Friday, October 25, 2013

This week's compost

1     1. Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies okays junk food tax

“New taxes on high-calorie foods and sugary drinks were approved by Mexico's lower house of Congress in a marathon 18-hour session that ended Friday, and are likely to become law... The legislation taxes high-calorie foods, defined as those providing 275 calories or more per 100 grams, at 5% of the ticketed price and chewing gum at 16%. Soft drinks would go up in price about 8 cents per liter... But there is a downside. The items likely to be subject to new taxes are those that the poorest consume, and they will pay disproportionately...The business community also says that mom-and-pop stores, like that of Blas Luna, will be hurt the most. ‘The little stores rely on soft drink sales to keep their doors open," said Cuauhtemoc Rivera, spokesman for the Alliance for the Protection of Jobs.’ “

The bill is expected to pass through the Mexican Senate also.  I am conflicted on this issue of junk food tax and admit I haven’t read enough to comment. But alarm bells do go off for me when a measure is put in place to deal with a health crisis that will disproportionately take money out of the pockets of the poorest as intuitively looks true of a junk food tax, if it is done in isolation from strategies that support sustainable food habit changes that would ameliorate the financial impact. This article doesn’t say whether that will happen. That goes for both the consumers and also the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores if indeed they cannot keep their doors open if there is a downturn in sales of food that will be caught under a junk food tax.

I would welcome links to other articles that look at the social justice implications of a junk food tax.

2    2. Is this the stomach-turning truth about what the Neanderthals ate.

“The crucial point about the stomach contents of grazing animals is that they are filled with fragments of the plants that those herbivores had consumed shortly before they were stalked and killed. When those contents are then chewed and eaten, the tiny pieces of grass and herbs are transferred to their hunter's teeth and get embedded there. Then, when their devourers are themselves killed, or die of natural causes, shortly afterwards, those plant fragments are preserved in their teeth for later analysis by modern palaeontologists.”

Can’t wait to see how this gets translated into a new diet :).

3    3. Paleo for sane people

Meanwhile, here is an article on the paleo diet written by a young journo mate of mine. I love it that one of the pro paelo’s thinks we’ve only been eating grains for 10000 years and so our tums ain’t adapted to eating them.

4. The art of cooking (images from Nathan Myhrvold's The Photography of Modernist Cuisine)
The exploding egg is pretty wonderful, but it’s the cutaways of cooking equipment that really got me gasping.

5    5.  Food eco-labelling – green credentials or green mail

“If it’s to realistically meet consumers' requirement to shop more sustainably, any carbon footprint labelling should be based on a full lifecycle assessment of carbon emissions from paddock to plate. It needs to include production, procession and everything in between, not just the food miles incurred during transportation. In life cycle assessment, all major greenhouse gases - not just carbon dioxide - should be included.”

Because it’s complicated, as is calculating the water footprint, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make ever better attempts to get it right. I do think having more than 50 organisations in Oz that are eco-certifying products is absurd. 

6.       (a) Fructose health claims ignores evidence of harm

“The European Union’s approach to food regulation, then, is very reductionist. The EFSA has taken one short-term impact of a food component (the glycemic index) to justify a health claim for fructose, and ignored all the science that indicates its adverse impacts on long-term health in relation to over-consumption, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. This is yet another victory for the powerful processed food and beverage lobbies over advocates for public health.”


(b)   Catalyst: Heart of the Matter Part 1

“It took decades to really entrench this myth. It's probably going to take a few more decades to get us out of this myth. But to vilify saturated fats I think is one of the worst things the medical profession has done. We created this new disease called hypercholesterolaemia. And if we created this new disease, we got to create drugs to neutralise it. Are there corporations and billions of dollars and money behind this? Absolutely.”

(c) It’s not even debatable, saturated fat is bad for you
“Earlier this week, the BMJ published an article claiming advice that saturated fat intake should be minimised to reduce heart disease is flawed. While this may sound tempting, it’s just not the case. The author of the BMJ article notes that despite four decades of dietary advice against saturated fats, obesity, which he equates with cardiovascular risk, has been increasing. In fact, the rates of cardiovascular disease have fallen in countries where efforts have been made to reduce saturated fat intake, but have risen in developing countries where consumption has increased... It’s curious that there seems to be a sudden campaign to exonerate saturated fat.”

I put these three articles together because they frustrate the hell out of me as a person who is trying to make simple changes to my diet to cope with Type 2 diabetes and a family history of cardiovascular illnesses.  I feel like big science and the food industry are whacking me back and forth across the net in a particularly nasty grudge match and the score is never gonna be to my advantage. 

7.       Local gal makes good

Chris Manfield’s Tasting India has just scooped it at the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) book awards in New York City - the first award for Best Culinary Travel book and the second award - the overall winner - Best Cookbook of the Year.
Congrats Chris – well deserved, I love the book.

Rescue veg recipes - an occasional series Oct 25 2013

Okay, I think I have posted before about my passion for seeing what's in the el-cheapo-we-will-toss-em-if-nobody-buys-em section of the local grocer, now called my rescue fruit and veg. So I thought I would start putting up pics and descriptive recipes (meaning don't expect detailed quantities and timings and such) of what I do with what  I rescue.

Here are today's dishes.

Broad beans and roasted eggplant salad: The beans were boiled till just soft and not double shelled (you can take the harder outer skin off the beans, but you know I am a texturephile). The eggplant was scored [that is I made a couple of deep cuts into its flesh - it stops the eggplant exploding in the oven] roasted whole in its skin at 250C till the flesh was very soft. [Ideally you would roast the eggplant over wood coals but it's a lot of trouble to go through and besides there is a total fire ban on right now]. The eggplant flesh was scooped out and added to the cooked beans. I crushed a clove of garlic with some rock salt and added a little quite peppery olive oil sourced from a small grower in the Riverina [that's not a pretentious note, it's to say that local olive oil can be marvellous - okay, it's a little pretentious too :)] and mixed this through the beans and eggplant. I added a grind or two of black pepper. I then added shredded young flat leaved parsley that had self-seeded in a pot in the backyard [okay, that note is totally pretentious :)].

PS: Crushing the garlic in a mortar with the salt is a neato trick for making sure you retain the garlic juice.

Risotto stuffed zucchini in a tomato sauce: These are what I call bottle zucchini - squat and fat and perfect for stuffing. I cored them and stuffed them with some left over mushroom risotto Marilyn made last night [the highlight of which we all agreed was her sloshing some slightly spritzy Portuguese white wine while the rice was cooking]. I sliced up some of the zucchinis that were too narrow to stuff. I put the stuffed and sliced zucchini in a baking dish and poured about a third of a can of tomato pulp over them, a drizzle of olive oil, and some salt. I baked them covered with foil  in an oven at 250C till the zucchinis were nice and soft and the tomato had sauced nicely with the olive oil. I then turned the oven off, took off the foil and let the zucchini cook off while I made the eggplant and broad bean dish. This let the zucchini brown a little and also reduced the water content of the sauce. I wanted the sauce wet enough to work with the side dish as per below.

We ate these dishes with more of the left over mushroom risotto served cold. I like cold rice dishes.

For the record: the rescue vegies cost $6. I reckon the total cost, adding in the other ingredients on hand, was probably $10 and there was enough for three of us.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What's in a name?

Everything, that's what and so today I have re-branded (an apposite word for a food blog I reckon - visions of someone rustling me and scorching some new arcane design into my flank). I give my mate Kirsty Machon full credit for giving me the description of myself I have long searched for.

What does it mean? It came out of a Facebook discussion over the last couple of days about Neanderthal and Paleolithic diets (and you thought Facebook was just for frippery !), wherein I posted a couple of articles debunking the view of our hominid ancestors as living some vegan life sans meat. See earlier This week's compost postings.

The descriptor comes of course from Michael Pollan's tome  - the dilemma of the omnivore being the need to find ever new things to eat to alleviate the boredom of sticking to the one grain and so putting oneself in danger - or at least that's how I recall the dilemma.


Proud because while knowing all the arguments pro vegan and vegetarian I will continue to eat animals ethically and sustainably raised or foraged.

Desperate because I like the image of me searching the fridge and cupboards for something, anything, to satisfy hunger pangs.

Versatile to congratulate myself on being able to make something from whatever I find in said domestic food holders.

Opportunistic because I have rarely passed up anything put before me (I could claim a childhood of scarcity but that would be a BIG LIE).

Forager because as earlier posts have shown picking what providence provides by waysides - okay footpaths and front fences and rescue sections of my greengrocer  - adds that frisson to the resolving of the omnivores dilemma.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

This week's compost

1    1.   Food swapping: a fast way to free homegrown food.

“Apples for Eggs now has 159 registered swappers and events in York, Ormskirk, Henley and Stoke, with Brampton in Cumbria the newest swap. There are many similar events across the UK (find them at and in Brazil, Denmark, France and the Netherlands.’

Anyone know anyone in Oz doing this?

2    2. After wine, Chinese consumers want a slice of cheese

“When I heard that Asia, and particularly China, started to show interest in cheese, I automatically assumed that the French would be leading the race of cheese exports to the region. How wrong I was. Australian and New Zealand producers will have the most to gain from a booming Chinese demand for cheese...[ ] it was certainly the international fast food chains and their offerings of pizzas and cheese burgers that shaped the taste of cheese of China’s biggest cities...’

But it’s processed cheese, apparently, not the so-called “Old World” cheeses that a strongly odoriferous and tasty. Though a new Beijing cheesemaker Le Fromager de Pekin is counting on this changing.

The article does mention that lactose intolerance is common in China  as high as 90% of the population being affected - but does not suggest how people are overcoming this in what is apparently a general push to get dairy products into the Chinese diet.
3.      Taxing fresh food could have a big, bad health impact
“If the price of fruits and vegetables were to go up by 10% (the current level of GST), consumption can be expected to go down by about 5%. Our modelling suggests that, over time, this could lead to around 90,000 extra cases of heart disease, stroke and cancer; this might cost between $0.5 billion to $1.8 billion to treat, on top of a loss of 60,000 to 145,000 healthy life years. One healthy life year is the equivalent of a year in full health, and losses can be due to reduced quality of life while living with disease, or due to being dead.”
So, let me get this straight. If a GST is put on fresh fruit and vegies, it would raise money that would go into general revenue out of which comes funding for health which would now including spending billions on treating people for illnesses they developed because they reduced their intake of fruit and veg because they were being taxed in the first place. 

4   4. Food and Words 2

And a word of congratulations to Barbara Sweeney on a very successful second year of Food and Words event at the Mint this week. A terrific range of speakers that were never less than interesting on a range of topics well outside the mainstream foodie talk.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

This week's compost

Hmm, curiously art media heavy this week.

1    1. The chefs who photograph their ‘artworks’ for posterity

“For some chefs, that is not enough. The Michelin-starred Julien Burlat of the Dome, in Antwerp, for example, who has devised a mini-photographic studio to sit at the "pass" – the birth-canal by which dishes leave a restaurant kitchen to make their brief way in the big world. There, the camera takes bird's eye views of his work for posterity and his database.Burlat's gadget has been installed in a number of Belgian restaurants and it caught the eye of the grand old Flemish artist Jef Geys. His business is "superimposing economies of meaning that run counter-intuitively to the pervasive structures of the art world"...So for Geys's current show at London's Cubitt Gallery, on until mid-October, the mini-studio was installed in the kitchens of five very well-regarded restaurants in London and Kent. The restaurant staff were told they can use it as they like – which has resulted in more than a few obscene late-shift jokes. The results appear randomly on a webfeed (you can tell which restaurant is on show from a date/place caption) but with – and this is Geys's input – a news headline and image from the moment the picture was taken.”

It is just me, isn’t it, who finds this overwhelming wanky. I clicked on the webfeed link and got Gordon Ramsay’s Union Street Cafe and got a picture of a disgustingly unappetising three brown steaks sitting in a roasting pan, and then a pic of someones cheese bake with a text about someone in Indian on a rape charge. But I think the link was just to one of those places people post pics of whatever they are eating – at least I hope it was.

2   2. Audrey’s Kitchen

On the other hand, here is a cook whose every move is totally worth watching and whose every word is gold gold gold.

3   3. A week of groceries in different countries (pictures)

A fascinating snap shot that leads to some pretty distressing readings of food habits, scarcity, health  - the whole cereal box.

Friday, October 4, 2013

This Week's Compost

1     1. Buyers misled on free range eggs.

“The model code for the welfare of animals defines ''free range'' as 1500 birds a hectare. But 29 per cent of egg producers who declare their eggs are free range have about 20,000 chickens a hectare - more than 13 times the recommended number.”

This comes as no surprise to me, and I suspect no surprise to any of you. ‘Model codes’ that are self-regulatory will never deliver the certainty that  consumers ought to have.

 2. Woolworths phasing out cage eggs
“A report by consumer group Choice found the average cost of cage eggs was 43¢ per 100g, while the cost of barn-laid eggs was 80¢ and free-range eggs 93¢. The report, released this week, found free-range eggs cost more than double the price of cage eggs, but the number of chickens varied from the recommended 1500 chickens per hectare to 20,000 per hectare. Woolworths' Select brand of free-range eggs have 10,000 chickens per hectare. Macro, another of Woolworths' brands, lists a chicken stocking density of 1500 birds per hectare – the recommended standard for free-range.”

The devil is always in the detail, ain’t it.

Read more:

3    3.Health check: Does processed meat cause bowel cancer?

“Red meat contains important nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, vitamins B12, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. But there is convincing evidence that eating more than 500 grams of cooked meat per week is risky. The latest World Cancer Research Fund meta-analysis of 12 separate studies indicates that for every 100 gram increase in red meat a day there is a 17% increase in bowel cancer risk.

For processed meat, there appears to be no completely safe level of intake, with a meta-analysis of 13 studies finding an 18% increase in bowel cancer risk for every 50-gram increase in daily intake.
But a simple step to reduce your risk is to change the way you think about meat: keep serve sizes of cooked red meat small – 80 grams of cooked meat up to six times a week with some meat free days. And save processed meats for special occasions.”

As I snuck that piece of Portuguese chicken for lunch, I reflected that there are some benefits living with a vegan and a vegetarian. I certainly eat waaaaaay less meat per se than I used to, and much much less processed meat. Just as well; some of the other factors for bowel cancer – like being over 50 – I can do bugger all about.

      4. Food Desert Vs Food Swamps

The definition of a food desert appears to be an area that is further than 800m from a fresh food outlet like a supermarket and where the person living there doesn’t have a car. Look, I understand the angst about the proliferation of fast cooked food joints, but to me having a fresh food outlet within 800m walking distance does not a food desert make. Indeed, it may make for a far healthier way to live if one has to walk this piddling distance to get good food.

      5.  Lamb ribs. They’re back and they’re fantastic

“The ribs from the lamb breast, surprisingly meaty and lasciviously fatty. Once unwanted and turned into dog food, they're fast becoming our own dinner instead, slow-cooked and ready to be devoured with sticky fingers and a big grin. Sorry, dogs.”

I must live in a parallel universe to some. A good lamb rib roast has never been off my menu nor of many friends of mine.

 Short eats

Sugar, Sugar

This looks like a fab exhibition. I plan on paying a visit!

Slice and disc with the robo-fishmonger

New Scientist 28 Sept 2013 reports: ‘Factory robots are now mastering the fine art of filleting fish. Harry Westavik’s team at SINTEF Fisheries and Agriculture in Trondheim, Norway, is developing a system that can fillet farmed fish by  using a camera to capture 3D images of the animal. Algorithms analyse the images to work out the best places to cut, before a robot arm takes over. The system can distinguish between different species, allowing it to sort fish by type. It can also determine weight by estimating volume from images, then applying the typical density of a fish.’

Having seen the expert fish scalers/gutters/chopper/filleters working at the late morning fish market in Negombo I hope robo-filleter doesn’t hit their too soon. There’s one row of them under an open sided tiled covered area drawn from a number of families who have been doing this trade for centuries, and it’s all they do. You buy your fish and take it to them on the spot to prep as you like it, similarly as they do in the fish markets here, but it’s not done behind the scenes, it’s all out there, blood, guts, scales and extremely sharp blades.

Heston Blumenthal: five Australian food trend the UK soul adopt

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