Research has shown that wealthier, urbanised regions tend to harbour more individualistic personalities, while poorer, agrarian areas have more collectivist, community-minded ones. But why? A study from the University of Chicago published this week suggests such differences could be down to a region’s predominant crops—an insight gleaned, improbably, from observing nearly 9,000 customers in Chinese cafes. People in China’s south farm rice, which requires a whole village’s co-operation on irrigation; in the north, they grow wheat, far less demanding of collective effort. The researchers’ first observation was that latte-lovers in wheat-growing regions were far more likely to be alone. Then the team surreptitiously blocked thoroughfares with chairs. Among northerners, 16% shifted the chairs (individualism is marked by actively modifying one’s environment), while only 6% from the rice-cultivating south did so (collectivists tend to work with what they’ve got). It’s an intriguing sociological suggestion, perhaps to be filed under “you are what you eat”.
Randomly ran across this over the weekend and seems like the kind of cultural/food-related study that Jeremy Cherfas would enjoy.
References this study: Moving chairs in Starbucks.1
Talhelm T, Zhang X, Oishi S. Moving chairs in Starbucks: Observational studies find rice-wheat cultural differences in daily life in China. Science Advances. http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/4/eaap8469. Published April 25, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2018.
Time was, not so long ago, when you could barely move on the Thames in London for ships and boats of all shapes and sizes. Goods flowed in from the Empire in tall-masted sailing ships and stocky steamers and were transferred to barges and lighters for moving on. The canals, too, were driven by, and served, the industrial revolution, bringing coal and other raw materials to factories and taking away the finished goods by water, the cheapest and quickest system for bulk transport. By the late 1960s, much of the waterborne traffic had gone. Ships unloaded in the docks and goods were transferred by road and rail. A bit of freight continued to move on the water, some of that in the hands of Tam and Di Murrell. Di Murrell’s new book, Barges & Bread: canals & grain to bread & baking traces the interwined development of the grain trade and bread as it played out in the Thames basin and beyond.
The importance of bread (and beer) to the people is encapsulated in the Assize of Bread and Ale, a statue of 1266 (though it appears to have codified earlier laws) and the first law in England to deal with food. Loaves were sold by size for a penny, a half-penny and, most commonly, a farthing (quarter of a penny). The finer the flour, the smaller the loaf you got at each price point. The price of grain naturally varied from year to year and from place to place, but the Assize fixed not the price but the weight of a penny loaf and also regulated in minute detail the baker’s profit and allowable expenses.
Very roughly, if the price of wheat was 12 pence a quarter (a quarter weighing 240 pounds) then the baker had to ensure that a farthing loaf of the best white bread, called Wastel bread, weighed 5.6 pounds. Wastel bread was not the most expensive. Simnel bread, “because it has been baked twice,” cost a bit more and so called French bread, enriched with milk and eggs, a bit more still. The coarsest “bread of common wheat” was less than half the cost of wastel bread.
From every quarter of wheat, the baker was permitted to sell 418 pounds of bread. Anything he could squeeze above that was called advantage bread, and was essentially pure profit. There was, naturally, every incentive for bakers and millers alike to add all sorts of things to increase the weight of flour and bread.
It is the connection between money and the weight of bread that is most intriguing. Weights, like money, were expressed as pounds. A pound in money was the pound-weight of silver, while the penny – the only coin in circulation – was a pennyweight of silver. But how much was a penny weight? 32 Wheat Corns in the midst of the Ear according to the Assize of Bread and Ale, which then explained that the 20 pence-weight made an ounce, and 12 ounces made one pound.
Dairy cows unavoidably produce male calves that are of no use to the dairy industry. They used to end up as veal, and in 1960, Britons ate more than 600,000 calves worth of the stuff. By the 1980s, that had dropped to less than 35,000. Ten years ago, a UK trade magazine said that “public opinion … generally regards veal as ethically somewhere between dodo omelettes and panda fritters”.
And yet, today there’s no shortage of veal and no surplus of dairy bullocks.
Time was when veal calves were kept in the dark. These days, it may be the shoppers who have helped to solve the problem of surplus male dairy calves. Behind the shift is a complicated story of moral outrage, utterly unpredictable disease outbreaks and the willingness of some strange bedfellows to work together to solve a difficult problem for the food supply system.
Banner photo of two Dutch dairy calves by Peter Nijenhuis and cover by debstreasures.
The realities of milk and beef production may not always square with our societal morality. Things are more complicated than they may seem and require second and third level thought and problem solving to come up with worthwhile solutions. I remember outcry when I was younger and knew that things had shifted, but haven’t heard any follow up stories until now. Glad to know that things seem to have reached some sort of equilibrium that seems generally acceptable.
Brewers have long appreciated the value of hops from the Pacific northwest, but it was Cascade, a variety practically synonymous with craft brewing, that made the area more generally famous among beer drinkers. Cascade was named for the Cascade Range, which runs down the west coast of North America. The home of the Cascade hop is the Willamette valley, roughly halfway between the mountains and the coast. Cascade was released in 1972, but the history of hops in the Willamette valley goes back to the 1830s. The industry has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs, all examined by historian Peter Kopp in his book Hoptopia.
The whole question of changing tastes in beer, and how that affects the fortunes of different hops, is fascinating. If you’ve been a listener forever, you may remember a very early Eat This Podcast, about the rediscovery of an English hop known prosaically as OZ97a. Deemed too hoppy and abandoned when first tried, the vogue for craft beers resurrected its fortunes. It’s a fun story, though I say so myself.
Cover photo is Ezra Meeker, the early grower of hops in the Willamette valley who pioneered the global marketing of Oregon hops. The booming hop business made him the territory’s first millionnaire, and perhaps also its biggest bust. Hop King: Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years chronicles that part of his long, rich life.
I had a roommate in college from the Czech Republic who fondly remembered spending time on hops farms picking what he called the county’s “green gold”. It’s interesting to think about the economic and cultural differences and norms built up around such a product. I hadn’t known that the Pacific Northwest figured so prominently in production and find it amazing that the economic timing for the industry was so fortuitous.
The future of food looks like lots of lobsters, Polish chardonnay and California coffee.
This is a difficult story to tell, though the timelapse imagery here is relatively useful. If one had some extra money lying around, it certainly indicates which crops one could be shorting in the markets over the next few decades.
I can imagine Jeremy Cherfas doing something interesting and more personalizing with this type of story via his fantastic interviews on Eat This Podcast.
Refugees selling the food of their homeland to get a start in a new life is, by now, a cliché. Khaled (in the photo) joined their ranks a year ago. But cliché or not, selling food is an important way to give people work to do, wages, and hope. If it’s happening on your doorstep, which it is, and the food is good, which it is, what’s a hungry podcaster to do? Go there, obviously, and report back. Which is why, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself, microphone in hand, waiting patiently in line for a falafel wrap.
Truth be told, there aren’t that many Syrian refugees in Italy. The most recent official statistics put the total at around 5000 with a little over 600 in Rome. Hummustown is helping a few of them.
During my years of teaching, the tomato was the one ingredient I never wanted to appear in the mandated class recipes. Management refused to acknowledge that good tomatoes were seasonal, that fresh tomatoes were different than canned tomatoes, and that not all canned tomatoes were the same. This video is a partial response to those bosses that I should have forgotten about long ago.
I suspect he’s just scratching the surface of the topic of tomatoes. This is the first time I’ve seen or heard a reference about the origin of the fact that a tomato is both a fruit and a vegetable.
Having written more than 80,000 words about knife skills as well as having taught numerous classes on the subject, I have come to the belief that good knife skills can be defined by just three simple aspects: grip, holding hand, and knife motion. In other words, the essence of good knife skills can be summarized by how you hold your knife, how you hold your food, and how you move your knife.
A solid little video on something every cook should know something about.
Brian Wansink won fame, funding, and influence for his science-backed advice on healthy eating. Now, emails show how the Cornell professor and his colleagues have hacked and massaged low-quality data into headline-friendly studies to “go virally big time.”
This article is painful to read and has some serious implications for both science in general and the issue of repeat-ability. I suspect that this is an easily caught flagrant case and that it probably only scratches the surface. The increased competition in research and the academy is sure to create more cases of this in the future.
We really need people to begin publishing their negative results and doing a better job on understanding and practicing statistics. Science is already not “believed” by far too many in the United States, we really don’t need bad actors like this eroding the solid foundations we’ve otherwise built.
ListenedMike Solomonov by Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic Interview
Israeli chef Mike Solomonov recently won the James Beard Award for outstanding chef. He created the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia, built a food empire, and expertly hid a drug addiction from everyone in his life. He talks with Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic's editor in chief, about what he felt when his brother was killed, and how the tragedy first fueled and then helped him fight his addiction. Now in a long recovery, he cooks Israeli food as a kind of cultural mission.
A very interesting human story hiding behind a food “celebrity”. We definitely need more people like this in our culture helping to diversify interesting things in our lives.