Author Archives: Jo

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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What FoodAnthro is Reading, January 17 Edition

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Do you have items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

First, we thought it would be fun to point to Culture and Agriculture’s Readings, because they have a lovely Wendell Berry poem and because, after all, eating is an agricultural act.

At this, the last week of Obama’s presidency, we thought you might like to read this article about the impact of Obamacare for restaurant workers:

Only 14 percent of restaurant employees receive benefits from their employers. You either need to marry someone with benefits, or go without. This is a very physical industry that causes a lot more damage than just cuts and burns — bad backs, bone spurs, pinched nerves, slipped discs. And then there are worst-case scenarios, which always happen to somebody else, until you remember that to everyone you know, that somebody else is you.

Nutella is bearing the brunt of anti-palm oil sentiment. The anti-palm oil sentiment seems quite well-founded, at least from an environmental perspective, but the question of why Nutella has been chosen as the specific scapegoat is an interesting one.

If we shouldn’t be eating Nutella, what are we to do? Eat insects, obviously! (sorry, I know that’s not really a smooth or appropriate transition). When The Conversation had a recent fairly in-depth view of insect eating in Africa, it felt like an opportunity to look at recent articles on the subject. From Nikassi and Ekesi, insect researchers:

But people living in Africa have never considered edible insects as pests or a nuisance. Perhaps we need to think of a new appellation for edible insects to kill the disgust factor. A simple language analogy between 30 ethnic groups in 12 sub-Saharan countries provided tentative names for edible termites. These are, “Tsiswa”, “Chiswa”, “Chintuga”, “Inswa”, “Iswa”, “Sisi”, “Ishwa” or “Esunsun”. Any of these indigenous names could be used to market termite based products.

A little over the three years ago, the FAO released their report on the potential of insects as food for humans and animals, it led to quite a bit of talk on the subject. From their report, it was clear that the barriers to insect farming and eating outside of the tropics are not just related to the disgust factor, but also to the ways that insects live and breed in the tropics, where they tend to be freely available. Last year, Syngenta’s Thought for Food awarded first prize to a group that focused on the potential of insects as food. An article in The Guardian encouraged us to put insects on the Christmas menu, and as is often the case, the comments section is great food anthro reading. If you are in the U.S., did you know that you could get 36 different cricket flour products from Amazon? And lastly, a most recent story on eating insects: if you’re in North America, you may also be able to watch a recently released documentary, Bugs at the theatre.

Of course, there are other important, and perhaps overwhelming, things happening in North America at the moment, and we’d love to spend more time processing how the incoming president will affect food policy. If you have articles to share, please let us know!

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, December 21, 2016

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Do you have items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

This week, perhaps you could start with by reading this short article on a macadamia nut farming in California. It captures the ups and downs of small farm particularly well, and the ways that farms in their area of interconnected:

Kennedy says his crop will also be short because he didn’t want to sap his community’s water supply and overpump: “We’ve lost a few walnut trees. But as an English walnut tree disappears or dies, usually the black walnut rootstock survives. They’re pretty hearty so I cultivate those and bring the black walnut up.”

Although this is supposed to be about what we’re reading, the online universe seems to have more and more podcasts to listen to: Tim Ferriss interviewed Mark Bittman recently, with the subject “Changing the World and Living Dangerously.” In some ways Tim Ferriss is on the cutting edge of internet trends– and perhaps of the “body as machine” phenomenon. On the podcast we learned that Mark Bittman also has his own new podcast, which we think will have a lot of interesting material for our readers. Bittman describes himself as the “frankest food voice in America.”

Moving Eastwards, this story about tracking food flows in Laikipia County, Kenya is an interesting picture of a food system in a specific context.

Also in Kenya, the opening of a KFC in Kisumu has been heralded as an economic opportunity for both chicken farmers and as a local employer. The role of YUM foods– and the tremendous success of KFC– in sub-Saharan Africa is a fascinating area for study:

The opening of the restaurant had attracted a number of people who had queued to sample its delicacies with many expressing their delight about the decent service.

Here in South Africa, this story of Zimbabwean market farmers and the role this farmer (and others like her) play in providing vegetables to poor communities:

“At the same time, I don’t forget my local community. I sell them the vegetables at a highly discounted price because this community is poor. Unemployment and crime are very high here. Also cases of malnutrition have been reported.”

This article about a so-called food desert in Washington D.C. provided many insights of how food activists are thinking about food systems and food systems change. They’re looking far beyond the food environment:

But food deserts aren’t just about food, said Sambol. “They’re also transportation deserts, education deserts, and retail deserts in general.” Oasis’s mission is to expose all the factors contributing to food deserts, and then work methodically to target them.

Do you have readings we missed? Send them through to us!

 

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, December 5, 2016

A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Do you have items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to dberiss@gmail.com or hunterjo@gmail.com.

This past week, Peng Chang-Kuei, the inventor of General Tso’s chicken, died at aged 98:

As Hunanese chefs adopted General Tso’s chicken, the dish entered a strange second career. In a sweeping act of historical revisionism, it came to be seen as a traditional Hunan dish. Several Hunanese chefs have described it in their cookbooks as a favorite of the 19th-century general’s.

The end of the year is fast approaching, which means it’s already time to look back on food in 2016. Forbes tells us about 5 trends to look for in 2017. The Guardian reviews a few of the best food books of 2016, though they are mainly recipe-focused. I’m sure there’ll be more digests looking back at our food year– let us know if you see a good one.

Here’s an article reporting on divided U.S. food attitudes, basically dividing Americans into two distinct camps, which I’m not sure our readers would be quite so ready to do:

“Food has become a flashpoint in American culture and politics,” the researchers wrote in their report, released Thursday. “The way Americans eat has become a source of potential social, economic and political friction.”

For personal inspiration, we loved this story about using paying customers to support non-paying customers:

“The inspiration came from Pope Francis, who’s spoken again and again about the importance of giving people dignity, whether it’s through bread or through work,” said Father Ángel.

Haddad, Hawkes and colleagues wrote about creating a new research agenda for food. We think it gave a lot of space for the work of food anthropologists:

Pairings of single foods and diseases are the basis of risk-factor analysis in global burden studies, but tell us little about diets as a whole.

Do you have readings we missed? Let us know!

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