Monday, April 21, 2014

This week's compost

1.      Health check: Do bigger portion sizes make you eat more?
‘If we’re served a larger portion, we consume more – as my colleagues and I show in our review of 88 existing studies that manipulated portion size and measured consumption. We found that doubling a portion leads to an average 35% increase in consumption. In addition to being substantial, the effect is robust, even pernicious. Larger portions lead to greater consumption even across conditions of bad food, where the portion size is not visible, and among people who should know better.’
The hidden question in this article is why anyone would want to drink 920mls of Starbucks coffee.

2.      How sound affects the taste of our food
'The sound is what sensory science nuts call modulating taste, and the past few years have seen a boom in research in this area. Sound is the final frontier in food presentation. Restaurants agonise over menus, crockery, furniture and lighting, yet often any old CD will be stuck on for background music with nary a thought. However, now that we're starting to understand that everyone has synaesthetic tendencies when it comes to taste, sound is set to play a bigger part in our eating experience. Ben & Jerry's, for example, is considering a sonic range of ice-cream flavours, with QR codes on the tubs that will allow eaters to access complementary sounds via their phones.'
Which Sydney restaurant is going to be first off the mark with iPads and headphones and a hyperlinked menu ...
3.      Master the egg
‘Like that Rosetta stone, the egg, far more ancient, unlocks the secret code of the kitchen. Learn the language of the egg—understand completely this amazing and beautiful oblong orb—and you can enter new realms of cooking... An egg is an end in itself; it's a multipurpose ingredient; it's an all-purpose garnish; it's an invaluable tool. The egg teaches your hands finesse and delicacy. It helps your arms develop strength and stamina. It instructs in the way proteins behave in heat and in the powerful ways we can change food mechanically. It's a lever for getting food to behave in great ways. Learn to take the egg to its many differing ends, and you've enlarged your culinary repertoire by a factor of 10.’
I can’t resist it....I have to say I think the author is over-egging the egg.

4.      Genetics link found in search for sweet strawberries
‘The first BMC Genomics paper, by the IFAPA in Malaga, Spain, studied 20 breeding lines of strawberries, mostly originating from California, and the second paper, from the University of Florida, took an aromatic French strawberry variety. Both showed that FaFAD1 was not present in fruits that did not produce gamma-decalactone.’
And it took how long to find this out? Bring back Mendel.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

This week's compost

1.      Cupcake Facism: Gentrification, Infantilisation and Cake.
'The cup­cake has al­ways it­self been a gentri­fying force: after all, the “pop-up cup­cake shop” is the paradig­matic pop-up shop. But what all these things do is as­sert the in­fant­il­ized values of an in­creas­ingly in­fant­il­ized middle-class world on gen­eral so­ciety. This is how the passive-aggressive vi­ol­ence of the in­fant­il­ized twee fas­cist mani­fests it­self: moving across the world with a cup­cake as a cow­catcher, shunting out everything that does not cor­res­pond to the values mani­fested within it; a much more ef­fective way of sweeping up the sort of (poor, working-class, black) forces that in­formed the 2011 London riots than any broom. '
This is flat out one of the funniest, cleverest and most acute commentaries on food as politics I have come across in a long while. Thanks heaps to Ghassan Hage for posting it on Facebook.
2.      Jonathon Meades: Kitchen sink dreamer
I knew for certain that this ancient form of corporeal succour would soon be replaced by non-food. Plastics were replacing wood; cotton and wool were not needed in the age of terylene, nylon and tergal; open nibs were yesterday’s nibs – today’s nibs were hooded; transistors would soon vanquish valves. Chemists’ boundless researches into algae’s proteins would have boundless ramifications. What had, for half a century, been wishfulness was now, according to excitable magazine articles, making its way from lab to consumer. In the new world just over the horizon there would be no school food, which was an unspoken punishment, a further means devised by adults to torment children.’

3.      The Green Revolution and the Economics of the Food System

I don’t know if you managed to watch this when I first emailed about it, I didn’t until now, but it is really terrific.  An excellent critique not just of the Green Revolution but the ideological underpinning of it and its failures both as ideology and achieving substantial change in food security. Also some interesting and challenging things so say about the work of the Gates Foundation in agricultural research and aid and large scale philanthropy as a ‘big man’ approach to ‘solving’ world problems and the Obama administration’s food policies.

4.      The shopping mall’s socialist pre-history
‘In the era of the mall, whole swathes of the world are heated to precisely 72 degrees Fahrenheit and lit at 350 lux. Shopping malls have been used as tools for development in India, sites of protest in Brazil, and targets of terrorism in Nairobi. For geographers and historians, the sites have been seen as neoliberalism’s most precocious architectural form, instruments for enclosing and segregating public space, for fusing leisure and consumption and annihilating small independently run retailers.
It was not always this way. Shopping malls have a little known socialist pre-history — one that has been largely forgotten.’
Who knew that Gruen was a socialist!
5.      What make the perfect burger
Although I'm unlikely to be popping into a branch for a chimichanga and a jolly jogger mocktail (thank you for the memories) any time soon, I agree with development chef Terry McDowell that lettuce adds nothing to the overall flavour of the burger – in fact, I'd go so far as to argue that, as the leaves wilt into soggy submission on contact with heat, lettuce actually detracts from the experience... The same goes for those warm, woolly slices of bland beef tomato – always the first thing I pick out. In short, salad has no place in the perfect burger.’
This from someone who thinks on the other hand that cheese is a ‘welcome addition’, particularly when it is one ‘added to the patty during cooking so it drapes round it like a cloak’.

Friday, April 4, 2014

National cuisines under globalisation

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a group of food studies students from New York Uni on visits to sites of food production and distribution in Sydney. This was part of their study of foodways under globalisation with New York and Sydney as the sites of inquiry. At the end of each day the students had a 'reflection' session where they commented on what they had seen and experienced that day. I found their comments stimulating. so much so that I have been spurred on to writing up some reflections myself. This is the first of them.

National cuisines under globalisation:
Reflection 1# from three days immersion in foodways of Sydney

Posing the question
Thanks to all of you for allowing me the opportunity to see my city and its foodways through other eyes and from different perspectives. I thought you might like to read some of my responses to your reflections and comments.

I apologise profusely for not noting who said it, but in the session post our visit to Cabramatta one of commented that before coming you hadn’t expected to be eating a Vietnamese pork roll in Australia because that wasn’t what you’d thought of as Australian food, but that later you thought, well, everyone is eating it, and it’s in Australia, so I guess it is Australian food.

That set me thinking about how you characterise a national cuisine under globalisation. And coincidentally enough just this week I read a post in David Leibowitz’s blog Living the Sweet Life in Paris, where he asks this question of French cuisine. (Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

In the blog he says:

‘Many of the foods in America have been brought by immigrants and are now considered part of our culture and cuisine. Some foods we enjoyed abroad (and through cookbooks), have become popular in America because they fit our lifestyle and taste. Today in Paris, and across France, restaurants – and tastes – reflect a similar mix. There are sushi bars, French bakeries, Chinese take-outs, bistros, American fast food restaurants, bento boxes, Michelin three-star restaurants, couscous restaurants, burger joints, and in almost any neighborhood or village, you’ll find meat spinning on a broche, carved up to make le sandwich Grec (gyro). While they may not sound like “French cuisine,” they are among the foods that the French eat today. The reality is that France is experiencing (and, in many instances, resisting) globalization, evolving as cities, and the world, invariably do....
... So maybe it’s time to stop striving so much to classify foods according to which country it’s cooked in, and just say that they’re making good food. And maybe it’s just becoming less and less possible to define a cuisine by the country where it’s being cooked.’

An Australian cuisine
This is even more particularly the situation in Australia as I think the trips through Newtown, Cabramatta and Ashfield I think showed. It’s hard to pin down what Australia’s national cuisine is outside of a relatively short period of dominance of British food (not more than a hundred and fifty years I would argue) or Indigenous food which actually remains well outside the common enough experience of Australians generally (including most Indigenous Australians) to be really validly claimed as the national cuisine.

Recall the discussion about the entrenchment of first the Chinese restaurants in the Australian landscape and then the Greek managed American-style milk bars.  Ask older Australians in particular and they will invariably include these along with the scones and jams of the Country Women’s Association at the table of Australian food. I doubt that anyone considers Chinese food ‘ethnic’ anymore. I think that’s true for food that is generally defined as Italian also; I would bet that pasta and some tomato based sauce appears on the table of a majority of Australian households several times a year.

It’s also true of South Asian food – curry and rice in all its guises. I have begun putting together a history of curry in Australia and it’s clear that as with Britain curry appeared regularly on middle class tables within a few decades of the colonisation of India. Many former employees of the British East India Company and the British colonial forces also spent some time in Australia usually post their time in India, and curry came with them.

But it’s also true of the more recent large scale migrations. You experienced it with the pork roll, but pho is as much a part of the Australian foodscape these days. ‘Lebanese’ bread is a staple at parties to accompany dips, and the dips themselves will very often include humus and/or babaganoush. My eldest son and his multi-ethnic peer group often end up getting a kebab roll after a night at the pub; it is not ‘ethnic’ food for them any more than chicken tiki masala is to British post rubbers.

The origins of the food are not lost in this process; Chinese meals are still Chinese meals, tabouleh is still a Lebanese salad, baklava is still a Greek sweet. But they become what Australian’s eat and so arguably a part of our national cuisine.

The parallels with multiculturalism versus assimilation are obvious.  Under the former, cultures maintain degrees of integrity and autonomy within a more encompassing cultural frame; under the latter the migrant/minority culture must give way to the dominant culture.

The making of a national cuisine (with apologies to Appudurai)
The interesting question I think is at what point can you say this transition is complete for a particular dish?

I think one measure is when recipes for the food appear in community cookbooks. Not in foodie magazines which I think still marginalises them.  I mean when they turn up in cookbooks schools or local charities put together to raise funds, and especially when they are not assigned to an ‘ethnic’ or ‘food from foreign countries’ section of these books.  One of these days I will trace the introduction of eggplant/aubergine onto the national domestic table as an example of this process.

A second measure, I think, is when the ingredients for making the dishes – the vegetables, the cuts of meat, the spices and herbs – appear on supermarket shelves, particularly those in suburbs that are not heavily identified with a particular migrant community. Curry powder was a common import in the mid – late 1800s in Australia and not long after the first Australian produced curry powder – Keens – became a staple in the larder. Tomato paste is another example, olive oil also. It’s the point at which people expect them to be on the shelf that is when the transition happens I think.

A third is related to the second measure and that is when the vegetable, fruit meat or fish that is the basis of the dish is farmed/gathered by producers outside of the ethnic community from which the dish originates. We saws an example of this when we visited Riverview Produce at Richmond, where David Grima, Australian Maltese whose family has for forty odd years grown European/ Mediterranean vegetables now hydroponically grows three types of Asian leafy greens - bok choy, choy sum and pak choy - alongside his lettuce varietals as stir fried and steamed Asian greens have left the Asian restaurant for the home table.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

This week's compost

1.      Graduate Journal of Food Studies

Some of you will have already got this information so apologies for cross-posting. The Graduate Journal of Foods Studies is an international student-run and refereed journal dedicated to encouraging and promoting interdisciplinary food scholarship at the graduate level. Published bi-yearly in digital form, the journal is a space for promising scholars to showcase their exceptional academic research. The Graduate Journal of Food Studies hopes to foster dialogue and engender debate among students across the academic community. It features food-centric articles from diverse disciplines including, but not limited to: anthropology, history, sociology, cultural studies, gender studies, economics, art, politics, pedagogy, nutrition, philosophy, and religion.

2.      Lamington invented in New Zealand

‘Fresh analysis of a collection of 19th-century watercolours by the New Zealand landscape artist JR Smythe, shows that in one portrait, “Summer Pantry” dated 1888, a partially eaten Lamington cake is clearly visible on the counter of a cottage overlooking Wellington Harbour.’

3.      Some thoughts on French cuisine

‘Outsiders are often perplexed by the popularity of fast-food chains in France, but they are convenient: They’re open all the time, between traditional meal times, when other restaurants are closed. Service is fast and efficient. Restrooms are sparkling clean and offer free WiFi. (Which, anyone who lives in Paris knows, is a godsend when your Internet service goes out at home.) And, as other countries, they allow families who don’t have a lot of money, to have the experience of going out to eat.’

I do hope people don’t actually have to sit in the toilet to access WiFI in fast food chains in France.

Outside of that peculiarity, I found the discussion about what is French food of interest in the light of a comment made in a similar vein by one of the NYU students I hosted a couple of weeks ago. We had been to Cabramatta and Ashfield and in the reflection session at the end of the day she said she hadn’t expected to be eating a Vietnamese pork roll in Australia because that wasn’t what she had thought of as Australian food, but that later she thought, well, everyone is eating it, and it’s in Australia, so I guess it is Australian food. I found that a refreshing perspective on what makes for a national cuisine; the idea that once a food is popularised within a country outside of its communal roots it becomes a part of the national cuisine.