What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, July 11th 2017

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.

Alex de Waal wrote recently about famine as a weapon of war, in historical context:

Drawing on a long Anglo-American tradition of economic warfare and blockade, the counter-humanitarian trend in London and Washington is both morally distasteful and practically stupid. When international aid fails to feed the hungry and treat the sick, extremist projects flourish. If security strategists and xenophobes think that humanitarian crises will burn themselves out at a safe distance they are mistaken: the biggest demographic outcome of famine has always been migration

Roxane Gay’s moving piece on her size is taken from her recent book Hunger: A Memoir Of (My) Body  :

Today, I am a fat woman. I don’t think I am ugly. I don’t hate myself in the way society would have me hate myself, but I hate how the world all too often responds to this body. It would be easy to pretend I am just fine with my body as it is. I’m a feminist and I know that it is important to resist unreasonable standards for how my body should look.

This piece of research on junk food challenged the stereotype that the poor are eating more junk food (at least in high-income countries). The not-so-great finding is that, in fact, everyone is eating lots of junk food:

the guilty pleasure of enjoying a McDonald’s hamburger, Kentucky Fried Chicken popcorn nuggets or Taco Bell burrito is shared across the income spectrum, from rich to poor, with an overwhelming majority of every group reporting having indulged at least once over a nonconsecutive three-week period.

Sometimes regulated away, deemed unsafe, or forced into various grey areas, one of the most important sources of food here in South Africa, and across much of Africa, are informal. This recent article highlighted the vital role of informal traders in supplying African cities with both food and employment:

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the average size of the informal market as a percentage of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa is 41%. This ranges from under 30% in South Africa to 60% in Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The informal market is also one of the biggest employers, accounting for 72% of non-agricultural employment in Africa. It is therefore an important source of income for many and enables financial independence, especially for women.

I am always amazed by the complexity of global food systems. This recent report from Chatham house represents a major piece of work on “chokepoints” in the food system, points at which disruptions in the food supply potentially affect how food moves around the world:

Moreover, these risks are increasing, driven by three distinct trends. First, dependency on chokepoints is growing (see Figure 2). For example, in the past decade and a half the share of internationally traded grain and fertilizers passing through at least one of the maritime chokepoints has increased from 43 to 54 per cent. A smaller but nonetheless significant share – 10 per cent – now depends on transit through one or more of the maritime chokepoints as the only viable shipping route, up from 6 per cent in 2000.

The report fails to make any mention of increasing food sovereignty, or instituting policies that reduce dependence on a handful of crops. They do mention the need for developed countries:

to reform trade-distorting farm support. Such support promotes systemic reliance on a handful of mega-crops and a small number of grain-exporting regions. Instead, public funds should be directed to supporting alternative sources of grain production around the world, in order to diversify global production and reduce import dependence elsewhere. A priority should be to direct such funding to farming in sub-Saharan Africa, where yield gaps remain while cereal demand is growing rapidly; this could be complemented with funding to support production of alternative crops.

Some challenges of farming organically are shared in this story from Northwest public radio. One question that comes up for me after reading this article is to what extent it really is possible to farm multi-acre monocrops organically:

“You have to be more persistent than the weeds, and we know they are really persistent,” says Ian Burke, a professor of weed science at Washington State University. “It’s all about having the people to be out there and be actively managing.”

It’s a bit hard for me to be convinced he had anything more glamourous than a pre-industrial diet shared, until recently, by most people across the globe; still, over at the Salt is an article about Henry David Thoreau’s diet:

By today’s standards, the polite vegetarian didn’t have the most balanced diet, but he did have remarkable foresight. Long before Pollan penned his popular dietary prescription, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” Thoreau was doing just that.

Amazon continues to pursue some kind of food takeover, receiving permission to stock and sell food in India!?

Check out this floating food forest New York, created as a provocation to New York’s policy prohibiting foraging in public parks. Imagine how much could be grown in New York City’s 30,000 acres of parks:

But compared to the concrete pier, Swale’s blueberry bushes, sage, and apple trees provided an island of green. I tried a blackberry from the garden, as well as a bright orange daylily that Gallahan promised me was edible. (There was a little bug inside it, and I ate that, too.) The produce tasted fresh and sweet — if only it didn’t cost so much to grow.

The Guardian had this moving article about the culpability of employers when it comes to consumption of junk food:

In fact, it’s employers who steal billions from workers every year by refusing to pay minimum wage or overtime. Wage theft causes hundreds of thousands of employees to fall below the poverty line and into the food stamp program. Forced to work 14-hour shifts without any breaks to eat, these underpaid workers get by on cheap candy bars and energy drinks that lawmakers then call them irresponsible for purchasing on their benefit cards.

In the UK, they are asking whether to have a traffic light labeling system on supermarket receipts. They admit it won’t end obesity, but I’d be more worried about implementation, and whether the information it provides really leads people in the right direction?:

“Labelling is not the solution to the obesity crisis,” says Anna Taylor, executive director at the Food Foundation. “But what’s important about the traffic lights system is it encourages businesses to reformulate because they don’t want to have a product with lots of reds.” As Morrow puts it, whether or not it makes people eat more healthily, “it’s still important to have the information in terms of consumer rights. The traffic light system is a massive improvement because it’s accessible to everyone, not just those who are nutritionally literate.”

Lastly, this fascinating story of Eva Braun’s food habits brings the contradictions of food in the third reich into sharp relief:

At the very outset, Shapiro highlights the “moral distance” between Braun and her other five subjects. She sets the story of Braun’s appetites – and Hitler’s food oddities – against that of the war and Holocaust, intertwining the two narratives into a penetrating essay that neither romanticizes nor gratuitously indicts Braun.

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