Friday, August 15, 2014

This week's compost

1.      Sweet Treats from Ada de la Harpe

Ada was my grandmother and I am chuffed that three of her recipes were selected for inclusion on Sweet Treats from Around the World, K & T Roufs, ABC-Clio, July 2014.
Ada de La Harpe's Christmas Cake (Sri Lanka)
(Courtesy of her grandson, Paul van Reyk, from The Recipe Book of Ada de la Harpe, a Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher Woman, 2013. Sydney, Australia: Privately Published, pp. 95-97. Accessed July 27, 2013.
This is an adaptation of the transcription of Ada de La Harpe's Christmas Cake recipe provided by Paul van Reyk. For a beautiful facsimile version of the original from Ada's "Cookery Book" see van Reyk (2013), pp. 95-97.

Ada de La Harpe's "Singapore Pudding," and Sago Pudding (Sri Lanka)
(Courtesy of her grandson, Paul van Reyk, from The Recipe Book of Ada de la Harpe, a Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher Woman, 2013. Sydney, Australia: Privately Published, p. 100. Accessed July 27, 2013.)

Ada de La Harpe's "Sweets" (Sweetened "Cajunuts" [Cashews], Sri Lanka)
(Courtesy of her grandson, Paul van Reyk, from The Recipe Book of Ada de la Harpe, a Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher Woman, 2013. Sydney, Australia: Privately Published, pp. 99-100. Accessed 27 July 2013.)

2.      Asian Food Heritage Project

Dear all, I have become involved in this project (ta Jean J )which is only at the inception stage of putting together a proposal for project funding. The basic thrust is to do for Asian and South Asian food material what is being done more thoroughly in recent years for foods of Europe and the Americas. I am looking for any leads any of you have for anyone in academe or otherwise doing research or projects around identifying heritage foods in South Asian and Asian foods and/or preserving/propagating etc. Happy to send more info to those interested though the parameters of the project are still being refined.

But mainly as I am not in academe and so have bugger all wherewithal to do the kinds of searches that might prove fruitful, I am hoping some of you may have 6 or less or even more degrees of separation from people who I might get onto. David Thompson is already in the fold.

3.      Are broccoli stalks the next kale?

‘If you're looking for tomorrow's hot ingredients—and today's top values—start with the compost bin. How different foods go from trash to treat to trite.’

Ta to Helen Campbell for finding this article. Most of you know wasting perfectly edible and indeed delicious bits of animals, fruit and veg has  been a bugbear of mine for some time so it’s great to see any article that promotes people repurposing pre-compost. One of my treasured gifts is a copy of Tasty Dishes from Waste Items by Argona Reejhsingani published in India in 1973 which often provides inspiration as I stare at the waste on my kitchen table. The things she does with vegetable peels alone are dazzling.

4.      Gut reaction Part 1

Thrilling first part of a two part Catalyst program looking at one of my favourite subjects - gut bacteria, and in this program how changing diet changes the gut bacteria profile and may well change your health. Oh, and a lot of it is filmed in my new favouritest Sydney building, the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney Uni which I have only so far seen from outside but will now hurry and go into and marvel at its interior used to stunning effect as a stand in for the gut itself.

5.      Duopoly Money

“No other country in the world has as large a percentage of its dry groceries market controlled by two chains’, says (Nick) Xenophon. “We have been bums to allow that to happen.”

This article by Malcolm Knox in The Monthly August 2014 is an excellent expose of ‘Coles, Woolworths and the price we pay for their domination’. I thought I knew all there was about it but gees I was wrong. I had no idea of the extent to which their ‘vertical’ integration has led to them dominating so many other sectors than food distribution. It not matter to some of you, but I am shocked to know that Wesfarmers which owns Coles also owns Bunnings the mega hardware store that has in the last months become the ONLY hardware option for many of us in the Inner West as our local stores close down. Given Bunnings has a growing garden section I am worried about how long some of the small independent nurseries are going to be able to hold out also.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waste Not Want Not

The title of this blog comes from one of the many pithy rules for living that I heard so often as a child and more or less forgot or found quaint but unhelpful as I grew older.

Well, growing older still, this one has come back more and more in the last years as I hear and read more about food wastage and the size and ramifications of the problem. This blog in particular is spurred by a talk by Dr Brian Jones at the first of the Food@Sydney Seminar Series 2014 sponsored by the Environmental Institute of the University of Sydney, August 10 2014.

There were three speakers on the night:
  • Ronni Khan, the indefatigable CEO of OzHarvest, the now Australia-wide organisation that re-distributes excess perishable food from commercial outlets like restaurants and supermarkets to charities throughout Australia providing meals to vulnerable people.
  • Alex Iljadica, from Youth Food Movement Australia, whose aim is to make conscious consumers of young adults.
  • Dr Brian Jones, Senior Lecturer,  University of Sydney.
Ronni's work is amazing, with food collected enough for something like 500,000 meals across Oz last year, and she has also spearheaded changes to legislation in four states around civil liabilities that allowed OzHarvest to be established.

I didn't make it to the  Youth Food Movement's Cropfest and Passata Day but they will be on my calendar for the upcoming year.

This blog though focuses on Brian Jones' talk which highlighted the systemic factors leading to food waste.

As I was heading off to the seminar, my good mate Tanya who has been in the waste policy business for many a year, said something along the lines of 'I hope they talk about waste at the production end which is much more an issue than waste at the consumption end'. And as it happens, Jones' talk was very much about this, though there are areas in which the production system and the consumer systems overlap to create waste.

Jones put up some slides from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation Save Food. Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction which I have summarised here. In industrialised countries:
    •  22% of global production of oils and pulses is lost or wasted every year, the majority of it at the production and distribution end.
    • 30% of cereal crops are lost or wasted, the majority of this in industrialised countries being at the consumer end.
    • 20% of dairy products are lost or wasted, with the majority of this happening at the consumer end for industrialised countries.
    • 30% of seafood is lost or wasted, mostly in the production and distribution end globally, but about equally with with the consumer end for North America and Oceania.
    • 45% of fruit and vegetables are lost or wasted, with the production and distribution end the overwhelming area in which this happens globally, though consumer wastage is high in industrialised countries.
    • 20% of meat products are lost or wasted with the majority of this at the consumer end in industrialised countries.
    • 45% of tubers and root foods are lost or wasted very largely at the production and distribution ends globally, but in North America and Oceania about one third is down to consumers.
     Jones focused on the drivers of loss and wastage at the production end identifying four factors:
    • Quality standards which are consumer driven (though I would argue they are also health litigation driven).
    • Weather and disease.
    • Market forces where for example growers have to produce in excess of what will be bought at times (see below).
    • Labour shortages that affect seasonal crops like stone fruit.
    In NSW, Jones said, 1.1 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year. The direct cost to the consumer is more than $10000 per household per year.

    As it happens, the August edition of The Monthly carries a story that looks at the duopoly that controls the Australian food market - that between Coles and Woolworths. Part of that story highlights the market force in creating wastage.

    'Steve, a Woolworths-contracted lettuce grower who does not want to be identified, is destroying more produce than he used to farm.  The supermarket's orders very in volume, but Steve has to be ready to fill the largest one possible. He has duly increased the size of his farm. "I have to grow for the maximum size of an order, or else I lost the contract. So I grow on that scale even though the order is usually a lot less. Everything I don't sell, I have to destroy". '

    Duopoly Money by Malcolm Knox

    It is going to take more than consumer led action to change this as Knox's article shows as it looks at a range of areas in which the big two control not just the fresh produce market but increasingly more product areas like hardware (yes, Bunnings, the mega hardware store that has seen off the small business hardware and some of it's chain competitors, is owned by Wesfarmers which also owns Coles) and wine.

    There is also probably little that can be done in the short term about the iron rule of use by and best by dates which have led us to rely on quite arbitrary standards (and believe me, I've looked for some clear guidelines on how to determine these to various products to give myself protection when selling my home made jams and pickles and basically the way they operate seems to be that it's up to the manufacturer to decide these for themselves, ie. there are no regulations governing these). At the forum when I raised this the panelists as one agreed that learning how to tell when food is off and how to deal with it when it is. as many of us did back in the day, - like scraping off the mould from a tub of yoghurt to get to the unmouldy and perfectly edible and safe lusciousness underneath, or smelling or looking at the colour of meat - are much less wasteful and waaaaaaaaaaaaaay less risky than trusting some manufacturer's fancy.

    Projects like OzHarvest can make a significant impact at the consumption end, as can a range of domestic practices like composting, re-purposing (as they say these days) left-overs, only buying in small quantities and so on. This extends to consumer community action like community compost bins, or even something as simple as community cooking classes about using waste/unlovely fruit and veg.

    And there is something consumers can do at the standards end. But is that so? That this may not have to be so is perfectly exemplified by the Inglorious Food campaign by the Intermarche franchise in France. The punchline in the video is that as a result of the campaign all the food identified as inglorious was sold. Granted, the fruit and vegetables were sold at a discounted price. Jones said that one of the big problems in Australia in trying to get past the 'cosmetic' factor in our fruit and veg purchases is that our fruit and veg are so relatively cheap there is no market for 'second grade' products.

    But research done by the Youth Food Movement suggests there also may be some wiggle room in educating people about what a blemish or a fungus or a weird shape does or does not mean about the quality of the product. Alex reported, for example, that a high proportion of young people surveyed by them thought that a spot on fruit meant that it was poisoned.

    Today at the growers' market to which I go, I was more than slightly taken aback when the young male of a couple next to me at a fruit stall dissuaded his partner from buying a blood orange because it had a red blush on a small part of its skin. It was one of those moments where I could have and indeed probably should have said something, thankless as it would have been. But next time, should there be the opportunity, I will take it.

    Ronni's mantra on the night of the food forum was that we have to make the changes we want, and she is right. And sometimes if we are lucky, others join us and we can bring about the more systemic changes. I found a great resource that I am looking forward to reading for more ideas about what I can do at the small scale and what I can look at lobbying for - Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint. Toolkit.

    Meanwhile, I will continue to rescue fruit and veg and bore people batless with posting on Facebook when I do but also hopefully giving them a nudge to do the same. I will keep cutting the bruised bits out of the fruit in the fruit bowl, turning the over ripe banana into a smoothie or a banana ca. I will keep composting what I can - we being a mostly vegan/vegetarian household have heaps of compostable material. And I will keep on standing up for the inglorious and consigning them to my cooking pots and pans with as much satisfaction, if not more, as their toned, botoxed, waxed peers.

    Saturday, August 9, 2014

    This week's compost

    A bit  light on this week – but that’s good for the winter tum, isn’t it.

    1.       Food Flicks

    If you haven’t seen The Lunchbox yet, the Indian film built around the tiffin lunch system, do go. The food is enticing, the insight (slight though it is) into the system is lovely, the script is subtle and supple and the acting is just wonderful.

    Anyone hear anything about the upcoming one The Hundred Foot Journey? This review is kinda what I expected from the trailer:

    ‘What is it about recent food movies — Jon Favreau's Chef, and now Lasse Hallstrom's The Hundred-Foot Journey — that, despite their virtues, they have to be so darned corny, so dewy-eyed, with everything tied up in a feel-good bow at the end? It's as if all that great food on set had this tranquilising effect, sending everyone off, sated and smiling, with great life lessons learned, into a rosy sunset. - See more at:

    I missed ‘Chef’ but will try and catch up with it now I have been sucked in to Dendy On Demand.

    2.      Blake Lively’s Preserve website made me want to eat the rich

    ‘Rather than committing to donate a percentage of the site's profits to charity, Preserve invites us to imagine Lively tucking 2,000 orphans into their free blankets with her own hands, perhaps patting them each tenderly on the head. It's the crass noblesse oblige of new money: making a fuss over a pre-specified number of blankets and hot meals, deploying the rhetoric of community, as though Lively couldn't personally fund 5,000 hot meals with the change in her glovebox.’

    I had never heard of Blake Ellender Lively and to be honest when I checked out Preserve it didn’t strike me as much more offensive than what other celebs jumping on the goodworks wagon do. The food product range is small and banal but not overpriced compared again with the prices charged for ‘artisansal’ products these days -  a small jar of a beer whole grain mustard for US$7.99, though I couldn’t tell how much of said mustard was in the jar.  Sure, she is likely to make heaps more than her  stated bountiful works are going to cost her, but this article comes off to me as just being narky.

    I’d be interested in other’s views.

    3.      How a Kit Kat is classified as healthy

    ‘Food companies are advertising products such as Kit Kats and Coco Pops to children because they are classified as healthy by their own nutritional standards.’

    Quel surprise!

    4.      Food@Sydney Seminar Series 2014

    Sponsored and hosted by the Sydney Uni Environment Institute, this series looks promising if the first one I attended, Tackling Food Waste, is an indication. I will be doing a blog post on the forum and will message you all when I do.

    Meanwhile you can check out more about the series at

    5.      Food and Words 2014

    And Barbara Sweeney has just posted details for this year’s Food and Words which as some of you know is establishing itself as a must go to event on the Sydney foodie calendar. Gay Bilson, Christine Manfield, Kate Llewellyn, Feather and Bone, Kitchen by Mike and more...

    6.      Putting food on the table. Food security is everyone’s business.

    This is the inaugural conference of the Right to Food Coalition and will be held at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Liverpool, NSW, October 13-14. They are still looking for papers.

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    This week's compost

    1.      Japan Next-Generation Farmers Cultivate Crops and Solar Energy
    ‘By knowing that too much sun won’t help further growth of plants, Nagashima came up with the idea to combine PV systems and farming. He devised and originally patented special structure, which is much like a pergola in a garden. He created a couple of testing fields with different shading rates and different crops. The structures he created are made of pipes and rows of PV panels, which are arranged with certain intervals to allow enough sunlight to hit the ground for photosynthesis (Figure 1).’

    I am tempted to whack a solar panel over the vegie patch at home J

    2.      Is a hot dog a sandwich? An extended meditation on the nature of America
    Still, there are some limits to what makes a sandwich. The presence of some form of bread alone is not criterion enough. As soon as "bread" transitions from noun to verb form it transgresses the space between sandwich and non-sandwich. Breading food does not make a sandwich, tempura offers no challenge to our understanding, and fried chicken is merely seasoned chicken. Likewise, while the flaky pastry of a Croissan'wich makes for a kind of sandwich, the same pastry baked around a steak filet does not make beef wellington a sandwich.
    And, despite its possible shape, I cannot agree with my friend that the universe is a sandwich.
    A thorough – nay forensic exploration of the question ‘what is a sandwich’. Hilarious, too...indeed I was at risk of choking on my banh mi.

    3.      What burritos and sandwiches can teach us about innovation

    ...or the idiocy of food health regulations.
    ‘And then you have to sort of say, are burritos really a sandwich?" New York says yes, the USDA says no, and it makes a difference come inspection time. "We do not inspect closed-faced sandwiches regardless of the amount of meat in them. We inspect burritos that have meat or poultry filling," Wheeler says. The debate gets so heated that in 2006, a contract dispute over whether Qdoba Mexican Grill's burritos qualify as sandwiches went far beyond lunch — it went to trial. Expert witnesses including a chef and food critic testified, much deliberation took place, and in the end, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke ruled burritos are not sandwiches.’

    4.      Extreme food art J

    5.      Do cookery programs really influence the way we cook

    ‘What is most startling about the results overall is that people are influenced by the programmes they watch. I had always suspected cookery television to be rather like Grand Designs or Changing Rooms – entertaining, certainly; instructive, maybe; but then you would switch the telly off and forget about it. If this isn't the case when it comes to cooking shows, then it would be good to see a few more programmes celebrating food's beauty, simplicity, scope and delight, and fewer that involve two men in a studio shouting at each other.’

    Not sure who actually does the cooking and I have startling visions that it isn’t two men shouting at each other but one man shouting at a woman...a lot.

    6.      Organic food is still not more nutritious than conventional food

    ‘The bottom line though is that the whole organic vs conventional food is a pointless distraction. Australians don’t eat anywhere near enough fruit and vegetables, in fact only 5.5% of adults have adequate intake of fruit and vegetables. Worrying about whether having 25% more antioxidant in organic fruit is irrelevant when we don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables in the first place, if you eat the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables you will have adequate nutrition with sufficient vitamins and antioxidants for healthy life, the minor differences between organic and conventional foods will have no impact at all.’

    But then , that isn’t why I choose to eat organic produce when I can anyway, which kinds makes the whole research redundant for me and I suspect a heap of others who choose organic too.

    Friday, June 27, 2014

    This week's compost

    1. Coles guilty over false freshly baked bread claims
    Roll over Coles (well someone had to make the pun)
    ‘Coles has been declared guilty by the Federal Court of misleading shoppers with claims its bread and other baked good were “freshly baked” when that was not the case. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched proceedings against Coles in June last year, accusing the supermarket giant of misleading consumers into thinking bread was made on the day at the store when, in some cases, the bread had been partially baked months earlier in overseas factories.’

    Read more:

    2. Australian honey does us proud.

    Our bees are the buzz, peeps :)

    'In Australia we have much less chance of having contaminants such as chemicals and antibiotics in our honey because our bees, at the present moment, have fewer diseases and parasites. The rest of the world is dealing with bee pests such as Varroa destructor which beekeepers elsewhere use chemicals to treat. Not so in Australia.'

    3. All Jamie’s plush toys recalled by Woolworths – can choke and stab

    Not half as well as farmers angry at being slugged a crate fee. And Oliver, or his pr mob, get the most asinine response award for this one: ‘In a letter to Ausveg, Oliver said he was powerless to stop the fee, as he was an "employee" of Woolworths. He said he had no sway over the supermarket's commercial decisions.’ He has a really weird idea of what an employee is I reckon.

    4. Hey hipsters, hands off my flat white

    'On Sunday, the Observer asked, “Could it be that the flat-white-drinking, flat-cap-wearing hipster will soon cease to exist?” And in the Telegraph, confessing that you drink a flat white will score you three out of a possible four points in its Are you a hipster?'’

    A flat white? No wonder England don’t swing no more!

    5. What the crap? Neanderthals had a taste for vegetables.

    Yeah but were any of them vegan?

    'a study of ancient faeces (yes, 50,000-year-old poo) published today in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that Neanderthals had more of a taste for fruit and vegetables than first thought.'

    6. How to Invent a Local Food Culture

    ‘Ask someone to list dishes that come from a specific place in Britain and it's likely that Melton Mowbray pork pies will come fairly near the top of the pile. Cornish pasties will be up there too, Cullen Skink, and perhaps Liverpool Scouse, but soon enough the ideas trail away. We're a population that grazes dishes from across the world and, for the most part, we feel no more connected to a local dish than we do to a curry. When travelling abroad, we're quite taken with the regional dishes that appear again and again, but closer to home, local food culture is still a fairly new idea, mostly driven by the trend-led efforts of creative chefs and encouraged by food hobbyists.’

    There is all the difference of course between a local dish and a dish that is created to sum up a locale. But it’s a fun article.