What FoodAnthropology is Reading Now, April 26th, 2017

Jo Hunter-Adams

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

It’s always a good idea to start with coffee: Over at The Irrawaddy, there was this article about the evolving coffee culture in Rangoon, and how it intersects with the age-old tea culture:

The scene reminds me of home, and comes back to me every time I am away. In a country where tea culture has reigned dominant for decades, these shops occupy nearly every corner of commercial capital Rangoon’s streets. However, in recent years, Rangoon has witnessed an emerging coffee scene among its middle class and expatriate community that challenges these existing shops.

This past week, the NYTimes featured this story about turning old bread into ale:

“It’s a really creative solution to a pretty insurmountable problem,” Mr. Barber said of the beer, which he paired with his cured waste-fed pig.

On the theme of food waste, this article gave us some insight into other things happening in the world of food waste, one in Brazil:

A popular event to highlight the issue of food waste is the Disco Xepa (Disco Soup)—a collective cooking activity involving the preparation of otherwise wasted food into a soup that is served to anyone who joins. The word Xepa in Brazilian Portuguese refers to products that people purchase at the end of the day for low or no cost, because they didn’t sell. Disco Xepa events are open to the public and to all ages. The goal is “not just to party or to cook; but also to educate on food waste”.

Then there is the much anticipated Wasted!, a film that will be showing at the Tribeca film festival:

“We realized that this was something that was really important in this world, and we decided that we wanted to highlight this kind of passion, and show consumers how they, too, could impact food waste reduction, because it’s a staggering problem that people don’t know about.”

In the NYTimes was this article about salt, as an excerpt from Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, heat:

Chefs have their saline allegiances and will offer lengthy, impassioned arguments about why one variety of salt is superior to another. But what matters most is that you’re familiar with whichever salt you use. Is it coarse or fine? How much does it take to make a roast chicken taste just right?

MotherJones also ran a story about the upcoming book. Nosrat is one of the stars of Michael Pollan’s Cooked. Which immediately makes me want to to read it.

While I’m trying not to automatically focus on Trump’s latest policies, especially since I’m South African, living in South Africa. Yet everything the current U.S. administration does has ripple effects that reach many bits of our daily lives, even this far away. For example, the Chicago Tribune recently ran an article on the slashing of foreign aid. Of course, there is plenty of room for debate over the roles of food aid in the global food system. Still, this paragraph captures the gravity of the cuts:

Likewise, the Bureau for Food Security is slated to lose 68 percent of its funding. This would reduce development aid geared toward preventing food shortages and may instead force the U.S. and other donor countries to spend more resources on emergency food assistance. The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a pro-development advocacy group, estimates the steep cuts could result in as many as 13 million people losing access to food aid, and more than 5 million children losing access to aid meant to combat stunting.

The Washington Post also had a story about food aid this past week:

As President Barack Obama’s experience shows, it would take a major push from the White House to achieve even incremental change. If he’s really interested in improving the cost-effectiveness of aid, as opposed to slashing it as an expression of ideology, President Trump would spend some of his political capital on the cause. Of course, that would also require him to depart from the simplistic “buy American” mind-set he has repeatedly expressed — and whose counterproductive effects the U.S. food-aid program epitomizes.

Here in South Africa, low carb high fat (LCHF) diets have been taking hold of our middle and upper classes, led by a sports medicine celebrity doctor Tim Noakes. This has not been without resistance, and Tim Noakes has been embroiled in a court case over advice given over twitter. He was recently found not guilty, so maybe we can return to broader questions of diet in the context of rapidly changing food environments. Yup, I think LCHF is a distraction away from the real issues.

One of these real issues are the upcoming mergers between large agro-chemical corporations: the proposed merger between Dow Chemical and Dupont, between Bayer and Monsanto, and between ChemChina and Syngenta. Here’s a publication giving the lay of the land in the South African context:

It is tautological to point out that any firm controlling inputs into production – and in the agricultural sector, this entails soil data, climate and weather patterns, historical data on crop yields, seed, agrochemicals and fertilisers, and (precision farming) machinery – will gain tremendous control over the market and sector and therefore exercise tremendous control over farmers by dictating to them what to do rather than provide services to the farmer (ETC Group, 2015). This directly ties in with the alienation of farmers from the productive processes. At the time of Pioneer’s acquisition of Pannar, ACB (2012) documented how further corporate concentration in the seed sector – and throughout the agrofood system from input supply to retailing – will exacerbate the existing situation whereby farmers are becoming irreversibly disconnected from breeding processes.

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