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.
I have been on a bit of a vacation from the blog, but that does not mean I have not been reading…and the result is an overstuffed collection for you to enjoy. A lot of these items may be of use for class readings, which should come in handy for the new academic year.
Let’s start with an interesting article from Finbarr O’Reilly, in the New York Times, on the production and distribution of vanilla in Madagascar. The article notes that about 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from that country, but the production and sales are subject to both crime and corruption. There are some great photos here too, although at least one recent visitor to the area tells me that the article makes the region look gloomy and scary, which she insists is a misrepresentation. A critique of this representation could be a great class exercise.
Making a non-meat burger that tastes anything like a real burger has been a mostly impossible task. I have long thought that the best vegetarian burgers would sell better if we all just agreed they are more like falafel in puck form and stopped pretending they are hamburgers. And yet, there is the “impossible burger,” a fake burger that “bleeds” like one made of meat and that has a taste and mouthfeel (in my opinion) remarkably like the real thing. Could this be a really sustainable food product destined to help us reduce our meat consumption? Maybe not, according to this article by Clint Rainey, that appeared on Grub Street.
If you want to help your students think about how science works, you might have them read this article, by Joel Achenbach, from the Washington Post, which reports on a study that claims that the “optimal amount of alcohol someone should consume is none.” It is a both an interesting report on a study and an opportunity to discuss the difference between studies of populations and conclusions about what might be best for individuals, along with ideas about health, risk, quality of life, etc. One useful corrective appeared in this article, by Aaron Carroll, in the New York Times.
Blog editor Amy Trubek recently wrote here about the implications of meal kits for American culinary culture. There have, of course, long been efforts to simplify cooking for Americans, including meal kits that you can buy in the grocery store. In this blog entry on the Historical Cooking Project web site, Katherine Magruder presents the fascinating and bittersweet history of Old El Paso taco kits and their associated products. Back in the 1960s and 70s I think a lot of Anglo Americans probably thought that this was the only way to get tacos outside of a Mexican restaurant.
Echos of slavery and of the Civil War continue to inhabit American life. Perhaps our inability to make sense of the past is rooted in an unwillingness to fully confront the consequences that echo even today. In this article from the Oxford American, John T. Edge explores why a new Southern vodka (Dixie Vodka, originally called Beauregard Dixie Vodka) raised these issues for him. While we are on the subject of the U.S. South, you might also want to read this tribute to John Egerton, also by John T. Edge, from The Bitter Southerner.
If you are thinking about the U.S. South and the Caribbean and the legacy of slavery, then you might as well think about sugar too. In this wide-ranging bit of art and social criticism and history, Ruby Tandoh (on Eater), looks into the material and metaphorical place of sugar across both time and cultures. There is some amazing art in all of this too.
I have lately been obsessed with the possibilities of podcasts and audiobooks. There are a lot of good food podcasts out there, but one of my recent favorites has been the oddly named “Racist Sandwich.” They deal with questions of ethnicity, race, and racism in the world of food. Here are links to three recent episodes that I found interesting and that you can use to start discussions with students. First, in this episode, author Lilian Li talks about growing up in the U.S. and Chinese restaurants. Next, Darnell Ferguson, one of the few black chefs in Louisville, Kentucky, discusses his career and mentoring in the industry. Finally, an exploration of why Asian communities may be making Houston the most interesting food city in America. Each episode is about 30 minutes long.
Part of the allure of Houston these days (which David Chang also promoted in his Ugly Delicious Netflix series) are the innovative ways in which Vietnamese-American chefs are approaching Cajun and Creole dishes. This has resulted in a debate over who makes the best boiled crawfish (which, just FYI, are out of season now, so you can’t have any). In this article from GQ, Brett Martin argues for everything being in its place and peace among crawfish eaters. He may have a point. By the way, over at the New York Times, Pete Wells has recently argued that David Chang “matters” to the food world today, but less for what he says than for how he manages his many restaurants. Wells does not take a stance on crawfish in this article.
Kenny Shopsin, owner of the eccentric restaurant Shopsin’s General Store, died a few weeks ago. A great lamentation was heard across the food world, especially from chefs and others who admired the history and management and food, along with the owner and his interesting writing. Neil Genzlinger wrote a helpful obituary in the New York Times. Perhaps an even better way to understand the significance of Kenny Shopsin would be to read this article by Calvin Trillin, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2002.
It is always interesting to think about the foods people could eat, but mostly do not. Goat, for instance, is relatively popular around the world, but not so much in the United States. According to Jan Greenberg, from the New Food Economy, this may be changing as both immigrants and farmers work to popularize the meat (goat cheese is already popular in the U.S.). In New England, figuring out how to market an underappreciated crab—the Jonah Crab—is a problem confronted by fishers, according to Dan Nosowitz, writing for Modern Farmer. By the way, the goat article makes the claim that goat is the most popular meat in the world. In this article from the Huffington Post, Julie R. Thomson disputes that claim.
Debates about whether certain kinds of foods are in fact drugs or if certain drugs are in fact food are, it turns out, pretty old. In fact, a few of Sidney Mintz’s old “proletarian hunger killers” were included in those debates in Europe in the seventeenth century, as historian Ken Albala explains in this article, from EuropeNow. Go get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, or chocolate (or, if you are in the right state, some marijuana infused versions of these, just to enhance the point) and read the arguments for and against the drug or food nature of these items. The humors may be different, but the core of the argument really seems not to have changed for a few hundred years.