Monday, December 12, 2016

As some of you know I attended the 21st Symposium of Australian Gastronomy 2 - 5 December 2016. I presented a paper on Doris Lessing's writings on food security and war via the lens of her Canopus in Argos: Archives quintet. Happy to send it on to anyone interested.

I found the Symp structurally unwieldy - 4 full on days, the first of which was very loooooong a set of panel sessions tracing the Melbourne history of high end restaurant dining and one on a proposed Manifesto for Utopian Food Futures: Towards a Gastronomic Commons about which the less said the better and which went no further than this panel session, and then three days of plenaries and triple concurrent sessions, the latter being a substantial break from Symps of the past and not to my liking as you have the usual problem of having sessions you are interested in up against each other.

Another break that did not go down well with some of we oldies was commercial sponsorship by a frying pan maker including a presentation by him at the Saturday dinner (tho I did win one such frypan for having - ironically - a white serviette whereas others had black and blue ones).

There were other glitches which niggled but for all of that the papers I went to were generally interesting and thought provoking. Particular faves were three papers on waste, a terrific paper by Gay Bilson which to be frank ought to have been a plenary paper,  Juan-Carlo Tomas's memory piece on his grandmother's pancit molo, Jacqui Newling's on the early days of the Norfolk Island Settlement, and Charmaine O'Brien's paper challenging the common view of colonial food as dire, and visiting scholar Darra Goldstein's plenary paper on food in the early days of the Russian Soviet which was nicely complemented by Maria Emanovskaya's paper looking at contemporary Russian foodways through the lens of two dystopian novels.

I also liked the slightly overlong Boozy Botanicals session on booze makers using Australian indigenous leaves and barks in locally made gin and vermouth at the end of which we had fun making negronis and getting mildly tipsy.

Learned a new phrase - 'plate diving' i.e. eating food off a plate when someone else has finished and left edibles - and put it into practice at the Symp dinner where I enjoyed the outer ring of crumbed deep fried trip my dining companion had left choosing only to eat the chicken mousse inside, and baby radish leaves that she ditto spurned.

Phrases of the Symp for me:
"Utopia is not a pop-up" - Jane Levi talking about her project on temporarily at least re-greening parts of Somerset House.

"Order is not benign" - Lily Cleary in a paper critical of the certainty of the positions of Michael Symons, Charles Fourier and Roland Barthes she sees as a 'shared conviction in gastronomic pleasures as pivotal to creating a better society, girded by a shared passion for systematic organisations and tendency to proselytise' and arguing that gastronomy should instead embrace disorder, to be "both situated and a wanderer".

"Foraging should never be safe." Cameron Russell in an entrancing session on the creation of an enclosed but wild mushroom foraging space with architect Simon Whibley.

"To shift to the chef is to ignore the whole for the part" - Gay Bilson on part of the modern malaise. She also said "Plated food is exclusive and guarded" and that "food pages [in print media] are segregated from what matters in food today' and 'unexpected excellence in the wrong place is the best dining of all' that 'we have lost the commentary on the domestic table' and made a plea for the restaurant to return to a place of restoration. You can see why I think she ought to have been a plenary speaker.

The pic at the top of this Compost is of the elegant presentation of two kinds of sweet balls made from byproducts - the green ones are balls of almond pulp left post making almond milk and covered in matcha, the black ones are beetroot pulp post juicing mixed with cacao and rolled in sesame seeds. Spearmint leaves and pansy flowers also of course edible. This was the first morning tea at the Symposium but the make is uncredited in the program, but I think is one of the cooks/chefs from William Angliss.

Meet all The Archibull Prize 2016 Artwork Finalists
 I wish they gave us more info about each of the school’s projects.

 Virtual food tech adds bit to VR
 ‘Many people cannot eat food satisfactorily because of weak jaws, allergies and diet.’

I woud add cause the food tastes like shit. My mum is in a  nursing home and it is so hit and miss as to whether what she is served up, especially on weekends, taste’s at all interesting let alone looks like food on the plate. Of course we ought to be agitating for food in these places to be...well, food. At the same time I know the issues with having to provide institutional meals and of trying to get people nutritious, life saving food when they cannot chew, are increasingly unable to taste anything but the strongest flavours and so just reject the food. So, I applaud anything that may get someone like my mum to eat.

This is an article from New Scientist about some experiments in high tech solutions to help people eat. I have a scanned copy I am happy to send to those who are interested.

The key to future food supply is sitting on our cities’ doorsteps
 ‘City foodbowls are increasingly at risk. Our project has previously highlighted risks from urban sprawlclimate changewater scarcity and high levels of food waste. Melbourne’s foodbowl currently supplies 41% of the city’s total food needs. But growing population and less land means this could fall to 18% by 2050. Australia’s other city foodbowls face similar pressures. For example, between 2000 and 2005, Brisbane’s land available for vegetable crops reduced by 28%, and Sydney may lose 90% of its vegetable-growing landby 2031 if its current growth rate continues.’

My first home in Australia was on an orchard in Arcadia, then in the outermost ring of Sydney suburbs. No more orchards out there. The flood plain between Windsor and the mountains where I used to see fields and fields of corn as we drove between Sydney and Singleton are increasingly becomine turf farms. The iconic Aisan market garden in West Botany Road continue to be threatened by development. ‘Nothing but acres of tar and cement’ as a fave song of old goes.

Rise of the purists. Is chocolate the new coffee?
‘Although this price premium is positive for cocoa growers, the beans remain a raw material export. The chocolate is then manufactured in Europe or North America, with ingredients (cocoa butter, milk, sugar) sourced elsewhere. Most of the costs are added outside the country of origin; typically, raw ingredients only make up about 3% of a bar’s price. Some chocolate producers are therefore pushing the concept of single origin further. And it is this that offers the potential for even more of the value of the lucrative chocolate trade to be kept in countries such as Ivory Coast and Madagascar. The new idea of single-origin chocolate means that all the ingredients in the couverture (the wholesale/bulk cocoa used by chefs, chocolatiers etc) must come from the same country and be processed locally.’

At the purchaser end, of course, it will all still be in who in the country of sale sells it and how. I can still see the unscrupulous adding a further premium that doesn’t get back into the growers’ hands and I bet there will remain a scandal or two that uncovers product where all ingredients have in fact not been sourced in the home country nor processed locally. Or am I just too old and cyncial these days.

From grain to beer glass – tracing the journey of Ethiopian barley, in pictures.
Just to show I am not inveterately cynical.

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