Friday, June 28, 2013

Compost: A weekly roundup of stories spotted

1Ta-da! A title for this weekly update blog at last. Kinda combines the notion that it is made up of scraps but that they provide a useful medium for growing your ideas.

            1, Good earth: Green lentils and the Wimmera self-munching Grey Vertosol.
 “Notwithstanding full respect and homage to the artisan cultivators of Le Puy, one cannot ignore the Wimmera, where the self-mulching Grey Vertosol soil steps up to the plate to produce Australia’s version of these premium green lentils.” Another in this terrific series of articles about Australian soils and what they contribute in flavour to food staples.

           2. Palestinians forced to rely on food aid.
“These villagers make up some of the 1.6 million people classed as "food insecure" throughout the West Bank and Gaza, representing 34 per cent of households in Palestine, according to new research by the UN World Food Program. Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Program, says the rise in households going hungry, up 7 per cent from a year ago, is driven by Israel's occupation of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority's financial crisis, and the high unemployment rates... Ms Cousin described another Bedouin village, Khan al-Ahmar, surrounded by a fence from the nearby settlement and a highway that its residents do not always have permission to use, to highlight the food insecurity issue. hat keeps what is historically a nomadic population trapped in one area and makes them ever more dependent on food assistance . . . because [they cannot practise] their normal lifestyle and livelihood because of the occupation," Ms Cousin said.”
There are more ways to repress a people than by building a bloody big wall.

3.                  3. Liquid breakfasts’ shonky truth.
"Liquid breakfasts have on average 1.5% fibre, which is well below the 10 per cent benchmark for high fibre. It is grains away from the 39.5 per cent fibre offered by some bran cereals."
Oh no; my up and go just got up and went :)

4.Food Wastage: The Irony of Global Gluttony
 “Current methods of agricultural production and distribution account for almost a third of global food waste, and are unsustainable.
In both developing and developed countries the bulk of foods wasted are the more nutritionally dense fresh fruits and vegetables, with heavily processed foods stored for increasingly longer periods.
Equal responsibility lies with practitioners of unsustainable farming practices in developing countries as with irresponsible consumers in the developed world.”

Cold comfort that it isn’t just me not eating my left overs that’s the problem.

5.      5. Romancing the north: The food bowl furphy
 “The argument that we should develop northern Australia is based on rent seeking, opportunism, romanticism and an ability to ignore countless studies stating the national economic, social and environmental folly of such an exercise.”

Nearly fifty years since Bruce Davidson released the The Northern Myth and comprehensively duded the idea it’s getting a run again. What was that about those who forget the past...?

6.       6. Big Soda do you think we’re all stupid?
Science suggests that one can of soft drink per day increases your chances of diabetes by 22%. Digest that one for a moment! Less than one can per day and your chances of diabetes goes up by one-fifth.”
If I’ve done nothing else to keep just this side of my inherited diabetes giving up fizzy drinks makes me feel slightly more able to front up to my dear GP every six months for the usual self-flagellation session.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Apps and other things from this week's reading

1. Birth and Dearth of Street Food – a report from the World Street Food Congress held in June 2013 (why didn’t I know about this L)

My thanks to Helen Greenwood for sending this on to me. So glad to see street food getting the attention it deserves. I am intrigued by the four part typology summarised in the article and of course want to critically engage with it, and hopefully will get the time in the next week to do so and post on my foodie blog.

2. The Okinawa diet: could it help you live to 100?

"All of these diets work on similar mechanisms," Mather tells me. "One hypothesis is that the secret about ageing is to avoid accumulating molecular damage, and eating fish, beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and not so much red meat, dairy or sugar may help us to reduce that kind of cellular damage." Sadly, the professor is dismissive of silver bullets: "In the early days we did try to link health with specific foods or nutrients, but now we look more holistically at dietary patterns."

Exactly, so can we stop already with the Okinawa diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Scandinavian diet, Susquatch diet (I made that one up but may very well patent it) and just the message out about the general principles articulated in this quote and stop people food fadding to stop their padding.

3. Kalei applies are Aussie to the core.

Dumbo  me had no idea that pink lady apples are an Australian breed and that it was released over 20 years ago – here I thought it turned up from some ancient regime solo tree found in a disused orchard in some more apply natural clime. Anyway, nice to see a new breed that’s been another 20 non GM years in the making and it’s apparently tasty as well as having natural black spot protection – Joni Mitchell will be pleased, and it’s her 70th birthday. Scary fact though is that there are only 5 or 6 key apple varieties grown in Australia.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hungry roads.

A way of travelling is also a way of eating. If your travel is an inquisitive itinerary and what comes by chance you will have different chance to encounter road food than if the only purpose of the trip was to get from one place to another you will feed inattentively. The asphalt highway is made for this kind of dining – you eat only out of necessity like you stop for petrol.

Massimo Montanari

I was recently commissioned to write entries on street food and roadside stalls for two upcoming food encyclopaedias.  Researching the street food entry was easy; it’s popularity has risen as a counter to both fast food and high-end restaurant food and also as a battle front for localism versus internationalism, so there is a lot of academic and grey literature on which to draw. Literature on roadside food, on the other hand, particularly academic literature, is scant. Granted, street food in many countries is also roadside food served from stalls scattered along highways and byways. But there is little written about the other ways of provisioning the traveller. The notable exception is Fast Food. Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age, a comprehensive and fascinating account of the development of the various forms of roadside dining in the USA.[i] 

This lack piqued my interest even as it irked me. So I set out, like Montanari’s attentive traveller, on an inquisitive itinerary ranging from the dusty backroads of my bookshelves, to the recollections of friends and far flung relatives, and on to the fast-as-thought trips along the information superhighways, to discover and document what I could.

What follows is, as I have titled it, an impressionistic and idiosyncratic contribution on the subject.

Provisioning on the Putty Road: A vignette
It started at home; sandwiches, a thermos of tea, and pre-mixed cordial all usually made by mum, to be consumed over the first half of the seemingly day long trip down the hard top dirt Putty Road from Singleton to Sydney. Then a stop at Boggy Swamp Creek Rest Area, little more than a shapeless graded area of river flat just far enough off the road to be out of reach of the dust stirred up by passing traffic and safe from all but the most out of control vehicle. There were a couple of gum trees giving scant shade; a threadbare handkerchief of grass on which mum spread a blanket inadequate to soften the prickliness of the dry stalks and twigs underneath; and a barbecue made from three upright plates of thick grease and fire-blackened iron and a single metal grill, all low to the ground so you had to squat to cook on it. We boys would collect kindling and dry branches enough for Dad to boil a billy of water we had brought with us for tea, served with powdered milk and sugar into which to dunk sweet store bought biscuits.   

It was all over in under an hour. It was a long haul then to the next stop at the cafe attached to the caravan park at Colo River for a toilet break, drinks and ice cream before the last hour and a half journey and dinner with the family friends we would be staying with while in Sydney. The sequence was reversed on the way back home, the post lunch stop being at Bulga, a small village just out of the long winding stretch though the ranges along the river.

The road is sealed now, the trip faster, the driving less tiring. I don’t stop at Boggy Swamp. I grab a coffee and a croissant at either end and drive the safety recommended two hours and have a break at a roadhouse and I’ll probably grab a carton flavoured milk or some juice.

An impressionistic history
We can speculate that pre-historic nomadic hunter gatherer families carried surplus food with them as they travelled taking advantage of the cycle of seasons. There is some basis for this speculation in the foodways of the Wanniya-laeto, the nomadic hunter gatherers who are the oldest inhabitants of Sri Lanka, who continued to dry meat and fish surplus to their immediate day’s need as portable supplies along with yams and honeycomb well into the first half of the 20th century.[ii]  The food is local in the sense that it is caught, hunted or gathered from where it was living/growing at the time. It would have been carried in ready to use plant based carriers (scoop shaped leaves or curlings of bark), skin pouches, spiked on a twig or threaded on a vine/proto rope. It’s food eaten with the fingers either while walking or perhaps at a rest stop during the day and at night, times when the traveller recuperates from the soreness and exhaustion of walking for hours on end. +Either way it’s food that is eaten leisurely to allow the traveller to physically recuperate, with the meal perhaps giving the opportunity for conversation, reviewing the day, planning the days ahead.  Maybe it was laid out on leaves to keep the dirt off, maybe it was just picked directly off whatever it was carried on. Water may have been carried also in some kind of container like a hollowed out bamboo stem, or the rest stops and night’s camp are made near a source of water. The meal is eaten sitting on the ground or perhaps on a log or rock.

At some stage individuals began to travel for reasons other than following food sources over the year, the first true travellers, if you like.  Perhaps this began only after we became sedentary agriculturalists and herders. The traveller would have set out with some provisions but what did they do for food as they travelled further and longer? Martin Jones in Feast. Why Humans Share Food suggests an answer. ’ (Syria circa 9000 BC) ‘would have been a journeying landscape… (that) would have taken the traveller through many different communities, living and sharing food in many different ways…(according to) the regional traditions in cuisine…This was a world that lacked the cities, towns, and entrepots where strangers meet, and which provide facilities for people to eat, drink, rest, and sleep among those they have never met. ..Thousands of years before such foci even existed those meetings would have had something of a formal ritual structure to them. Someone in each community would see it as their role to receive the stranger, and embark upon a particular set of gestures, courtesies, and offerings to which both host and guest would adhere.’[iii]  Jones is describing here what Hans Conrad Peyer calls ‘hospitality with conditions’ which existed beside a more general ‘unconditional hospitality’ which included ‘lodging ,water, fire, and horse fodder, but no food’.[iv] This is food that is prepared at a home fire either indoors or outdoors and again is food eaten leisurely, at a break from labour during the day or at night, with perhaps the sharing of news, tales, songs, forming of alliances. Some of the food now maybe served in a bowl from which the traveller may directly drink or use a flat bread to scoop gruel or chunks of flesh. It has been grown in the home garden, or collected from domestic animals or hunted/fished for within walking distance of the home. It’s still basically fingerfood, but there also may be knives now and basic spoons, but no fork such as we know it now as a utensil.  The meal is still eaten sitting on the ground, though now there might be some floor covering – skins or rushes, say. There may be water from a well or other kind of storage or brought up from a nearby source in jugs. There may be some kind of fermented drink. Of course the traveller may also have been carrying some food hunted and gathered along the way and this may be shared with the host,

As more people began to travel, increasingly for trade, the pressure on these kinds of private hospitality came under strain. What emerged was forms of commercial hospitality, some of which that were government established and/or supported. The Roman Empire had staging posts/inns along its extensive network of paved roads; Horace (658BC) writes of making ‘straight for Benevento, where an attentive host almost burnt his inn down while spit-roasting some lean thrushes for us.’[v]  Herodotus writes about travellers’ hospitality along the Royal Road under the Persian king Darius in the 5th century BC:  ‘Now the true account of the road in question is the following: - Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravansaries; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger’.[vi] These commercial hospitality ventures combined kitchens and dining rooms, sleeping quarters, wash rooms and toilets, and usually stabling and feed for horses. With the development of commercial coach travel, inns became stage posts where in addition to meeting the needs of the traveller, coach companies could get food and accommodation for their drivers as well, and of course feed and water their horses or have fresh set readied for the next stage. Travellers and coach staff ate whatever was provided:  ‘... one ate what one was given when one was given it. In every country, some inns were better than others. In eighteenth century London, many of them had a considerable reputation for their ‘ordinary’ - a fixed price, fixed menu table d’hote dinner provided daily’.[vii]  This meal is still being eaten leisurely; travelling by coach has its physical rigours, it takes time to rest or change horses, and coaches often also had commercial goods to be off and on loaded. The meal continues to be a time for socialising, planning, reviewing, telling tales, singing songs, making deals. The food will now still largely be locally sourced though there may be luxuries and rarities brought in from more distant markets. Now the traveller is sitting on a bench at a wooden table shared with other travellers. The food is presented in bowls or on platters from which you serve yourself. There are knives for cutting meat and bread, or the traveller has their own for the same purpose. Fingers are still in frequent use. Spoons maybe used for soups, gruels and such. There may be plates or trenchers off which to eat. The inn provides alcohol, both wine and ale, and there will be water.

The alternatives were to buy food in the markets and prepare it yourself, or, if you were on good terms or could afford it, arrange for the host to prepare it for you, or to eat from a roadside stall or kitchen, like the still popular Indian dhabas, and to make your bed at an inn or other lodging house, or indeed your tent. 

Rail travel freed the traveller from the inn. Now the traveller could have a snack or drink or a meal seated at a table or counter in a station cafe/restaurant as trains changed drivers, offloaded cargo, took on coal or water or were otherwise attended to and need never venture into the town or village during their journey. Table and counter would now be replete with crockery and cutlery across the range appropriate for different kinds of food and drink. But travel was now faster and the emphasis was shifting to getting from one place to another as quickly as possible. Schedules became more demanding so there was less time for the meal and the meal correspondingly became less elaborate. The traveller didn’t even have to leave their carriage to feed: they could buy light refreshments from sellers who travelled on the trains from station to station and back again constantly replenishing their supplies, or who sold their wares from the platform directly to the carriage window, the food packaged in a range of paper and cardboard products and eaten with the fingers; on some journeys they could even enjoy a meal in the dining car of the train itself, sitting in booths, using cutlery and crockery . Food at the cafe/restaurant would perhaps now be more a mix of the locally sourced and the imported, particularly as more processed foods came on the market that made cooking simpler and quicker. At the same time, railway hotels became a feature of major commercial or tourist centres providing accommodation and board either overnight or for short stays and offered full board for guests.

This gradual growth of options for provisioning the traveller got its major boost, however, with the automobile. Jakle and Sculle have detailed the changes in the built form, proprietorship, food and drink in the USA in Fast Food. Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age.[viii] At first the automobile traveller turned to the railroad hotels for both overnight accommodation and food. But soon, investor syndicates began to develop better quality hotels with garages on site or nearby, the beginning of the motel.  These places often provided food through both a formal dining/room restaurant and a more informal cafe, reflecting the dining forms emerging generally  for residents in cities and larger towns.

One of these forms was that uniquely American creation, the diner. This was the invention of Patrick Tierny, a New Yorker, who in the late 1020’s wanted to upgrade the then popular lunch wagons into something more like a rail dining car. By the 1930’s diners had moved out of the cities and onto the highways traversing the USA.[ix]  The diner particular suits those wanting food prepared and consumed quickly. The traveller can now also buy food in containers and take it away to consumer while travelling or at a later stop on the road.

More people were travelling longer distances and as with coach horses and trains before them, automobiles needed refuelling. The highway petrol station emerged to fill the need and inevitably it took on the role of provisioning the traveller too, the typical form here being the roadhouse. Here also food is expected to be prepared quickly and eaten quickly. Depending on the liquor laws there may or may not be a bar.

Food in these emerging roadside eateries becomes less and less locally sourced and fresh and more processed, frozen, canned, intended for longer shelf life and ease of portability from source to outlet. Franchises/chains enter the picture, assuring the traveller of that they can get the same food and the same standard of service anywhere along the road. Standardisation is the norm. Here too an increasing proportion of the food is intended for eating while travelling, packaged in single serves that can be eaten with the fingers and hands. Much of this food is now self-service: the traveller gets the packaged product themselves from a shelf or refrigerator and pays for it at the counter or they may use an automatic dispenser where they put money in a slot to free up food held in some kind of compartment. Sometimes they warm the food themselves in microwave ovens located next to the food.

And where one provider goes, others invariably follow till now the motorways, freeways and autobahns of the world host the new stage posts, the off-road petrol station with its cluster of franchise food outlets.

An idiosyncratic world survey
Most of the ways of provisioning for the road that have developed over time remain options for travellers across the world with differences reflecting the forms of travel, the distances travelled, the purposes of travel, and the formal and informal markets that provide food and drink.

The exception is the kind of private hospitality that provided the bridge between self-reliance and the emergence of inns. Travellers may still experience private hospitality, but it is most likely to be through invitation from someone they meet during their travel and not as an expected social obligation.

So, let’s go travelling and see what we find.

In China's far west, along the Silk Road, there are oasis bazaars with stalls that sell mutton kebabs, hand-made noodles,  yoghurt, dried fruits, nuts and melons, round flat oven baked bread. In Kasghar the local specialty is dàpánji, a big plate of chicken. Petrol stations just sell petrol but they are shouldered by small eateries. There is still no franchisee push into the area but it may not be long in coming.

In Peninsular Malaysia there are highway rest stops with petrol, toilets and a cluster of stalls that emulate a traditional hawker market or food court. These sell normal rice, noodles and curries. There are some franchises also - KFC and Macdonalds. In Sabah or Sarawak there are no highways and petrol stations are located in the towns en route. Travellers refuelling can eat and drink at nearby coffee shops or restaurants.

In Italy, along the autostrada, travellers can stop at the Autogrill Pavesi, many on a bridge over the roadway so they can be accessed from both directions. Here the traveller will find toasted sandwiches alongside regional specialities they can buy for picnics, as souvenirs or presents. Being Italian the coffee will always be good. On secondary roads the traveller can plan their journey around stops in towns and villages and eat at a local trattoria or cafe.

Food along French highways is similar: sandwiches and coffee at a petrol station or a meal in a restaurant at bigger rest stops, mostly self service hot meals, like chicken, beef, fish, pasta, vegetables  and desserts and alcohol, small bottles of wine and also beer. In some regions our traveller can again pick up some regional specialities. The Bresse region is famous for its poulet de Bresse which is available in roadside restaurants.

Spain has its truckstop roadhouses where jamon hangs at the counter and is sliced on demand for a bocadillo (sandwich). North of Zaragoza turron (Spanish nougat) is a popular purchase at truckstops.

In Papua New Guinea highway stops combine markets where stall  holders sell fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and also packets of sago and taro cooked in banana leaves, stalls that sell snack food and drinks, and other stalls that grill lamb flaps, saveloys, corn or sweet potato.

In Australia the freeways are dotted with rest stops combining petrol stations and clusters of mostly franchisee fast food outlets. Elsewhere, petrol stations sell snack and fast food, towns are close enough for a traveller to move between and stop at a cafe or restaurant. Roadside stalls are few, victim of ever more stringent hygiene laws.  Farm gate selling is booming as travellers look for locally sourced products that also cut out the wholesaler and retailer.

Now over to you to fill out the history and survey and keep the exploration going of this neglected topic. There are roads to travel and stops to make for feeding and watering and foodways to preserve.

[i] J.A Jakle K.A Sculle, Fast Food. Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore. 1999
[ii] C.G. & B.Z. Seligmann, The Veddas Elibron Classics 2007, first published 1911; R.L. Spittel, R.L. Vanished Trails. Oxford University Press, London, 1950
[iii] Martin Jones, Feast. Why Humans Share Food, Oxford Uni Press, Oxford, 2007 pp137-139
[iv] Hans Conrad Peyer, The Origins of Public Hostelries in Europe, in Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari (Eds) Food. A Culinary History, Columbia University Press, New York, 1999 p288
[v] A Dalby & S Grainger, The Classical Cookbook, The British Museum Press. London, 1996, p65
[vii] Stephen Mennell. All Manners of Food. Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middles Ages to the Present. University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1996 pp136-137
[viii] J.A Jakle K.A Sculle, Fast Food. Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore. 1999
[ix] Jakle and Sculle p36