Author Archives: Jo

What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, June 2nd 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.

If you’re a parent, you probably spend a fair bit time thinking about family meals. The Washington Post recently described the latest on whether you’re setting your kids up for… uhhh… good things. These kinds of articles are a little frustrating in that they set me up to be guilty, controlling, or aghast at our own families lack of ambition (we don’t have anywhere else to be most meals). Still, it seems to speak to an erosion of communal eating as a pretty normal part of life:

Here’s what they said: It’s best for the whole family to be together. But as long as one loving caregiver is consistently there for dinner, we’re giving our kids the stability they need.

Then there was this public statement in the UK about obesity. Check out this strong (!!) wording:

Our message is clear: whoever forms the next government cannot afford to neglect the obesity agenda. Obesity is blighting lives, costing the NHS billions a year, jeopardising the health of future generations, and it is entirely preventable.

Also in the UK, La Via Campesina has a publication on food sovereignty post-brexit:

Post-Brexit increases in the price of imports, shortages of farm labour and market volatility are likely to further undermine our national food security.

YesMagazine had this evocative article about dismantling racism in the (U.S.) food system

On the subject of land, water, and unequal power, please follow the stories of Somkhele in KwaZulu Natal, one of South Africa’s nine provinces, as they fight for water rights in the face of growing coal interests. Without water, there is no food.

In South Africa, as elsewhere, large chain grocery stores are rapidly expanding. The Daily Maverick had this story about supermarkets in South Africa, and their role in hunger. On NPR’s the Salt there was an interview with Michael Ruhlman about his recent book examining the luxury of grocery stores in the U.S.:

The sheer quantity of stuff that we buy and that’s available to us. It represents the extraordinary luxury that Americans have at our fingertips, seven days a week.

Lastly, over at the Kenyan Daily Nation, food shortages are described as a result of misrule, rather than drought. Some strong words, here:

In Kenya, the food production and supply chain systems have always been under the thumb of criminal profiteers ready to subject Kenyans to starvation and death so that they can profit from emergency imports.

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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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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, April 11th Edition

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.

Firstly, why don’t you grab a cup of coffee… how about one made in South Africa and newly available in the U.S., with insane amounts of caffeine? The idea that this is a South African product is itself interesting, as the robusta beans were grown in Rwanda, Brazil, Ecuador and Guatamala. Still, I am excited to see robusta beans being publicly headlined (usually they’re an embarrassing footnote), because they are much easier to grow– they can be grown in a broader set of climates, and are much hardier than Arabica beans. In fact, I have ten robusta trees, which is enough for … not very much coffee.

When we go foraging for mussels, it is just a matter of remembering to show up at low tide (and making sure there’s no red tide). This beautiful in-depth NYTimes story of mussel gathering in Quebec evokes a totally different image of gathering mussels:

The mussels are a welcome winter treat these days, but at one time they were a lifesaving source of food during the lean frozen months. Raw meat, with its abundance of vitamins, has allowed the Inuit to live for centuries on a diet almost devoid of fruits and vegetables. The only preparation for the mussels is pulling off their beards, the strings of protein that mussels make to cling to rocks, and then rinsing them.

Perhaps this story won’t come as a surprise, but the BMJ just published a commentary in which Pat Thacker describes covert funding from Coca-Cola to fund an obesity conference for journalists:

Some months after the event, Hill emailed a Coca-Cola executive and described the conference as a “home run,” adding, “The journalists told us this was an amazing event and they generated a lot of stories.” Hill continued, “You basically supported the meeting this year . . . I think we can get many more sponsors involved next year.”

If Girl Scout Cookies are genuine Girl Scout Cookies, but they are being sold on Amazon, are they still authentic? Such is the question we must ask ourselves before buying any Thin Mints on Amazon:

It’s not about the sales. It’s costing the girls the opportunity to grow, which is what the program’s actually about.

Check out the recently released Global Food Policy Report from the International Food Policy Research Institute.

If you missed it: The Hippies have won. Wait. Really? Sorry, no, only in the world of food, and even then only a little bit. Still, this article made for interesting reading:

“I think people are now more likely to turn to açai bowls than a bacon cheeseburger for their hangover,” he said. “For a lot of people who gravitate toward this lifestyle, it’s not hypocritical.”

Another reason to feel like we’re living in an alternate universe: Here’s a (super interesting) dissertation about Space Food!

For a few South African stories: Here’s one about some new tractors that did seemingly little to help emerging farmers.  I’ve shared stories about South African chicken before– first Brazil outcompeting on whole chickens, now Europe dumping legs and thighs. The constraints on the poultry industry are profound.

Lastly, for some denser reading: check out this report on food waste  Their key finding:

As it turns out, our definition illustrates how the quantity of food waste is overstated by most definitions.

 

 

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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, March 14 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.

As paleo diets don’t seem to be going away, this recent Atlantic article about research on Neanderthal diets was interesting. Based on dental plaques, the paleo diet seems to be: eating whatever was available. You can also check out this article from The Salt on the findings. Vegetarian paleo diet. Interesting stuff.

It’s also a great counterpoint for the next couple of articles: where scientists try to hack alternatives to sugar (all the good stuff, none of the bad?), our villain-du-jour. Here, the question seems to be: how do make things healthy without actually changing anything? The world of neurogastronomy has a slightly different premise in this article. That is, how do we change our cravings so fundamentally that people don’t want sugar at all? Over at Statnews, they follow the FDA process of trying to figure out who gets to claim “healthy” as their thing.

On the subject of improving our diet by complex trickery, the Salt also had this article about not trying to trick our kids into eating their veggies. Bee Wilson has a new book out about taste, check out this interview to get a sense of the book.

I found this article on recreational use of cough syrup fascinating, as the market is relatively small, but the product seems almost designed for recreational (rather than medicinal) use.

Lastly, Brexit is bringing really significant changes for food and farmers in Britain and beyond. This excellent blog about it helped me understand the ways that the Brexit motivation of trying to remove regulation, will, as far as we can tell, increase the bureaucratic burden for farmers in the UK.

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Following persimmon around the world

Jo Hunter-Adams

Jo is a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town, where she studies food, migration, and health.

Ten years ago, when we were still living in Boston, in the days before the large Korean supermarket chain, H Mart, made sourcing Korean produce a breeze, my mother-in-law brought a plate of orange something to our dining table, cut up and with enough toothpicks for each of us. I, not being a very adventurous eater, immediately broke out in a sweat. In those early years of marriage my Korean mother-in-law and I (South African), did not have much in common, culinarily speaking. I wondered what I could do to avoid eating this. Nothing. On the bright side, it seemed fruity and didn’t appear to have been fermented, which typically increased the range of unknown tastes almost exponentially. So I speared my piece, hoping for the best. My first experience of persimmon. It was sweet, soft, and melted away too quickly.

Before it reached us, this particular persimmon had been on a long journey. My mother-in-law had received a phone call from the post office to tell her that she had a package there, that it was leaky, smelly, and fairly disgusting, and could she please hurry and pick it up? Her friend had sent a special box of Korean persimmon from California (to keep this legal we won’t discuss where it came from before that). With Thanksgiving, the package had sat for a couple of days in the post office, enough for most of the persimmon to explode and leave the post office smelly and goopy. My mother-in-law retrieved the smelly package, and salvaged one or two of the fruit for a late Thanksgiving celebration. She explained the significance of persimmon as symbolic of fall and winter in Korea. In the years that have followed I have eaten many persimmon… dried, fresh, and frozen… Now the fruit evokes memories for me, too.

Fast forward five or so years: On our family’s move to Cape Town with our children, I was surprised to discover persimmon in the supermarket. What was more, they were very cheap! Nobody knew what they were, and you could tell. The supermarket told us they were healthy! Full of vitamins! Good for children! Desmond Tutu was even photographed and quoted as liking it. They had a campaign donating bags of the fruit to “underprivileged” children. In South Africa, persimmon had been rebranded as Sharon Fruit, because the variety hailed from Israel, as did the businessmen with the capital and the will to invest in developing South Africa’s very own persimmon industry.

The businessmen had seen an opportunity in the South African agricultural sector for growing out-of-season persimmon cheaply for the northern hemisphere. Although South Africans had no experience of growing or eating persimmon, the business partners proposed that land be developed for persimmon export, and it was done. The persimmon that I saw on the shelves were the leftovers: the persimmon that didn’t make the cut for the northern hemisphere market.

It was apparent that these were very different fruit from the ones I’d eaten in Korea. First there’d be a batch where all the fruit was as hard as potato, never to ripen. For those of you who know persimmon, you know this is a bad sign. Then, there’d be a batch that was splitting apart and impossible to consume quickly enough. They were usually almost giving them away at the supermarket, though gradually the price has increased as the fruit became more recognizable to customers. My sister was suspicious. “do they taste like tomatoes?”, she asked while we were grocery shopping together. “No” I said. “Well, they look like tomatoes.” She didn’t buy them.

As I inevitably join the ranks of those trying to grow their own food, I wanted to see if I could grow persimmon trees so that one day, my children could have a tangible multigenerational connection to this fruit. The persimmon could be one way of expressing our collective, multi-continental heritage. Right?

Easier said than done. I asked around at all the local and national nurseries about persimmon trees. I didn’t mind the variety, Hachiya and Fuyu are fine, I said, trying to show my knowledge and flexibility (acquired mainly from Wikipedia). No nursery knew what I was talking about. I finally found a South African online nursery who said on their website that they sold persimmon trees. But when I contacted them, they said they’d never been able to find stock, despite a demand as South Africans began to take an interest in growing their own fruit.

So I contacted the association of Sharon fruit growers in South Africa, that boasts that “our partners in Israel … have invested millions of rands to establish and built a state of the art packhouse and coldstore facility in Buffeljagsrivier”. They claim the fruit is “astringent and inedible in the orchard and the packhouse, thus making it unattractive to both animals and mankind.” What they are really saying is that in South Africa, growers grow fruit that will not taste good to animals, hungry people or would-be thieves. The expensive processing centre also becomes an essential step. The need to gas the fruit means that farmers must route their fruit through a single processing facility, leaving them entirely dependent on that facility. Given that they are being grown for markets in the Northern hemisphere, notably the U.S., they’ll also be gassed as they arrive, to make sure there aren’t any critters hitching a ride over. They’ll often be irradiated. And finally, they’ll make it to the shelves in time for the Northern hemisphere summer. So that rather than being reminiscent of Fall, a well-traveled, pale cousin of the persimmon of my mother-in-law’s memory will be available all-year-round to Northern Hemisphere customers.

I nevertheless asked the association if they could help me find a few trees. They responded with the problem stated on their website and experienced first hand with the variable quality of the fruit I’d eaten in our Cape Town supermarket: the fruit from their cultivar is inedible unless processed. I gave up on finding a grafted persimmon tree, and hoped that seed could grow true-to-type.

On our annual visits to my mother-in-law, now resettled in Korea, our family find her apartment surrounded by apricot, persimmon, Korean date and Gingko trees. Sadly, most of the fruit from these trees goes to waste. We occasionally happen upon elderly Korean ladies picking up gingko fruits and getting the nuts out, but people buy persimmon at the store, carefully packaged and shrink wrapped, despite the ripe, sweet fruit outside their apartments.

Nevertheless, the abundance of fruit presented me with my opportunity. My son and I looked odd scurrying around in the apartment-complex bushes with orange sticky hands. With a little effort, we had a bottle full of seeds. A year later, after various attempts at germination, we have two tiny persimmon trees: one Fuyu, one Hachiya.

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, February 21, 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.

Did you know that Chinese farmers are playing a major role in African agriculture? Check out this report from the IIEED on Chinese experts coming to Africa to teach (large scale) farming. I found the scale and specialisation of the farming described fascinating: large monocultures of apples or citrus mean that Chinese farmers could end up completely unable to give expertise in the countries they found themselves.

I’ve linked to previous articles about taxes on sugary beverages in South Africa and the ongoing debate over whether it will be effective in combatting obesity (WHO says it will, though BevSA seems to think otherwise!) This week, an article in the NYTimes describes Vanuatu’s efforts to combat obesity. I couldn’t help but have a sinking feeling when the article mentioned Samoa’s attempts to combat the dumping of turkey tails onto the island nation, which were quickly shut down by the World Trade Organization, who accused them of protectionism. If you missed the tale of the turkey tails (spoiler alert, it’s the U.S. doing the dumping), here’s an NPR story from a few year’s ago. Relatedly, this week also brought with a story by Olga Gertcyk about changing diets in the arctic circle.  The story’s pictures alone warrant a look!

Apparently it is a good time to be pushing sustainability schemes?  The idea of going beyond organic labelling is becoming widespread (even as “organic” is only just beginning to catch on in places like South Africa) As food researchers, we will perhaps increasingly play a role in sharing the experiences and spirit of standards (from the perspectives of farmers, citizens, retail), and to what it looks like to go “beyond labelling.” In good news for FoodAnthro, Food systems experts are in demand, says this article in civil eats.

Check out this article about the future of food brings up important questions about who food movements include and exclude.

And lastly, even if nothing happened last night in Sweden, if it had, Sweden may not have had enough food stocks to last. They’re working on it, as most nations do. Yes, I had to find something about Sweden and food…

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What Foodanthro is Reading Now, January 31st Edition

This article about a Syrian supper club in New Jersey was a glimpse of bridge-building, centered on food. Hooray for bridges.

And hooray for cooking, with cookbooks, even in a changing world, says Julie Thomson.

Over at Food Dive, they reflected on how Trump’s 120-day refugee ban might affect the meat-packing industry. For refugees who have spent a long time in camps and/or don’t yet speak English, the meat packing industry has long been a very large employer.

On the subject of cows, did you know cows sometimes eat skittles? Verified by Snopes, this is apparently not a new story, but it came to the fore again when cow-bound skittles ended up on an icy road in Wisconsin. Eater also helped shed light on the skittle situation with this article:

Joseph Watson, owner of United Livestock Commodities, told WSPD-TV in Paducah, Kentucky that a candy-based feed mixture has “all the right nutrition for them.” This is an argument America’s children have been posing at dinner tables across the country for years. But there are those concerned carnivores who don’t even like the idea of cows eating grain, so the idea of feeding America’s cattle sugary snacks is even worse. “Cows were meant to eat grass, not candy,”

Modern farmer describes the connection between the U.S. and South Korean egg markets, related to outbreaks of avian flu:

Egg prices are lower now than they’ve been anytime in the past decade, which is nice for American consumers but not so nice for egg producers who are trying to earn a living. So perk up, eggmen: South Korea is hungry for your eggs.

Other egg news this week is that the Unilever product, Hellman’s Mayo, is now made with cage-free eggs:

“They are one of the largest egg buyers to reach the point of exclusively using cage-free eggs, and they were also one of the first companies to announce that they were going to do it,” says Josh Balk, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection for The Humane Society of the United States. “I think that maybe at this point, in terms of the very large, national brands, it might be solely Unilever and Whole Foods.”

This is in an industry with very little margin, and in the midst of the cage-free movement. A little old, but the NYTimes wrote about the complexity of this shift:

If shoppers really want to buy eggs and have clear consciences, they may need to pay extra for pasture-raised, organic eggs, which can cost two, three or even four times as much as conventional eggs. Anything less than that means buying into an industrialized system of mass egg production, be it conventional or cage-free.

“It’s the nature of the system itself that is problematic,” Mr. Karcher said.

And lastly, why not pull up a chair and enjoy some hot chocolate while listening to a story about chocolate?

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