🔖 Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security

Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security by Colin K. Khoury, Anne D. Bjorkman, Hannes Dempewolf, Julian Ramirez-Villegasa, Luigi Guarinof, Andy Jarvis, Loren H. Rieseberg, and Paul C. Struik (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences )
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.

h/t Eat This Podcast

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🎧 Changing Global Diets: the website | Eat This Podcast

Changing Global Diets: the website by Jeremy Cherfas (Eat This Podcast)
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.

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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.

Some of the data compilation here as well as some of the visualizations are reminiscent to me of some of César A. Hidalgo’s work at the MIT Media Lab on economic complexity and even language which I’ve briefly mentioned before or bookmarked.[1][2]

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.

References

[1]
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
[2]
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
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📺 Seed: The Untold Story | Independent Lens (PBS), S18 E13

Seed: The Untold Story by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz (Independent Lens | PBS)
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 [1][2] 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.

References

[1]
J. Cherfas, “Why save seeds?,” Eat This Podcast, 07-Oct-2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.eatthispodcast.com/why-save-seeds/. [Accessed: 25-Apr-2017]
[2]
J. Cherfas, “Seed Law,” Eat This Podcast, 27-May-2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.eatthispodcast.com/seed-law/. [Accessed: 25-Apr-2017]
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My First Internet Meme! 🍍

A short story about how I was involved in the birth of the Mastodon 🍍 meme

Joining Mastodon.social

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.

A flurry of articles about Mastodon

Fast forward about a week, dozens of Mastodon articles later, and last night I’m reading (courtesy of yet another link posted in the #Indieweb chat–hint: if you want to know where the bleeding edge of the social web is, you should be either lurking or participating there) the article What I wish I knew before joining Mastodon: Where I attempt to explain Mastodon through Harry Potter gifs by Qina Liu, the Digital Engagement Editor at The Buffalo News (on Medium for some odd reason rather than The Buffalo News itself).

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 (@acw@mastodon.social), 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.

And even Rochko made a pineapple joke.

So to recap, if you get a 🍍 on Mastodon, it’s…

Plus, pineapples are awesome.

Except if you’re the president of Iceland, who doesn’t like 🍍🍕.

So was that a “Yes, Yes, Yes”?

So apparently my short note about the “meaning” behind the pineapple has helped to turn it into a “thing” on the internet.

For the historians, here’s the thread of the original conversation:

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.

You’re Welcome! 🍍

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🎧 Pecans and history | Eat This Podcast

Pecans and history by Jeremy Cherfas (Eat This Podcast)
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.

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I grew up in rural Appalachia eating my fair share of wild pecans and thought I knew a good bit about them. I know even more now…

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🎧 Backpackers and their food | Eat This Podcast

Backpackers and their food by Jeremy Cherfas (Eat This Podcast)
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.

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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.

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🎧 Why save seeds? | Eat This Podcast

Why save seeds? by Jeremy Cherfas (Eat This Podcast)
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.

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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.

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My first try at home made matzo ball soup! Next time I’ll use schmaltz.

My first try at home made matzo ball soup! Next time I'll use schmaltz.
My first try at home made matzo ball soup! Next time I’ll use schmaltz.

Instagram filter used: Clarendon

Photo taken at: Glendale, California

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Le Cinq, Paris: restaurant review | The Guardian

Le Cinq, Paris: restaurant review by Jay Rayner (The Guardian)
It was supposed to be a joyous trip to one of France’s famous gastro palaces – what could possibly go wrong?

You’d almost think this reviewer was going out of his way to be as delightfully brutal as he possibly could be…

Continue reading “Le Cinq, Paris: restaurant review | The Guardian”

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🔖 Want to read Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova

Butter: A Rich History by Elaine Khosrova (Algonquin Books, ISBN: 978-1616203641)
It’s a culinary catalyst, an agent of change, a gastronomic rock star. Ubiquitous in the world’s most fabulous cuisines, butter is boss. Here, it finally gets its due. After traveling across three continents to stalk the modern story of butter, award-winning food writer and former pastry chef Elaine Khosrova serves up a story as rich, textured, and culturally relevant as butter itself. From its humble agrarian origins to its present-day artisanal glory, butter has a fascinating story to tell, and Khosrova is the perfect person to tell it. With tales about the ancient butter bogs of Ireland, the pleasure dairies of France, and the sacred butter sculptures of Tibet, Khosrova details butter’s role in history, politics, economics, nutrition, and even spirituality and art. Readers will also find the essential collection of core butter recipes, including beurre manié, croissants, pâte brisée, and the only buttercream frosting anyone will ever need, as well as practical how-tos for making various types of butter at home--or shopping for the best.

Butter: A Rich History

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🎧 Literal Farm To Table: Here’s The Dirt On Chefs Cooking With Dirt | The Salt (NPR)

Literal Farm To Table: Here's The Dirt On Chefs Cooking With Dirt by NPR Staff (The Salt (NPR))
What's the next big foodie enthusiasm? Robust flavors, earthy scents and lusty textures from the very soil that nourishes life. It's called Veritable Cuisine du Terroir — literally, Food from the Earth Really — and in their copper-clad kitchen in the Marais district of Paris, chefs Solange and Gael Gregoire run one of the hottest bistros in a city long celebrated for its culinary prowess. Their restaurant, Le Plat Sal — which translates to The Dirty Plate — prepares four-star signature dishes, like Roche Dans la Croute, a rock from Mont Lachat folded into a pastry crust, and Boue Ragout, a stew simmered from the mud of the Seine River, washed down with a surprisingly delicate vintage of Du Vin d'Egout, a smoky gray wine distilled from Paris sewer water.

Coprophagia is so yesterday already.

Cuisine du Terroir

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Checkin Clifton’s Cafeteria

Clifton's Cafeteria
California’s lone survivor from the Golden Age of Cafeterias once again redefines the dining experience. Enter our “Cabinet of Curiosities” and celebrate California’s diverse natural and cultural legacy within our legendary forest themed environment.

Dining at an LA institution for the first time.

HAAS Building, Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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The problem with frozen beef | Flash in the Pan

The problem with frozen beef by Ari LeVaux (Flash in the Pan)
There is an unfortunate stigma attached to frozen meat, a widely held assumption that it’s inferior to fresh meat. This prejudice runs deep enough that fast-food chain Wendy’s tried to capitalize on it in 2008 with a promise that its burger meat was “Always fresh, never frozen.”

Continue reading “The problem with frozen beef | Flash in the Pan”

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🔖 Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction by Parke Wilde

Food Policy in the United States: An Introduction by Parke Wilde (Routledge, 2013)
This book offers a broad introduction to food policies in the United States. Real-world controversies and debates motivate the book’s attention to economic principles, policy analysis, nutrition science and contemporary data sources. It assumes that the reader's concern is not just the economic interests of farmers, but also includes nutrition, sustainable agriculture, the environment and food security. The book’s goal is to make US food policy more comprehensible to those inside and outside the agri-food sector whose interests and aspirations have been ignored.

The chapters cover US agriculture, food production and the environment, international agricultural trade, food and beverage manufacturing, food retail and restaurants, food safety, dietary guidance, food labeling, advertising and federal food assistance programs for the poor.

The author is an agricultural economist with many years of experience in the non-profit advocacy sector, the US Department of Agriculture and as a professor at Tufts University. The author's well-known blog on US food policy provides a forum for discussion and debate of the issues set out in the book.

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