Friday, October 24, 2014

This week's compost

To kick off, two wonderful clips. Now, put these guys on at a food event in Sydney and I will spend days in line in a sleeping bag drinking really bad coffee and eating cronuts to be first to grin stoopidly and take a gazillion pics and love/hate myself for eating the end product...are you SURE that you can’t keep fairy floss under your pillow 4evah?

Gourmet F & D Quiz: This week’s question
Where were French fries invented.

Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts and Cookbooks
‘Handwritten cookbooks, ca. 1600s-1960s, documenting culinary history in America and Europe and how tastes have changed over the years. Help improve access to these historic documents by transcribing handwritten pages, reviewing transcriptions (look for items marked "Needs Review"), and correcting typewritten text.’

I wish I had the time to put into what looks like a terrific project – anyone know if any library in Aus is doing something like this – there must be similar handwritten cookbooks out there.

And if you haven’t checked it out before you might like to see the ebook I have done of my grandmother’s cookbook.
Putting Food on the Table. Food Security is Everyone’s Business. The Inaugural Food Security Conference of the Right to Food Coalition. 13-14th October 2014
I couldn’t get to the Conference so it’s great that the presentations have been put up so soon. Here’s some that I have had a look at and recommend watching.

A terrific challenging presentation by Brigit Bussichia on the institutionalising of food banks as a way that governments can avoid scrutiny of government policies that lead to poverty which leads to food insecurity, presented at the. Thanks Kay Richardson for alerting me to it. The song at the end is a hoot!

Karen Beetson’s narrative about her experience of food insecurity as an Aboriginal woman is a salutary reminder that food insecurity is not a new phenomenon in Australia.  It is one of those talks whose honesty is humbling and compelling and again raises really important questions about the kinds of judgements that are made about the choices or lack thereof that people in poverty have to put good food on the table, particularly where extended family obligations are a further complication.

The full info on the conference is at
John West and Princes accused of backtracking on tuna commitments
‘The two biggest tuna fish brands in the UK are privately looking at delaying or reviewing public commitments to eliminate the use of controversial fishing methods, leaked documents show. In 2011, Princes and John West pledged to phase out the use of purse seine nets and fish aggregation devices (FADs) which are used to attract tuna but can inadvertently lead to the deaths of other marine life such as sharks, rays and turtles. Each company has around a third of the UK market share for tinned tuna.’
Looking forward to Matthew Evans up-coming program on Aus fishing practices. Meantime, I reckon I can reject the fish John West catches.

Are solar farms really hitting British food production?
‘The environment secretary, Liz Truss, has stripped farmers of subsidies for solar farms, saying they are a “blight” that was pushing food production overseas. But the new minister has fundamentally misunderstood the way solar farms operate, according to the solar industry and farmers.... “This misguided attack by the environment secretary deliberately ignores the fact that the planning system is already there to prevent unsightly and overly dominant solar farms or their deployment on high-quality productive agricultural land. Where they do go ahead on poorer grade soils, planning conditions should ensure that they boost biodiversity and revert back to their original use when appropriate.”
The environment secretary, it is revealed at the end of the article, is a former ‘oil executive’...nope, no conspiracy theory to see, here, move along please.

Analysis: Maps of Australian language – swimmers versus cozzies, scallops versus potato cakes
‘The terms for the fried potato snack show a divide between the southern states, with potato cake favoured in Victoria and southern New South Wales, changing to scallop or potato scallop in NSW through to Queensland. South Australians maintain some individuality with the term potato fritter.’

The Greek caff at Liverpool railway station knew they were scallops, thank heaven...and yes, they were cooked in god-knows-how-old-oil and the more flavoursome for it, doused in malt vinegar (none of your foofy balsamic), and crusted with salt, all wrapped in butcher’s paper (I knew butcher’s were on the way out when it began being called ‘flip-chart’ paper) that of course was guaranteed not to last the distance from the shop to home via the back of the bus – and I hesitate to think where we wiped our fingers but let’s just say brylcreem came a poor second.

Faith and fears in Wendell Berry’s Kentucky
‘Berry told the conference that when the industrial food system finally reckons with its limitations and breathes its last breath, there needs to be a knowledgeable community pushing the way forward. “That’s why this little nucleus of people is so important,” he said.’

I don’t see the industrial food system breathing its last in my lifetime if ever and I’m not convinced that its demise would be particularly helpful to meeting food scarcity. Making the industrial food systems more ecologically sustainable on the other hand I think can help.

F & D Quiz Answer

Thursday, October 16, 2014

This week's compost

Gourmet Food and Drink Quiz Question
When swearing an oath, ancient Egyptians would place their hands on what?

Restaurant Australia
‘In response to the growing demand globally for food and wine as part of the travel experience Tourism Australia has evolved our ‘There’s nothing like Australia’ campaign to put the spotlight on Australia’s finest array of produce served in the most stunning locations in the world. If your business provides food, wine and beverages experiences that international visitors will enjoy you are encouraged to share it through our Restaurant Australia campaign.’

Following up the ort in the last Compost, it turns out (ta Barbara Santich and Helen Greenwood) that the Aussie food truck in Paris was an initiative of Tourism Australia as part of its Restaurant Australia program. There’s one of those awful ad co films that’s big on slo mo of young, rich, couple on beaches, in the outback, at MONA who do by the end of the film actually get served some food tho it’s pretty much all seafood or mod-Oz-fusion – no pho in Cabra, no saleep in Auburn, no BBQ duck from Chinatown – set to a meaningless moaned song from some obscure Oz bloke. Gees, all it needs is Laura Bingle. The accompanying film that explains the strategy compounds the view that ‘Restaurant’ in Restaurant Australia means fine wining and dining on mod Oz. Kylie is the only one in there who uses the word ‘multiculturalism’ and there is one clip of something in a balti, but the rest of it goes back to the predictable. I guess it’s all based on research about what tourists with money want to spend it on but it does quite kibosh a promotion of the greater feast Australia offers. Oh, also, no bush tucker of course – a corroborree around a fire, sure, but please, no roo, goanna or witchetty grub.

I can’t believe it’s not meat: scientists create vegie burger patty that bleeds
‘But the latest in vego-burger innovation takes mock-meat patties to whole new level. American company Impossible Foods has created a realistic-looking faux-patty that can be grilled to blushing-pink medium rare, leaches a red juice when cooked and develops a charred crust.’

Why would anyone think a vego or a vegan would want their burger to bleed?

Has Britain’s street food revolution run out of road
‘As if to prove that street food is reaching saturation point, even KFC now runs a truck, and the street food vendor is a trope of romcoms (see Chef, The Five-Year Engagement, etc)’.

Curse the Brits. First they take a probably Tamilian word of much contested meaning and transform it into ‘curry’ and foist it on us to homogenise South Asia’s abundance of regional cuisines, and now they have corrupted the term ‘street food’ to mean hipsters in vans turning out over fiddled fussy on trend edibles. No, no, no...some thing’s are not forgivable, as Blanche Dubois said, and this, to me is one of them. Street food remains for me a foodway that is characterised by its informality, its simplicity, generally family (broadly defined) run, often generations deep, within a cash economy outside of the regulated food markets. It certainly is nothing that can have a system of national awards built around it and there sure ain’t any venture capital invested.

I Eat, Therefore I Think. Food and Philosophy. Raymond D Boisvert
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press 2014-10-11

I mentioned this book in the last Compost. Not about food so much as the stomach and eating, it’s a plea for move away from a spectator/autonomous/mind focussed philosophy to a stomach-sensitive philosophy that favours ‘a philosophical orientation emphasizing relations, or, stated grammatically, prepositions’, significantly the preposition ‘with’ as ‘the stomach forces us not only to engage with our surroundings, with those who grow food, with those who store, transport and prepare it (but) also to mix different food with each other’. It’s a philosophy that emphasizes the ‘importance of combinations’, that ‘inclines toward thinking in terms of an original multiplicity’. It’s a philosophy through which neediness and dependence are not a defective state but represent occasions for enhancing good’, and a good life becomes defined as one ‘having a healthy nexus of interdependencies’. You can see why this book and its stomach-sensitive philosophy would appeal to me as it deals with hosting strangers at the meal, the communal table, and multiculturalism.

Some of you who know me know I am not averse to singing from time to time. So I thought from time to time in Compost I thought it would be fun to post a food related song, both for the pleasure but also to keep expanding our notions of what food writing is.

This week, I thought I would give you link to a lesser known Joni Mitchell song, one from the album I think that marked her transition to a different level of musicianship – For the Roses. When I first heard it I was knocked out by its use of a banquet as a way of singing about her concern with inequality – derrr, you might say, but to a young me, well, an early 20’s me, this song was revelatory of the way a ‘pop’ song could also do what folk songs did.

What happens when Second Graders are treated to a 7 course, USD220 meal?

‘One Saturday afternoon last month, six second graders from P.S. 295 in Brooklyn got a head start on the fine-dining life when they visited the acclaimed French restaurant Daniel. There, five waiters presented them with a seven-course tasting menu (after the trio of canapés and an amuse-bouche, naturellement).’

I like the kid who early on asks ‘When’s dessert?’ and the one at the end who toasts ‘To Vampires’. I’m not sure what the point of it was other than a promo for the restaurant but the kids have fun and do eat some of what’s offered. I would have loved them to have had a discussion about the experience afterward because they don’t get to voice their views on the whole process of the restaurant meal and let’s face it for most of us the theatre or fine dining is as much a part of the eating.

Rise and shine. What kids around the world eat for breakfast.

‘Americans tend to lack imagination when it comes to breakfast. The vast majority of us, surveys say, start our days with cold cereal — and those of us with children are more likely to buy the kinds with the most sugar. Children all over the world eat cornflakes and drink chocolate milk, of course, but in many places they also eat things that would strike the average American palate as strange, or worse.’

They same could of course be said for many Australian kids. I am trying to recall what I ate in Sri Lanka for breakfast; I’m pretty sure there were eggs and toast, porridge at times, often buffalo curd with kittul (palm syrup), porridge occasionally,  and on Sunday’s always hoppers with usually fish curry and some seeni sambol. When we hit Australia we did shift to the sacred trio of Aussie soggy sugary cereals  - Cornflakes, Rice Bubbles, and Weetbix. But somewhere along the line I stopped eating breakfast at all except when I travel when I revert to having eggs bacon and toast in Aus and invariably hit the hoppers and curry in Sri Lanka.

Is the ‘classic’ balti curry dying out?

Gees I hope so.

Quiz Answer:
An onion.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

This week's compost

Greetings all! A bumper Spring edition.

Kay Richardson pointed out that now that I have switched to Mialchimp to deliver this I have taken away your chance to respond and have the kind of crackling repartee you have in the past. I’m sure there is some way I can do this, I just haven’t been brave enough yet to find it. Till I do, you can always email me and I will add you comment into the next issue and so on.

Gourmet Food and Drink Quiz
So, you think you know your food and drink trivia eh. Well, apart from cheese and tomato, what is the favourite pizza topping in the US?

Answer at the end of this newsletter.

Disfigured food finds second life for sale on Sydney shelves
Growers from across Australia are getting a chance to turn a profit from their miss-shaped produce. From banana growers in Queensland, to potato growers in South Australia, farmers have been asked to pack their deformed produce and get it ready for sale in Sydney.
Aussie food hits the streets of Paris
 From Barbara Santich:  A food truck roaming Paris to promote Australian 'food' - courtesy of the Australian Tourism office (? where?) with such delights as prawn salad with lime and green peppercorns, beef ribs with pineapple and beetroot, garlic prawns with corn kernels and grilled peppers, and lamingtons. This is the gist of the information, for which I can find no other website. According to the tourism authority (which? not specified)

'People who have never visited Australia have little understanding of the gastronomic offering, according to a study in 15 of the principal sources of tourists. And only 26% of those in the survey associated Australia with a culinary destination. Once they've been there for themselves, however, 60% of visitors place Australia second in world ranking of cuisines, just after France and in front of Italy’.

I'd really like to know which tourism authority, but there you have it.

Charles Spence; the food scientist changing the way we eat

 ‘Now, largely thanks to Blumenthal, the food industry is applying Spence’s sensory science to products left, right and centre. This includes his recent findings that higher-pitched music enhances sweetness, and lower-pitched and brassy sounds taste bitter. Last year, Häagen-Dazs released an iPhone app that played a concerto while your ice-cream softens (“From what I’ve read, they haven’t matched their music to the taste,” says Spence disappointedly, which is what Ben & Jerry’s is rumoured to be doing.) And in a few months, he says, one of the airlines will match music with food.’

Marinetti and his mob truly were futurists, though I don’t think they imagined the unconscionable torture of having to eat crap airline food matched to crap airline music. And heaven help us if MacDonalds starts to offer to supersize your symphony along with you meal.
Court bans Coles’ fresh bread advertisement for three years

Supermarket giant Coles has been banned for three years from advertising its bread was made or baked on the same day it was sold when this is not the case. Coles was also ordered to display a Federal Court notice in its stores and on its website telling shoppers that it had broken Australian consumer law by falsely advertising bread products as "freshly baked" and "baked today".
I am resisting the impulse to take a rise out of Coles and their-half baked marketing ideas.

Read more:
Forget the hamburger: insects are better for you and the planet

 I reckon I have eaten quite few insects in my time, mostly by accident either little bits of protein that pour out of packets with rice or lentils or the odd moth or three from flour that's been hanging around a bit. I first consciously ate large scale insects - roasted grasshoppers - ages ago in Thailand. Once I took my mate Marg's advice and stopped looking at them and just popped them in my mouth I thoroughly enjoyed them. I have been envious of those of my friends who have eaten tarantula and Cambodia. I have a long standing wish to some day eat the maggot cheese of Sardinia. Now I have a moral high ground on which to stand and chomp on a cricket or cockroach and shout Bugger me, that's delish.


Would we opt out of food if given the chance?

 This is the second article I have seen recently on Soylent. In one of those spooky coincidences, I have begun reading I Eat, Therefore I think. Food and Philosophy by Raymond D. Boisvert (of which more as I read further into it) where I had just hours before Helen Greenwood sent me the link to the article read this:

‘While we might not appreciate much about how the Laputans approach their food [these are the scientists in Gulliver’s third journey who make their food look like mathematical objects or musical instruments before eating them] their tables remain places where something partially recognizable as a meal is served.  The next step in the rationalisation of eating would be to find someone who eliminated this connection altogether. Another delightful storyteller, L Frank Baum, has give us just such a character in The Magic of Oz, He is, of course, a ‘professor. His name: Wogglebug. Wogglebug revels in his wonderful invention, the meal-in-a-tablet. This is a time-saving, efficiency-enhancing device. It provides the equivalent of “a bowl of soup, a portion of fried fish, a roast, a salad and a dessert, all of which gave the same nourishment as a square meal’. Here is the highest ideal for abstract, instrumental rationality: provide nutrition in the most time-saving manner. Who could complain? Well the intended beneficiaries, for one. Wogglebug’s students were not at all impressed. He, the inventor, was stunned by their ingratitude. They longed for tasty food. “it was o fun at all to swallow a tablet with a glass of water and call it dinner; so they refused to eat the Square-Mel Tablets. When Wogglebug insisted, the students, rambunctious, disrespectful, food-loving bunch that they were, “threw him into the river – clothes and all.”

Squirrel burger?: No thanks, I’m fed up with stunts in buns
 The burger – the beautiful, simple, iconic burger that you bought for loose change and then ate hungover in your car – has become a slave to the marketing departments. Got a boneheaded product you need to promote? Why not just bung a load of insane, barely edible junk into a bread roll? It works every time. The stunt burger is a tragic misappropriation of a design classic, and true burger fans cannot wait for this miserable fad to end.’

A friend of mine recently posted a picture of the burger he had in a town up the North Coast. All looked good - a white bread bun which was a good thumb thick at base and looked satisfyingly springy, minced pattie a tad over caramelised and possibly a little on the arid side, lettuce just on the edge of limpness, canned beetroot (how extraordinary that beetroot should have evolved so perfectly for canning, eh), three or four firm tomato slices – but there sitting on the very top was that symbol of Yankee imperialism, a slice of melted pus yellow cheese. How I empathise with the call to stop mucking around with the burger, though this author’s allusion to a certain prevalent fast food bun I hope is satiric in this context.

Of eggplants and food writing
 And finally  blog post from me post a stimulating discussion hosted by John Newton on food writers and food writing.

F & D Quiz answer

Blog: Proud Desperate Versatile Opportunistic Forage

Of eggplants and food writing

Just back from a stimulating discussion with a group of food writers about food writers and food writing  - what is it, what could it be, what should it be...

And as I headed up the hill from the station the thought came unbid that food writing is like cooking eggplant.

I can take an eggplant, slit it down the side and bake it till the skin chars, scoop out the flesh and blend that with garlic, salt and tahini and make a smooth tangy babaganoush - which I can finish off with a drizzle of olive oil and smoked paprika.

I can take an eggplant, slit it down the side and stuff it with chopped tomatoes, onion, parsley, garlic, salt and bake it again and make unctuous juicy texturally complex plump imam bayildi.

I can slice the eggplant crossways or lengthways and grill the slices on a barbecue and mix it and say grilled slices of zucchini, olive oil, parsley, salt to make a voluptuous melange that has a crisp edge to it.

I can dice a fat eggplant, dust the cubes with salt and turmeric and leave them to drain for an hour or so, then deep fry them, and then mix them with a sauce of garlic, ginger, curry leaves, vinegar, a little sugar and some finely chopped green chili to make a modified squishy sweet sour brinjal pahi.

I can quarter thin or baby eggplants to just below the stem, rub the insides with a mix of ground roasted cumin and coriander, turmeric and salt, and then either deep fry or shallow fry them to make soft bodied slightly astringent mouthfuls.

Food writing for me is like that. I can use food to explore the synaesthesia of taste, scent and sight. I can use food to discuss shifting geopolitics - anti colonialist struggles, the rise and fall of empires, the influence of trade and markets on political dominance. I can, Proust like, use food to summon up an unstable remembrance of my past, or explore my cultural heritages. Food sits at the centre of writing about the future of the human species - climate change, but also unsustainable agriculture and aquaculture practices. Reviewing a restaurant can lead me to think about diasporic labour relationships, or the power of the media in the success or failure of an enterprise, or waste, or cultural mores.I can do all of these things in the one story/blog/review/paper.

Which lens I choose is a matter of chance. As with much of my writing for pleasure, something will strike me as worth exploring through writing. Sometimes my intent is clear from the outset. Sometimes it is only as I write that I realise what I can do with the subject and a stronger or broader or more pleasurable intent may take over. This can happen also when I am writing on assignment; researching a topic can lead me to test the limits of the brief as I find facets of the subject of which I was un- or not fully aware. Writing through one lens can stimulate me to approach the subject differently on other occasions.  How I write for an encyclopedia entry, for example on Sri Lankan street food, is very different to how I write about the same topic, the same foods in this blog or on my foodie website or when promoting my food tours in a brochure. 

So it's both the subject matter - food, foodways - and the breadth of approaches that jointly appeal to me as a writer. Like cooking an eggplant.