In the town hall of Siena is a series of glorious frescoes that depict The Allegory of Good and Bad Government. In one of them is a pig, long snouted and thin legged, black with a white band around its back and down its front legs, being quietly chivied along by a swineherd. It is absolutely recognisable as a cinta senese, a Belted Sienese pig, today one the most favoured heritage breeds in Italy. But it wasn’t always so. Numbers dropped precipitously in the 1950s and 1960s, to the point that the herd studbook, recording the ancestry of all the animals, was abandoned. And then began the renaissance.
One place that contributed to the revival of the cinta senese is Spannocchia, a large and ancient estate not far from Siena. I was lucky enough to visit earlier this summer, to see the pigs first hand and to learn about them from Sara Silvestri.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, to me, was that not all cinta senese are blessed with the white belt that is deemed a characteristic of the breed. Some have white spots or stripes but not the full band, and some don’t seem to have any white at all. This could be flaky genetics – odd for a breed with a supposedly ancient lineage – or it could be the result of marauding male cinghiale, which are a problem in Spannocchia and elsewhere. Right now, all these visually defective animals (and most of the perfect specimens too) end up on a plate. I wonder how long before every piglet born is properly belted.
Oh, how I dream of pork… I’m beginning to wonder if there’s an Eat This Podcast 12 step program.
For a minute toward the end I though that Jeremy had slipped and let the audio quality of the episode go to pot. Took me a minute to realize that it had started to rain during the interview and the audio was really just supplementing the arc of the story–as always. I suppose I have to let go and trust his producerial sense.
I’d been away from podcasts for a chunk of the summer, so today was a great day to have the chance to catch up on one of my favorites.
Producers, sellers, and consumers waste tons of food. John Oliver discusses the shocking amount of food we don’t eat.
This episode dispels a lot of common misconceptions about food and food donations in the United States.
Some of the potential legislation discussed here could be tremendously helpful not only to a lot of Americans, but to other countries as well. I find it difficult to believe that legislators work on a bunch of knucklehead things when “simple” things like this are left to fester away. Not only could it help out millions of people, but could create jobs, and drastically effect world efficiency as well as improve the economy.
If Jeremy Cherfas, hasn’t seen this, I highly recommend it. Perhaps a more in-dept episode of Eat This Podcast on the numbers, policy decisions and science?
There’s just no limit to the wonderfully weird pieces of cuisine that Japan comes up with. They’ve made cream puff desserts into drinks, put Kit Kats on sushi, turned meat into cakes, and even made it possible to bathe in maple syrup! And their latest foray in overtaking internet searches and Twitter trends might be their cutest yet. Yes, we’re talking about cat bread.
That cuppa joe you just sipped? Its long journey to your cup was made possible by shipping containers—those rectangular metal boxes that carry everything from TVs to clothes to frozen shrimp. And there’s a whole host of characters whose lives revolve around this precious cargo: gruff captains, hearty cooks, perceptive coffee tasters, and competitive tugboat pilots. This is the world journalist Alexis Madrigal illuminates in his new podcast Containers. Alexis tells us how the fancy coffee revolution is shaking up the shipping industry, and reveals his favorite sailor snack. Bite celebrates its first birthday, and Kiera gets up-close-and-personal with a kitchen contraption that’s sweeping the nation: the InstantPot.
This is a cool new podcast I hadn’t come across before. This particular episode is a bit similar to my favorite podcast Eat This Podcast, though as a broader series it appears to focus more on culture and society rather than the more scientific areas that ETP tends to focus on, and which I prefer.
The bulk of this episode, which discusses shipping and containers (really more than food or coffee which is only a sub-topic here), reminds me of the book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Biggerby Marc Levinson which I’d read in July/August 2014. (The book is now in its second addition with an additional chapter.) I suspect it was some of the motivating underlying material for Alexis Madrigal’s Containers podcast series. The book had a lot more history and technical detail while I suspect Madrigal’s series has more of the human aspect and culture thrown in to highlight the effect of containerization. I’m subscribing to it and hope to catch it in the next few weeks. The discussion here is a quick overview of one of his episodes and it goes a long way towards humanizing the ever increasing linkages that makes the modern world possible. In particular it also attempts to put a somewhat more human face on the effects of increasing industrialization and internationalization of not only food production, but all types of manufacturing which are specifically impacting the U.S. (and other) economy and culture right now.
The InstantPot segment was interesting, particularly for cooking Indian food. I’m always intrigued by cooking methods which allow a modern home cook to better recreate the conditions of regional cuisines without the same investment in methods necessitated by the local cultures. Also following Alton Brown’s mantra, it sounds like it could be a useful multi-tasker.
Karen Coates is a freelance American journalist who writes about food – among other things. She emailed to ask if I would be interested in talking to her about a book that she and her husband, photographer Jerry Redfern, have produced. It’s called Eternal Harvest, but it isn’t about food, at least not directly. Its subtitle is the legacy of American bombs in Laos. Some of those bombs are 500-pounders. Lots of them are little tennis-ball sized bomblets, which are as attractive to farm kids as a tennis ball might be, with horrific consequences. The story of unexploded ordnance in Laos was an eye opener, for me. But I also wanted to know about food in Laos, and so that’s where we began our conversation.
Interesting to hear about the monotony of some of the local diets, which across large areas are actually quite diverse. The limited selections show a high incidence of forced locovorsim while the lack of diversity also goes to show limited trade areas and links between towns and villages. The show also touched on some longer 500 year trends in food in the area, but only in a passing manner. Even small amounts of animal protein in diets shows how important they can be in the long run.
Ah, the self-indulgent joy of making a podcast on one of my own passions.
“They” say that turning cooking from an enjoyable hobby into a business is a recipe for disaster, and while I’m flattered that people will pay for an additional loaf of bread I’ve baked, there’s no way I’m going to be getting up at 3 in the morning every day to sell enough loaves to make a living. But there are people who have done just that, and one of them happens to be a friend. Suzanne Dunaway and her husband Don turned her simple, delicious foccacia into Buona Forchetta bakery, a multi-million dollar business that won plaudits for the quality of its bread – and then sold it and walked away.
Suzanne was also one of the first popularisers of the “no-knead” method of making bread, with her 1999 book No need to knead. Using a wetter dough, and letting time take the place of kneading, has been around among professional bakers and some, often forgetful, amateurs for a long time, but it was Mark Bittman’s article in the New York Times that opened the floodgates on this method. Since then, as any search engine will reveal, interest in the technique has exploded, both because no-knead is perceived as easier and because the long, slow rise that no-knead usually calls for results in a deeper, more complex flavour. I’ve had my troubles with it, and had more or less given up on the real deal. But I’m looking forward to seeing how a quick no-knead bread turns out, especially now that I know that in Suzanne’s case it was the result of a delicious accident.
Yet another episode that I would have listened to for hours if it had gone on. It reminds me how sad it is that they’ve moved out of LA and La Brea Bakery has become so huge. It also reminds me of fond days back on Barry Avenue in my “youth”. I’m always one to daydream about having my own pastry shop, but the repeated instances of 3AM start times reminds me why I don’t do this.
If you haven’t begun binge listening to this podcast, rush out now and subscribe.
Making a quiche with sausage, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and cheese from scratch this morning for brunch later today with friends at Gerrish Swim & Tennis Club. I’m hoping the crust will come out as flaky as I want it to.
The narrowing of diversity in crop species contributing to the world’s food supplies has been considered a potential threat to food security. However, changes in this diversity have not been quantified globally. We assess trends over the past 50 y in the richness, abundance, and composition of crop species in national food supplies worldwide. Over this period, national per capita food supplies expanded in total quantities of food calories, protein, fat, and weight, with increased proportions of those quantities sourcing from energy-dense foods. At the same time the number of measured crop commodities contributing to national food supplies increased, the relative contribution of these commodities within these supplies became more even, and the dominance of the most significant commodities decreased. As a consequence, national food supplies worldwide became more similar in composition, correlated particularly with an increased supply of a number of globally important cereal and oil crops, and a decline of other cereal, oil, and starchy root species. The increase in homogeneity worldwide portends the establishment of a global standard food supply, which is relatively species-rich in regard to measured crops at the national level, but species-poor globally. These changes in food supplies heighten interdependence among countries in regard to availability and access to these food sources and the genetic resources supporting their production, and give further urgency to nutrition development priorities aimed at bolstering food security.
A fascinating tool for exploring how, where and when diets evolve. Foodwise, what unites Cameroon, Nigeria and Grenada? How about Cape Verde, Colombia and Peru? As of today, you can visit a website to find out. The site is the brainchild of Colin Khoury and his colleagues, and is intended to make it easier to see the trends hidden within 50 years of annual food data from more than 150 countries. If that rings a bell, it may be because you heard the episode around three years ago, in which Khoury and I talked about the massive paper he and his colleagues had published on the global standard diet. Back then, the researchers found it easy enough to explain the overall global trends that emerged from the data, but more detailed questions – about particular crops, or countries, or food groups – were much more difficult to answer. The answer to that one? An interactive website.
While this seems a short and simple episode with some engaging conversation, it’s the podcast equivalent of the floating duck–things appear smooth and calm on the surface, but the duck is paddling like the devil underneath the surface. The Changing Global Diet website is truly spectacular and portends to have me losing a day’s worth of work or more over the next few days.
I’d be curious to see what some of the data overlays between and among some of these projects looked like and what connections they might show. I suspect that some of the food diversity questions may play into the economic complexities that countries exhibit as well.
If there were longer term data over the past 10,000+ years to make this a big history and food related thing, that would be phenomenal too, though I suspect that there just isn’t enough data to make a longer time line truly useful.
D. Hartmann, M. R. Guevara, C. Jara-Figueroa, M. Aristarán, and C. A. Hidalgo, “Linking Economic Complexity, Institutions, and Income Inequality,” World Development, vol. 93. Elsevier BV, pp. 75–93, May-2017 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2016.12.020
S. Ronen, B. Gonçalves, K. Z. Hu, A. Vespignani, S. Pinker, and C. A. Hidalgo, “Links that speak: The global language network and its association with global fame,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 52. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pp. E5616–E5622, 15-Dec-2014 [Online]. Available: http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410931111
Worshiped and treasured since the dawn of humankind, few things on Earth are as miraculous and vital as seeds. SEED: The Untold Story follows passionate seed keepers intent on protecting our 12,000 year-old food legacy.
In the last century, 94% of our seed varieties have disappeared. This once abundant seed diversity — painstakingly created by ancient farmers and gardeners over countless millennia — has been drastically winnowed down to a handful of mass-produced varieties. Under the spell of industrial "progress" and corporate profits, family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses sowing genetically identical crops on a massive scale. But without seed diversity, crop diseases rise and empires fall.
More than a cautionary tale of "man against nature," SEED reveals the work of farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers who are fighting a David versus Goliath battle to defend the future of our food. In a story both harrowing and heartening, we meet a wide variety of reluctant heroes working to rekindle a lost connection to our most treasured resource, from the pueblos of New Mexico to a seed bunker in Norway, from India to America’s heartland, from Peru to Hawaii. Among the dozens of people featured are Will Bonsall of the Scatterseed Project, Dr. Jane Goodall, environmental lawyer Claire Hope Cummings, ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, botanical explorer Joseph Simcox, Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, and physicist/activist Dr. Vandana Shiva.
SEED explores the hidden fabric of our food and the people that painstakingly and meticulously curate its diversity, in an era of climate uncertainty and immense corporate power.
This was an interesting documentary on seed which people obviously take heavily for granted.
I think I preferred the shorter podcasts I recently listened to: Why Save Seeds and Seed Law on the fantastic Eat This Podcast mostly because they were a bit more scientific and policy-minded. This documentary was interesting, told some great personal stories, but could be viewed as not the most balanced of presentations. It obviously went for a more uplifting and poignant stance surrounding the people and the communities as well as their stories.
It could easily have spent 20-30 minutes delving into more of the science and the policy portions of the story to better underpin the overall arc of the story and simply had a longer 90 minute running time instead of just an hour spent primarily focused on trying to pull simply at our heartstrings.
I agree that the decrease in diversity of our seed stores is an appalling travesty, but the topic deserves better coverage and a more nuanced viewpoint of the relevant science and policy could have done far more to get people interested in the subject. I certainly would have appreciated it.
A short story about how I was involved in the birth of the Mastodon 🍍 meme
A few months ago, I was reading Hacker News and saw a note about the new social media platform Mastodon built on top of GNU Social. Then, through the #Indieweb IRC chat logs, I came across another mention of the platform by Kevin Marks. Shortly thereafter, he appeared on This Week in Google talking about it, an episode which I listened to on December 7. Two days later I finally joined Mastodon to see what was going on, though I’d been on GNU Social sites Quitter.se and Quitter.no much earlier.
An early Mastodon experience
I lurked around on the platform for a bit to check it out and then promptly walked away with the determination that it was “just another silo” and I’d prefer to keep posting on my own site and syndicating out if necessary. It wasn’t until ADN (a Twitter-like social media platform that was previously at app.net) was shutting down on March 15th and people were leaving there to find other communities that I was reminded of Mastodon as I was also looking at platforms like 10 Centuries and pnut.io. Others were obviously doing the same thing and it was then that articles began popping up in the more mainstream tech media. I thought I’d give Mastodon another try and popped into my account to see what had changed, how, and importantly could I build any of the functionality into my own site?
Within a few minutes of rejoining and following a few people in the local stream, I was greeted with this:
My immediate thought, having grown up in the South, was “How welcoming–A pineapple!”
A quick comment later and I realized that it was just coincidence.
The article is well written and is a pretty good tutorial on what Mastodon is, how it works, and how to begin participating. Toward the end it also gets into some of the Mastodon culture. Like a great reporter, Liu obviously spent some time to get to know the natives. She finishes off the story with a short vignette on pineapples which I found eerily familiar. Hey, it’s my friend @acw! As the article wears on, I begin to think, “Oh dear, what have I done?!”
I’m excerpting the tail end of the article for more context about the pineapple meme:
Why am I seeing pineapples all over Mastodon?
Alright, so I’m no P.J. Vogt, Alex Goldman or any of the other awesome producers at the podcast “Reply All,” but I’m going to attempt to “Yes, Yes, No” this for you guys.
🍍🍍🍍 on Mastodon got started by Alex Weiner (@firstname.lastname@example.org), a software developer who uses APL. Since APL sounds like 🍎, he really likes 🍎 and any words including 🍎 like 🎄🍎.
So he started tooting 🍍 to new people as a form of “hello,” “welcome,” “aloha” — and you get the idea.
And he also started boosting toots with 🍍.
So 🍍 became the emoji shorthand for boost.
And 🍍ing also became Internet slang for when your Mastodon follower count surpasses your Twitter follower count.
But pineapple appreciation didn’t end there. Other people started posting 🍍 in their display name.
Ultimately, because the pineapple is such a long-standing symbol of welcoming, it has to be a good thing. Right?
So if you were lucky enough to get into Mastodon.social before registration was turned off (maybe they’ll turn it back on one day, or you can get into one of the many other instances), feel free to give me a follow there and enjoy the pineapples.
The Guadalupe River that flows through Texas used to be known as The River of Nuts, a fact that Wikipedia does not confirm. The nut in question is the pecan, Carya illinoinensis, and the pecan tree is the state tree of Texas. The groves of wild pecans that lined the rivers of Texas are, however, threatened by the very popularity of the nuts they bear, and in particular by the fickle global nut market. The Chinese, you see, have gone nuts for pecans, increasing their purchase of American pecans from 3–4% in 2006 to 30–40% today. And if they abandon the pecan as quickly as they took it up, the wild pecan groves might be abandoned too. All this, and much more, I learned from James McWilliams, professor of history at Texas State University. His new book is one of those delights that looks at the global sweep of human endeavour through a little lens, in this case the pecan.
Why it was the Chinese, rather than the French, the English or some other country, that chose to absorb the pecan surplus, I guess we’ll never know. McWilliams told me that Chinese people he spoke to believe the nuts prolong life; irrational as that may seem, no American grower is going to say they don’t. And while the high prices are good news for growers, they’re not so good for people who want pecan-containing industrial food.
When you’re on holiday, or just away from home, do you seek out the “authentic” local food, or look for a reassuringly familar logo? Backpackers, keen to distinguish themselves from the vulgar hordes who are merely on holiday, seek out the authentic, at least to begin with. Dr Emily Falconer has been studying women backpackers. That’s her in the photo, doing a little field research over a bowl of something exotic in Thailand. And she says that while they start out seeking the grottiest places to eat, after they’ve been on the road for a while, their thoughts stray guiltily to familiar, comforting foods. I know the feeling
Emily Falconer didn’t set out to study backpackers and food, but soon discovered that no matter what the subject, the people she was talking to sooner or later brought up food. I’m no exception, and although I’ve never been a great backpacker myself, I do prefer to seek out reasonably local eating places where I can, and I’ve had some memorable meals as a result. The most memorable of those was in Kunming, China, where I detached myself from the group I was with and went in search of something to eat. I didn’t find it at the food fair that was on at the same time, but in the end I fetched up in a place so authentic it didn’t even have photographs of the food. I indicated to the waiter that I was hungry and he brought me food. I had no idea what any of it was, and aside from one soupy dish that was almost too hot even for me, it was all delicious. Next time I might take with me a book, this book.
A bit surprised that human’s evolutionary predilection against eating foods they’re not familiar with didn’t come up in conversation, but there’s so much rich material here otherwise, I’ll wager it may have been excised for time constraints.
Words of the day: grotty and neophobia
Somehow I’ve never had a bacon sandwich (BLTs, yes, but never just bacon). Will have to remedy that.
What, really, is the point of conserving agricultural biodiversity? The formal sector, genebanks and the like, will say it is about genetic resources and having on hand the traits to breed varieties that will solve the challenges tomorrow might throw up. Thousands of seed savers around the world might well agree with that, at least partially. I suspect, though, that for most seed savers the primary reason is surely more about food, about having the varieties they want to eat. David Cavagnaro has always championed that view. David’s is a fascinating personal history, which currently sees him working on the Pepperfield Project, “A Non-Profit Organization Located in Decorah, IA Promoting and Teaching Hands-On Cooking, Gardening and Agrarian Life Skills”. I first met David 15 or 20 years ago at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah. This year, I was lucky enough to be invited there again, and I lost no time in finding time for a chat.
David pointed out that immigrants are often keen gardeners and, perforce, seed savers as they struggle to maintain their distinctive food culture in a new land. That’s true for the Hmong in Minneapolis, Asian communities in England and, I’m sure, many others elsewhere. What happens as those communities assimilate? The children and grandchildren of the immigrant gardeners are unlikely to feel the same connection to their original food culture, and may well look down on growing food as an unsuitable occupation. Is immigrant agricultural biodiversity liable to be lost too? Efforts to preserve it don’t seem to be flourishing.
Seed saving for its own sake, rather than purely as a route to sustenance, does seem to be both a bit of a luxury and to require a rather special kind of personality. John Withee, whose bean collection brought David Cavagnaro to Seed Savers Exchange and people like Russ Crow, another of his spritual heirs, collect and create stories as much as they do agricultural biodiversity. And that’s something formal genebanks never seem to document.
There’s a lot to unpack here with respect to agricultural diversity and evolution. Mass food manufacture is a boon for the world, but this type of industrial process should be working on ways to keep some programmed diversity in the process as well. I would have been perfectly happy for this interview to have gone on for several hours and in greater depth.