What Foodanthro is Reading Now, February 6 2018

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.

Maybe you’re eating this at lunch time. If so, how does your lunch break compare to workers around the world? This story was interesting for the ways it resonated with the narrative of lack of time given the number of hours taken up by work, and also the idea of “junk” and “fast” food around the world.

Civil eats had a story about the nuances that need to be added to the narrative of “Eat less Meat:”

For me and many like me, grazing is our art form—it’s our best tool for breathing new life into neglected land.

While at times it may be important to struggle over what kind of food is the most morally righteous– sustainable or ethical or healthy, Ariel Greenwood makes points about levels of deep investment in food systems:

…few environmentalists who are opposed to grazing animals and eating their flesh have demonstrated either the degree of embodied affection, personal risk, and deep practice or the knowledge of grassland dynamics, plant succession, and wildlife movement that I’ve seen among the graziers in my life. So I urge those who care about the meat industry’s impact on the environment to bring more curiosity and humility to the discussion.

(Also, where was I when “woke” became an adjective?)

As a counterpoint, The California Sunday Magazine ran a fascinating, lengthy article on Steward Resnick, the biggest farmer in the United States, with startling photos of bare-grounded orchards. It’s worth the time to read. From the ability to shape entire communities of labourers (a major public health intervention?!), to thoughts about the productivity of the land, this is a powerful article about big agriculture. When the scale is so large the productivity per acre is no longer important:

“These trees are pruned by a machine that hedges one side and then the other,” he says. “But the smaller farmer still uses a pruning shears to make his most important cuts. If he knows what he’s doing, the shears can make a thousand more pounds an acre.”

And water is at the centre of it all. Water is on everyone’s minds here in Cape Town, too, where we’re facing the worst drought in living memory, our taps are at risk of running dry. Guess who is coming to the rescue? Yup. Coca Cola.  And South African Breweries. I’m skeptical whenever these companies start feigning altruism, but I’m overly cynical. It’s striking that, in a drought, the largest farms (and the largest companies) seem to be above the immediate impact.

I didn’t know Ruby Tandoh before this interview, but now I really want to read her books. Of Samin Nosrat’s book, she says:

It’s about the basic elements of good cooking, but I’ve been reading it like a novel. Everything I’ve been doing so far in the kitchen has been wrong, it turns out, but I’m fine with Samin telling me I’m a fool. I would put my life in her hands.

I also thought her reflection on the global discourse around food was apt:

I think there’s too much focus on hardcore foodie stuff – being preoccupied with provenance and so on. Or else focusing on nutrition. These things are actually pretty interesting and useful in themselves, but what we’ve lost is the focus on just enjoying food. I want to remind people that it’s actually fine to enjoy a ready meal. We live in a time when you can get a macaroni cheese and it’s done in four minutes – that’s pretty amazing.

While it is amazing that you can get macaroni cheese cooked in four minutes, there’s some question as to frequency: Check out this article on ultra-processed food in Europe for a sense of just how ubiquitous these foods are:

Eating biscuits or crisps or drinking cola occasionally does no harm, he says, but these foods are designed to make us want more of them. “It is beyond liking. We are entering the world of craving,” he said. They are also universally available and cheap. The key ingredients are refined flours, cheap oil and fats, sugars, starches, protein isolates and salt.

“We are moving further and further away from food that nourishes us,” he said.

In this article, Hawkes is quoted as saying that our collective taste culture(s) need to change, which seems to be fertile ground for food anthropologists.

Lastly, the labels we give food— “mainstream” and “alternative” food necessarily shapes who consumes it, as well as the direction of the system itself:

The links that surplus food has with waste and commercial loss cause us to see surplus food as inferior food, despite its edibility. For example, some attempt to shame governments into changing social policy by calling it “leftover food for leftover people”. While I agree that austerity and welfare policies are causing great harm to families and communities, I also know that donated surplus food is a resource that supports the resilience of organisations aiming to help struggling communities and households.


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