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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
It is summer, so we are going to begin with something light, at least in spirit, if not in substance. Boston Cream pie, it seems, is under attack. And it really isn’t pie anyhow. Alert SAFN member (and frequent FoodAnthropology contributor) Ellen Messer sent us this story of scandal, outrage, and culinary history, which is by Kara Baskin, writing in the Boston Globe.
On a related pie/cake note, you should read this wonderful piece from the Oxford American by SAFN’s very own student representative, Kelly Alexander. It is the story of half a cake, includes Rick Bragg and Pat Conroy, southern manners, and Jewish wit. And, Kelly, pick up the phone. We want to know.
We eat red beans here in New Orleans, as everyone knows, but sometimes we also eat white beans and black beans. There are a lot more beans out there, as this great article by Burkhard Bilger, writing for The New Yorker, indicates. The focus is on Rancho Gordo, a company that searches out and distributes a huge range of bean varieties, mostly from Mexico. Questions of cultural appropriation, fair trade, and even implications of anthropology are raised. Good read.
While the Rancho Gordo folks source beans from very specific places in Mexico, your local baker in the U.S. is unlikely to be able to source wheat from particular farms. The desire for locally-sourced grain hits something of a wall in the enormous sea of commodity wheat, as Amy Halloran explains in this article from The New Food Economy. This is a fascinating example of the economics of mass grain production versus the growing desire for local products.
In contrast to the problems faced by bakers who want local wheat, public school systems have not been especially picky about where they source their ingredients for school lunches. In this article, from The Nation, Anna Lappé and Jose Oliva argue that they should. They suggest that school lunch makers should attend to more than the bottom line and should make an effort to source ingredients in ways that “promotes public health, community well-being, animal welfare, social justice, and environmental protection.” Citing the example of the Good Food Purchasing Program, developed in Los Angeles, but now used in other cities as well, they show how this approach can achieve their goals. Curiously, and in contrast to the piece above about commodity wheat, they cite a claim that over 80% of the bread products used in LA schools now come from “California-grown, sustainably produced wheat.” Want to chase that number down? Visit this site.
Circling back to globalization, in this article from Civil Eats, Stephanie Strom writes about new processes for extending the life of foods that must be transported long distances. Beginning with cassava, which can be used to make gluten-free tortillas, she focuses on the development of “an all-natural, virtually invisible coating” from Apeel Sciences that can preserve produce. The idea is to help small farmers in a variety of countries get access to foreign markets.
The famous Balti cooking of Birmingham may be vanishing. The reasons range from generational shifts among the owners (the children of Pakistani immigrants do not necessarily want restaurant careers), to changing tastes among British diners, and more. Daniel Stephen Homer and Natalie Grover explore these issues in this article, from Atlas Obscura.
Everything that happens in society seems to happen in restaurants. This is especially true of the growing opioid addiction crisis. In this article from Nation’s Restaurant News, Gloria Dawson explores the ways restaurants are choosing to address the issue. Some have taken to keeping naloxone shots on hand for anyone who needs it. Others are training their staff to deal with overdoses and providing resources for those with addiction issues. The article points out that this is both a staff and customer issue.
Co-operative organization of workplaces has long been an alternative to the usual way businesses are owned and managed. Given all the social issues confronted by restaurants, could co-operative ownership and management help? In this article from Eater, Brenna Houck explores the question. There are several intriguing examples, including bakeries, coffeeshops, and breweries, and mention of useful organizations, like the Democracy at Work Institute.
Apparently everyone in America is on a special diet. Paleo, Keto, Whole 30, not all of which we have heard of here at FoodAnthropology. In this article from the Washington Post, Sophie Egan looks at why this is. Ironically, it seems that a lot of people are following fad diets because they believe that their bodies are unique. Also, people do not trust what they read in newspapers about nutrition, so they read articles about fad diets (in newspapers) and follow them. Yes, this is why we need social science.
We started this with something light and that is the way we will finish. In this lovely short piece by the New York Times’ Samin Nosrat, she describes leaving her mother’s Iranian cooking behind in order to learn all about Italian pasta, only to eventually cook her way back home by bringing the two culinary cultures together. You will enjoy reading this.