Monday, April 24, 2017

Compost 25 April 2017

I had the great pleasure and privilege of attending dinner with Laila el Haddad author of The Gaza Kitchen and hearing form her about the desperate and unconscionable situation of farmers in Gaza and also dining on dishes from the book of which the mezze plate is pictured above. There was an opportunity for a brief discussion of the Israelisation of Arab food as a nationalism project which resonated with me as I have been thinking about the appropriation of indigenous ingredients by non-indigenous chefs and the extent to which if at all the indigenous communities for whom a particular ingredient may be totemic benefit from its commercialisation.

Feel the burn: Why do we love chili?
‘When Byrnes and Hayes tested nearly 250 volunteers, they found that chilli lovers were indeed more likely to be sensation seekers than people who avoided chillies. And it’s not just that sensation seekers approach all of life with more gusto – the effect was specific to chillies. When it came to more boring foods like candy floss, hot dogs or skimmed milk, the sensation seekers were no more likely to partake than their more timid confreres. Chilli eaters also tended to score higher on another aspect of personality called sensitivity to reward, which measures how drawn we are to praise, attention and other external reinforcement. And when the researchers looked more closely, an interesting pattern emerged: sensation seeking was the best predictor of chilli eating in women, while in men, sensitivity to reward was the better predictor.’

Hmm…I am going to have to track this research down as my cultural specificity receptors immediately went into high alert. What, the entire male population of, say Thailand, only eat chillies cause they are reward seekers? The rest of the article, on the physical impacts of chili, are more interesting and I suspect more reliable. Anyone know any research on chilies that looks at what receptors in the brain get triggered – like pleasure receptors as well as pain receptors? Is there a fine line, as Chrissie Amphlett sang, between pleasure and pain and do chilies walk the line like an aerialist?

Bangkok, home of the world's best street food, is banning street food
‘Thailand's junta has run an extensive campaign to "clean up" cities and "return happiness" to the country since taking power in 2014, but previous attempts to remove food stalls have failed.
David Thompson, author of Thai Street Food and the man behind both the award-winning nahm restaurant in Bangkok and Long Chim in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, says it would be a terrible blow. "It's loved by the rich and tourists, but street food is essential for the poorer part of Thailand - people who are paid a subsistence wage can't afford food in restaurants and marketplaces. And it's not only food for the poorly paid, but employment and income for others.’

Chief advisor to Bangkok’s governor Wanlop Suwandee defends the move on two counts one of returning the pavement to pedestrians, and that there is space for street food sellers in markets. The latter no doubt comes with high rental fees which will effectively mean many vendors will have to ceases trading and of course the door gets open for corruption as city officials give licenses to those from whom they get kickbacks.  I haven’t been to Bangkok in yonks so I am not sure what the pavement traffic would otherwise be so can’t comment whether it’s a real issue or a ploy. I’d be interested in what businesses operate in the area and the hours they operate and what the impact is on them and to what extent they are behind the push as well, and the extent to which what is happening is down to a planning fail of massively promoting a tourist drawcard without thinking about the long-term consequences.

REPAST: The food history magazine
Thanks to Alison Vincent for the lead to this.

‘There's been a major surge of the number of books and blogs dedicated to culinary history and historical gastronomy in recent years but no popular publication that captures the many delicious ideas of all these food history fanatics. REPAST will change all that as the first ever food history magazine written for a popular audience!’

This kind of claim gets my goat if for no other reason than that ‘popular’ is too close to ‘populism’ for my comfort and that’s not helped by the editor’s/publisher’s pitch for funding contributions being in part that ‘there’s a chance that REPAST will fail to reach the right audience’ or that she hopes the magazine ‘concept will resonate with like-minded readers’.

Still, it’s good to see new spaces being created for we gastro-gnomes and the articles previewed do pique my interest – tho not enough to contribute funds.

America’s Most Political food
 ‘“No! Of course not,” Lloyd said. “White supremacy is totally wrong—and my father was not like that. He was a Southerner and a South Carolinian. He enjoyed reading about the history and the heritage of America.” Lloyd had recently been to a friend’s funeral at a black church, and “two hundred people were there, and”—he chuckled— “ninety per cent of them were black, and that was fine.”
I told Lloyd what Lonnie Randolph and Joe Neal had said, that people needed a tangible sign that the Bessinger family understood the pain they had caused, and that until they gave one it would persist.
“Mmmkay,” he said. “Well, I don’t know how I can do that. I’m not objecting to doing that. I just need to know what that is.”

Quite simply one of the most engrossing articles I have read of late on the conscious and unconscious politics of food and conscious and unconscious racism, resonating with the contesting uses to which the barbecue is used on 26th January in Aus particularly this year with the backlash against the Meat and Livestock Australia’s lamb ad.

The Caviar of the Desert
‘Vallejo is part of a movement among Mexican chefs to integrate local ingredients into their restaurants and to promote fair trade and economic solidarity with the people who are responsible for these products, including escamol. His most popular escamole dish right now is avocado tartar, which features the larvae alongside Serrano peppers and other strong flavors. Eager eaters make reservations months in advance for a taste of the delicacy.
But the reality is that not all small producers are lucky enough to be aware of people like Raúl Valencia or Pedro Vallejo. From the desert of Potosí, the idea that someone would pay more than $20 USD for one plate of escamol seems like a bad joke. For now, Prieto and his family are focused on the snowfall and the hope that the weather will be better next winter.’

This is the sting in the tail in this article; While diners get charged USD20 for a plate of the larvae, the gatherers get an average of USD503 annually. The article only skims the question of who benefits which I raised at the Gaza dinner with Lalla al Haddad in relation to the Israelification of Arab food and the current fad (and I have yet to see it as anything but that) for Indigenous products here, and the question I also asked at last year’s Symposium of Australian Gastronomy of the producers using native leaves, barks and berries to flavour liquor. I have yet to see a good economic analysis of how Indigenous communities are benefiting from the fad.

Origins of the Sicilian Mafia: The Market for Lemons
‘In summary, this paper contributes to the existing literature by outlining a new argument for the rise of mafia based on an exogenous resource boom in the international demand for citrus. Second, it offers the most comprehensive empirical analysis to date on the origins and the persistence of mafia since the 1880s, supporting the main hypothesis of the central importance of lemon production’

This is either the most delicious hoax I have come across lately, or one of the most quixotic research studies I have read in quite a while.

I found the article via Roads and Kingdoms at

Nuthouse: walnut and chestnut pickers go to extremes in fruit picking frenzy
‘To protect the trees, Sassafras farm doesn't allow visitors to pick the walnuts from the trees.
"We don't want our trees being beaten around, we don't want people climbing the trees," Ms Saunders said adding that staff patrol the perimeter of the walnut orchard. Easter picking at Pine Crest Farm, near Bilpin, was so chaotic and crazy that its owner John Galbraith said he was considering not opening next Easter. "It is a safety issue, with cars double parked and people waiting 15 to 20 minutes to pay, and fruit wasted on the ground," he said.’

I went on a chestnut and fig pick several years ago and then too people were knocking down fruit from trees and not just picking through the windfall and had to be cautioned by staff at the orchards. And it’s not just nuts: I know apple and stone fruit orchardists in Bilpin who have to stop people from picking everything they can lay their hands on. Fetishising foraging/gathering combined with the pursuit of the tourist dollar through coach trips that disgorge hundreds of people who see orchards as just another cheap shopping aisle comes at a cost. I wonder what orientation is given by the tour operators about the nature of orcharding, the markets being supplied, the need for fruit and nuts to mature etc. Then again, would it result in any change in behaviour when competition drives the foraging and not need.

Crop probiotics: how more science and less hype can help Australian farmers
‘Consequently, many products exist on the Australian market which don’t have clear label instructions for effective use, claim to work on an outlandish number of crops and don’t even touch on the topic of which soils they work effectively in.
Australia contrasts with the European Union, which demands multi-step scientific testing of products. For a product to be permitted for use in agriculture, EU legislation requires 10 or more field trials, conducted over two growing seasons in different climates and soil types. Delivery methods and dosage must be evaluated and effects confirmed. Crop trials have to ensure statistical validity. The EU has created an online database of detailed reports and standards that can be easily searched by the public.
These regulations have an impact on which biostimulants reach the market. European products often contain only one type of active microbe, as it’s otherwise difficult to meet the strict criteria. On the other hand, many biostimulants sold in Australia contain multiple microbes that are not clearly classified on labels.’
The authors don’t ask the question of who is benefiting from this slackness but that for me is the question. Who is importing the probiotics and what sweetheart deals if any are being done with the regulators?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Compost April 9 2017

Took the opportunity to try out one of the increasing number of food trucks around Sydney. This was Lemon and Rose which promotes itself as American Burger Meets the Middle East Street Eats. The burger [not pictured] was a delish shredded slow cooked beef brisket tho I couldn't quite see the Middle East in it, but the dessert of a lemon and rose water sorbet balanced out the experience nicely. That we ate it at tables in a parking lot beside the Princes Highway at peak early night traffic added to the ambience.

The Sculptural Desserts of an Architect–Turned–Pastry Chef
Ukrainian pastry chef Dinara Kasko, inspired by her background in architecture, makes geometric desserts that look far more like tiny sculptures than soft, velvety cakes — but that’s exactly what they are. She graduated from the Kharkov University Architecture School, then worked as an architect, designer, and 3D visualizer, frequently utilizing 3D printing technology in her work.’

Quite quite lovely…continuing my entrancement with 3D printed things – the food here ain’t printed 3D the moulds are, so edible all.

What Kikkoman’s iconic soy sauce bottle says about Japan
‘It took Kenji Ekuan three years and 100 prototypes to complete the design — a fact that speaks volumes for the importance of detail in Japanese culture. The Kikkoman bottle led the way, showing that Japan had a place in the modern world, and became known the world over’

It’s a big claim and one that can no doubt be disputed, but the article tells me things I didn’t know about the bottle, the designer and Japan post war which is more than enough reason to recommend a reading.

The Gentrification of Soul food
‘However, it is imperative for foodies and cultural critics alike to recognize the origins of “soul” food and the systemic way that black soul food chefs are sidelined and discredited. If we don’t, white Southern cooks will continue to end up on Chopped while Black chefs languish on the chopping block.’

The parallels to what is happening here with indigenous food and foodways is depressing.

Are boutique burgers healthy?
Short answer –
 ‘If your priority is taste, or the provenance, quality and freshness of the ingredients, then a gourmet burger might be just what you're after. Just don't assume it'll be good for you too.
On the whole, fast food burgers (gourmet or otherwise) have a tendency to be high in kilojoules, fat and salt, so consider skipping the soft drinks and sides when you're ordering one for a meal.’

Humans made the perfect banana, but soon it will be gone
‘This giant organism [the Cavendish banana – see the article for an explanation of this]is now at risk of exactly the same sort of population crash that befell the Gros Michel, and a new strain of Fusarium, a close relative of the pathogen that causes Panama disease, has evolved. It can kill both Gros Michel and Cavendish bananas. This strain has already spread from Asia to East Africa and seems likely to make its way to Central America. This should be extremely worrisome. But what should be more worrisome is that the same is true of most of our crops, most of the plants that we most depend on, a list of species that is shockingly and increasingly short.’

Extracted from the recently released  Never Out of Season: How Having the Food We Want When We Want It Threatens Our Food Supply and Our Future, 2017 by Rob Dunn published, Little, Brown and Company, New York, the point of the article won’t come as a surprise to many of us, but the info on the Gros Michel, Cavendish and the United Fruit Company is of interest as is the argument that both species of banana constitute separate single large scale organisms.

And for the sake of the argument, the article doesn’t touch on other varieties of banana that are making their way out of Asian markets and into the mainstream, at least in Aus. Will these too now become clones as industry turns to new varieties to future proof the banana market? Are they already?

Digital signals turn water to lemonade
From New Scientist, 1 April 2017.

When life hands you lemons make virtual lemonade.

A system of sensors and electrodes can digitally transmit the basic colour and sourness of a glass of lemonade to at a tumbler of water, changing its look and taste.

Nimesha Ranasinghe at the National University of Singapore and his team used a colour sensor and a pH sensor to capture the appearance and acidity of a drink. This data was sent to a special tumbler full of water. An electrode stimulated the drinker’s tongue to mimic the lemonade’s sourness, while LED lights replicated its colour [].

‘People are always posting pictures of drinks on social media – what if you could upload the taste as well?” says Ranasinghe.

I have to admit that when I noticed the date of printing of this story I was highly suspicious, but when I followed the link cited I did indeed find that this was a summary of an actual presentation to the quite wonderfully named TEI '17 Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Compost 5 march 2017

So, this year's crop of mangoes was looking pretty good before I went on hols...the possums had other ideas. However, waste not want not so the samplers bites will be cauterised and the rest mushed for a sorbet or such. At least they alerted me that the mangoes despite their green skin were indeed ready.

Seven things in food to stay livid about in 2017
Barbara Santich sent me the following in response to last Compost’s item on this.

Clean and green, local and seasonal, are near to the top of my list of ‘things foodwise you will stay furious about this year’ but what really annoys me, perhaps less often, are menus that describe a dish in terms of its main ingredients, as if each had equal weight: for example, a (hypothetical) dish of ‘cured kingfish, shaved squid, quinoa, samphire’ that has a couple of slices of tuna plus one fine shaving of squid, six puffed quinoa grains, and a shred of samphire. I’m sure readers could add many real-life examples.

Second, another restaurant gripe: a dish described as (again, hypothetical) as ‘Seared lamb, roast tomatoes, carrot puree, French lentils’ that I order, and the waitperson asks would I like a side of vegetables. No, I say, there are vegetables with my dish. It’s not a lot, says the waitperson, I recommend a side of rosemary potatoes. So I order the side, and get a dish big enough to serve six. The carrot puree turns out to be a smear, the lentils form a random decoration on the rim of the plate, and there’s one miniscule tomato on top of the lamb. Why can’t the chef add the appropriate vegetable to the dish and charge an extra dollar? This one gets me hot under the collar every time.

Oh, and of course, the chestnuts that ignorant and lazy journalists come out with – for example, that Australia has the best cheese/fish/lamb etc. in the world; that it’s time Australians gave up hot roast turkey for Christmas (as if they have just invented the idea); that the European colonists in the eighteenth/nineteenth century emphatically rejected all indigenous foods (which usually precedes a congratulatory paen to the current generation of chefs).

I think I could add many more if I really got worked up!

And Charmaine sent these comments:

Here's to great year in challenging food orthodoxies (including historical ones!) and neoliberal solutions. Perhaps if people thought about the fact that part of the neoliberal agenda seems to be to deskill us as cooks so that we spend more money having our meals prepared for us by others (nothing against restaurants but we need to get a better perspective on our use of these) we might not be wasting so much for out. Not only are we being deskilled as cooks we apparently are not 'too busy' to actually go out and eat at the restaurants we buy our meals for so we have to have them delivered we can sit in front of Netflix binge watching wonder we are getting fat ..except the food delivery people who are riding around the food non bikes! 
In regards to food wastage if one eats out. I love the thali concept in restaurants in India (which I am sure you are familiar with). You are given a modest amount of food to begin and then the waiters come around and offer you more which you take as you need. It is socially frowned upon to take more than you can eat so it seems people rarely waste food. Perhaps we need a bit more of this in restaurants to prevent waste!
No animal required, but would people be prepared to eat artificial meat?

Gender was the biggest predicting factor, with men more likely on average to say they would try IVM, whereas women were less sure. Men also had more positive views of its benefits.’

Anyone care to speculate why?

Recipes are to cooking as listicles are to journalism: they're intrinsically flawed

‘All this is not to say that I dislike recipes. After all, I’ve published thousands of the bloody things over the years and most of them, I think, are really quite good – if I do say so myself.

Recipes are flawed by their very nature but those flaws are not fatal. Understanding the limitations of recipes can make them very useful indeed. They’re often our first step in exploring new dishes, new ingredients, new cuisines – and with them, new ways of living. They are an arrow pointing the way, not the destination itself.’

I found this article intensely annoying and snobby. Apart from the smug self-congratulation, I think it reeks of the kind of privileging of cooking by chefs who have time and money and who write food porn recipes to earn even more money.

The Hunt for the Perfect Sugar
 ‘Let us pause here to acknowledge the sugar-frosted codependent embrace of Big Food and the American consumer. You could rightly fault consumers for their insistence on an oxymoronic product. But who has been indulging their fantasies for decades now, promising sweet, satisfying taste and no calories? Big Food, of course. Now customers are upping the stakes—and it’s not at all clear that companies can pass the test.’

An interesting article on the commercial imperative and not the health imperative behind the search for a low-calorie sweetener. But why do we need sweet foods at all? Sure we have taste receptors for sweetness, but what of what makes a food naturally sweet, like honey, do we need that we can’t get if honey tasted umami?

Can eating lead to understanding? In the case of Trump’s travel ban, some hope so.
 ‘As enjoyable a form of resistance as it may be, learning about and eating food from the banned countries will not, of course, directly influence lawmakers or change any policy. But it could make a difference for immigrant-owned restaurants, whose businesses may have suffered because of stigma. And while some of those restaurant owners may be safely based in this country, many are worried about their family members, which can take a toll on their work.’

I’m also not convinced that just eating the other’s food leads is an adequate way to learn about the culture. For example, while I am happy to tell people who ask me where to eat good Sri Lankan in Sydney I know (a) depending on where I send them they will get a different idea of Sri Lankan food and food practices and (b) they could go somewhere and eat and have no deeper understanding of the whole of the cultures in Sri Lanka (note the plural) nor how they have developed nor how they are deployed within Sri Lanka as ways of entrenching power, conformity and so on.  Unless there is the opportunity to ask questions about this in the restaurant or unless the diner’s interest is piqued enough to ask these questions later, the food experience I think remains just that.

That is not to say at all that I don’t support people actively expressing support and solidarity with the banned communities in whatever ways they can, choosing to eat in a immigrant-owned restaurant among them. But it is to say that to expect too much of a meal is problematic.

 Where we source recipes
 From Barbara Santich:

If you don’t frequent Ikea or kitchenware shops you might have been unaware of the newest kitchen accessory - the tablet stand:

It’s a telling statement as to where people go for recipes!

As I confessed to Barbara, I often have recourse to the web for recipes, particularly if I want to find esoteric combinations of which there are usually several recipes more than I have in my cookbook collection. I have yet to cross-over to tablet use, however, and hauling the laptop from the office to the benchtop is tiresome so inevitable print out what I find anyway…on recycled paper of course.

MOLD Magazine goes print
 ‘We’re thrilled to announce the launch of MOLD Magazine, the first print magazine about the future of food. After three years and over 400 stories about food and design, we are excited to work in a new medium for our investigations into how design can shape the way we eat and drink in the future.

Ta Colin for putting me on to this. You may have noticed I have a growing interest in foodways of the future - including where the growing is all in a petri dish - so I am looking forward to this. Meanwhile the MOLD website is a great place to waste time…I mean research food.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Seven things in food to stay livid about in 2017
‘Good news. Comfort eating dealt brilliantly with the horrors of 2016, though sadly the effect was only temporary. Once I’d eaten all the salted caramel ice cream, the things that drove me nuts about the world were still there. This made me angry. After sticking a fork in my hand repeatedly to see if the feelings would go away, I’ve decided to stay angry. Because this year, being furious is the only way forward.’

What, only seven things! And really, the list is pretty tame, I think. What about superfoods? The Paeleo diet?!

Do write back with the things foodwise you will stay furious about this year.

A women’s business – street food vending in Accra
I grew up on street food after school in Sri Lanka and crave it wherever I travel. In SL, and PNG also where I have often had lunch from a street stall, as in Accra the work is mainly done by women. This is a lovely short doco about some of these women. Yes, a lot of plastic bagging and Styrofoam, depressingly.

Parrot pie and possum curry – how colonial Australians embraced native food
‘In her 1895 book The Antipodean Cookery Book, Rawson noted that “I am beholden to the blacks for nearly all my knowledge of the edible ground game” and that “whatever the blacks eat the whites may safely try”.
Rawson’s relationship with Aboriginal people was complex and nuanced. Demonstrating an understanding of the dispossession of land occurring in Queensland at the time, she wrote sympathetically of
The lessons white men should learn from the blacks before the work of extermination which is so rapidly going on has swept all the blacks who possess this wonderful bush lore off the face of the earth

And for more on Wilhelmina Rawson

 Dreams of cooking behind barbed wire
‘It's a cookbook, its recipes written by the inmates of Ravensbrück, the largest female concentration camp in Germany during World War II. Its writers were starving and the recipes recorded are a mixture of memory and fantasy.’

Utterly fascinating and touching.

Would you eat a 3d printed pizza?
“But that’s not all. There’s also the radical idea of using insects and laboratory-grown meat in 3D printed food as a sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources. Meat and Livestock Australia also recently announced that it is looking into ways to use 3D printing to produce new meat products to extract the most value from animal carcasses. So it is not far-fetched to imagine serving a Christmas lunch with 3D printed food made from red meat and poultry, or decorative edible items made from fruit or vegetable purees, sugar or chocolate.”

The wow factor with the video embedded in the article is through the roof for me. Sure, it’s sugar sugar and more sugar, but that you can create these shapes with food by printing has me totally entranced.

And if it can do for insects what it can do for sugar, I am there, as I am with them using the technology to print food for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties or as a way of getting food into emergency zones.

A slower pace fot tv’s ‘Galloping Gourmet’
 “His wife, he said, always advised him against looking too closley at what he did so spontane and so well, because studying what worked and what didn’t would destroy the spontaneity – and the joy.”

Loved watching his show and I suspect a tad of my flamboyance in the kitchen was instilled by him. Nice to see what he has been up to since.

Make a fresh start with your fridge in 2017: apps to reduce food waste and save money
‘It doesn’t sound very sexy, but planning meals and knowing what’s in your fridge and pantry when you go shopping is a great way to reduce food waste and save time and money.’

Another neo-liberalist solution to a systemic problem, says this grouchy socialist. As one of the comments here points out and material I have posted in Compost shows major food wastage happens at the grower/production end. I also heard a disturbing paper by Dianne McGrath at last year’s Symposium of Australian Gastronomy on research by RMIT on food wastage in the food service sector showing that the biggest share of wastage here comes from the diners’ plates, with 1 in 4 diners saying they left food on their plate, often because of portions being too large. Up to 317 g of food waste per cover. The research itself is now closed but you can sign up for a newsletter update at