quickly gained popularity and started evolving into different sizes and shapes, some like cups to hold sauce, some meant to be layered–but all of them delicious. 

In Italy, the northern regions have become famous for their white sauces, while the southern regions have gained notoriety for their amazing red sauces. But, it seems like every part of Italy has created its own specialty pasta. Here is a map– printed on a hand towel–of the different types of pastas near the where they were created. Pasta became so different people started mapping the differences between all the different types.

Pasta has been the inspiration for fabulous dishes all around the world, such as the well-known spaghetti and meatballs. But pasta hasn’t just inspired food. It has also been incorporated into technical scientific terms, protests and religions, even books and movies. It’s safe to say that pasta has made a big impact on the world.

2)    Spaghettification 

Spaghettification sounds like a made-up word, something your science teacher would say in class to make sure you were listening. But, in fact, it is a technical term used by scientists to describe what happens to matter when it falls into a black hole.

Let’s say, for example, that an astronaut was to free-fall into a black hole. The pull of gravity on his or her feet would be greater than the pull on his or her head. This effect of tidal forces, or gravitational pull, would cause the astronaut to be stretched like bubble gum, longer and longer, getting thinner in the middle with every passing minute. Eventually the astronaut would look like a long string, similar to spaghetti. 

The term actually originated in a book written by Steven Hawking called A Brief History of Time where the author described the process as being a bit like turning into spaghetti.

A good diagram that shows this process can be found here. A good video to watch to understand more about spaghettification, called Tides- Sixty Symbols (produced by the University of Nottighamn),can be found on National Geographic Education’s Facebook page.

3) Pastafarianism    

In 2005, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to infuse the state’s science curriculum with alternative theories to evolution and endorse “intelligent design,” more commonly know as creationism. In protest to the decision, Bobby Henderson wrote a public letter to the board, in which he created a parody religion called Pastafarianism. The religion’s central deity, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM), resembled a giant helping of spaghetti and meatballs. Henderson argued, in jest, that it was He who created the universe, and He who manipulated scientific experiments with his “noodly” appendage, rendering science useless.

Spaghetti.jpgHenderson’s parody religion took off in some online communities as a symbol for the fight against creationism, spawning further writings such as The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Others added to his work, authoring prayers, as well as The Loose Cannon, and in a sense creating a crowdsourced religion. (It should be noted that a part of Henderson’s humor includes some crude language, please keep that in mind of you decide to visit the website).The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a place where fellow Pastafarians post FMS related creations of their own. This photo was actually created by a Pastafarian and all rights given to the public so there would be a recognizable image of the FSM.    

What does the evolution debate have to do with geography? At a root level, some findings from evolutionary biology have direct connections to physical geography. Through understanding the evolutionary pathways of fossils, for example, we inform our understanding of plate tectonics, and of the history of the formation of the earth’s continents. 

The fight to keep religion out of science also unites some geographers and evolutionary biologists. Richard Dawkins, a noted evolutionary biologist, exemplifies this show of solidarity through a comparison, explaining why he doesn’t debate with creationists: “Would you, if you were a geographer, have a debate with a Flat Earther?” (Flat Earthers argue against the evidence of a round earth).

4) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs       

Ever heard that song that goes “If all the raindrops were lemon-drops and gum-drops, oh what a rain that would be”? Well the people of the mythical town of Chewandswallow really could enjoy dessert-like rain like that, and they could also have spaghetti twisters and salt and pepper winds! Originally a children’s book written by Judi Barrett, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is best known as the movie released in 2009. 

The film introduces new characters like Flint Lockwood, an amateur inventor, whose mechanical device creates the food weather, on what was before a spaghetti-tornado-free island. His experiment at geo-engineering (intentional manipulation of the earth to change its natural systems) highlights the potential perils of projects such as artificial volcanoes, mirrors in space, or pumping chemicals into the atmosphere to avert glob
al warming.

National Geographic has an Extreme Weather Activity to help teach kids about what causes naturally occurring extreme weather and how to prepare–the strategies are slightly different, perhaps, than those required for ice-cream blizzards or maple-syrup floods. For more information from a scientist who studies weather for a living, read this Weather Article.

5) Pasta Population Map Activity    

Here’s another creative application of pasta to geography–perhaps pasta that has been sitting in your cupboard for a long time–National Geographic Education’s Pasta Population activity. How many people live in your neighborhood? Create a map of your neighborhood including grocery stores, schools and parks, using uncooked pasta. Get really inventive and use different types of pasta for children and adults, or make a map of your school and use different pasta for boys and girls, students and teachers.



There might be some of you asking why we, as a geographic blog for National Geographic, chose to talk about pasta for Five For Friday. What does pasta have to do with geography? With this post we attempted to show how you can look at a tiny concept, something as mundane as pasta, and apply it across several different realms–a religion/ cause, scientific terms, a book and movie/weather, and a fun activity to study population–all of which relate to geography in their own ways. 

We looked at all the layers of pasta and found out some really interesting things. This in itself is one of the goals of geography. Pasta has a broad scope many would not even think about. We want to encourage you to do the same. Look at the mundane, at the common things in your life, and consider just how great an effect they have on everything around you. We can use geography in the little things we do every day.

Alison and Cedar for My Wonderful World
Photos provided by:
Noodle Making by Kittipong Faengsrikum, My Shot
Pasta Making by Monica Benitez 

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