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Food Links, 17.12.2014

  • Combating illegal fishing.
  • Jack Monroe on poverty.
  • Levels of mercury in fish have increased dramatically.
  • The mystery of the disappearing vitamins.
  • Explaining parabens.
  • The looming olive oil shortage.
  • Does Britain have a drinking problem?
  • Americans go wild for almonds.
  • Radical Mycology.
  • Foraging is not cool.
  • Shorter trees mean cheaper fruit.
  • Lab grown milk.
  • How not to respond to being accidentally overcharged at a restaurant.
  • Most vegetarians and vegans return to eating meat.
  • The bulletproof coffee diet.
  • The Maillard Reaction.
  • Slavery, sugar, and drinking in the thirteen colonies.
  • Nixon’s lunch on his last full day of office.
  • How to open a bottle of wine with a shoe.
  • How to wrap a loaf.
  • Producing cava in Catalonia.
  • Cheese and hats.
  • Puddings for picnics.
  • Savoury ice cream.
  • Eat more schmaltz.
  • An interview with Betty Fussell.
  • Best things eaten in 2014.
  • Moments of food revelation in film.
  • ‘”It’s not out of the question that someone at some point may have made a mould of some famous woman’s breasts and then used it for a glass,” she went on, “but I don’t think there’s anything to indicate that Marie Antoinette herself would have lent her breast for a vessel.”‘
  • Ancient Egyptian bread.
  • Lasse Hallström’s new movie misrepresents chefs.
  • Making cheese in goatskin.
  • The watermelon bagel.
  • How to drink absinthe.
  • The plio diet.
  • Eton mess cake.
  • Pork schnitzel and marital bliss.
  • A corner shop made out of felt.
  • Bodega cats.
  • The best bars in Buenos Aires.
  • New York’s first mustard sommelier.
  • Kosher and sustainable seafood?
  • Fluffy dinner balls.
  • Make better sugar cookies.
  • Make better latkes.
  • Make better tea.

A Pumpkin Spice too Far

I spent most of October and November in the United States and Canada, coinciding with Canadian Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en, and, probably most importantly, pumpkin spice season. This blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves—the flavourings associated with pumpkin pie—has become comically ubiquitous in the US. Alongside pumpkin spice muffins, macaroons, and cupcakes, I saw pumpkin spice air freshener, rooibos tea, and beer. I tried pumpkin spice chips (inadvisable) and Icelandic yogurt (odd).

Too far, I think.

Too far, I think.

The pumpkin spice phenomenon originated in 2003, when Starbucks—then on the cusp of almost-global domination—debuted a new flavour for autumn. As reported last year to mark the drink’s ten-year anniversary, the company was hesitant to introduce the pumpkin spice latte. It already sold several flavoured coffees, but was not entirely sure that another seasonal drink would take off. They needn’t have worried. Forbes reports that in 2013 Starbucks had sold more than 200 million pumpkin spice lattes:

If you just do the math, that means Starbucks has sold an average 20 million beverages a year whose flavoring once belonged primarily in a seasonal pie…

At the basic price of about $4 for a 12-ounce tall size, PSL means at least $80 million in revenue … for Starbucks, which serves it beginning in September. … The company says the PSL is by far the most popular seasonal beverage in its lineup.

In fact, the pumpkin spice latte was held responsible for a bounce in the chain’s revenues this year. Outrages and fears over pumpkin spice shortages, and the annual dash for the first pumpkin spice latte of the season, are canny marketing strategies which have helped to position the drink—the #PSL on Twitter—alongside Starbucks’s red cups as a marker of the beginning of autumn and the holiday season. Unsurprisingly, other chains and supermarkets have begun to produce their own versions of the PSL.

Small, independent coffee shops—the alternatives to corporate caffeine—have also developed ways of cashing in on the pumpkin spice craze. I had a pumpkin pie flavoured latte at New Moon—an excellent café in Burlington, Vermont—and a lumberjack latte at Babo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They were sweet and spicy: less coffee than coffee flavoured drinks.

I don’t think that the wild enthusiasm for pumpkin spice—as a flavouring—is particularly surprising. After all, in the US, Europe, and some other parts of the world, this combination of spices has long been a feature of winter or festive cooking and baking. A more interesting question is why Americans drink so much flavoured coffee. In the interests of research, I also tried vanilla, and brown sugar and sea salt flavoured coffees, and resolved never to waver from the true path of Americanos, flat whites, and the odd cappuccino. For all the fact that new technologies and techniques—drip, siphon, cold brew—have gained wild popularity for making coffee which tastes, apparently, more acutely and complicatedly of coffee, the popularity of flavoured coffees continues unabated.

It's decorative gourd season at the Ann Arbor farmers' market.

It’s decorative gourd season at the Ann Arbor farmers’ market.

America remains the largest coffee market in the world, with a third of consumers drinking ‘gourmet’ (or specially prepared) brews every day. To some extent, the ubiquity of coffee today is linked to a major fall in the price of the commodity twenty years ago. In 1962, John F. Kennedy shepherded the International Coffee Agreement into existence. Including mainly Latin American countries—the producers of superior Arabica coffee beans—the ICA controlled the price of coffee globally and was also intended to stabilise these countries’ economies, immunising them against potential Soviet influence. The ICA favoured the US and Brazil, giving both countries veto rights on policy decisions.

The collapse of the ICA, along with the Berlin Wall, in 1989 was produced both by shifting Cold War politics as well as by the emergence of new coffee producing countries—like Vietnam—which were not signatories to the Agreement. The fall in the price of coffee meant a coffee boom, particularly in the US where enthusiasm for Arabica had grown steadily over the course of the 1980s. It is no coincidence that you may have tried your first cappuccino—in the US and elsewhere—in the early 1990s. The growth of Starbucks—founded as a small independent in Seattle in 1981—traced the demise of the ICA and the fall in the international coffee price.

It is now easier than ever to buy extraordinarily good coffee for relatively little money. I wonder if this could account for the amazing variety of coffee based drinks available in the US. As a cheap beverage—as an affordable luxury, as Sidney Mintz describes the consumption of sugar in the nineteenth century—has coffee become unmoored from its position as a bitter drink to be had in small quantities at defined moments in the day, to a sweet, comforting snack to be consumed at any time?

Further Reading

Isaac A. Kamola, ‘Coffee and Genocide,’ Transition, no. 99 (2008), pp. 54-72.

Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin, 1985).

Stefano Ponte, ‘Behind the Coffee Crisis,’ Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 36, no. 46/47 (Nov. 24-30, 2001), pp. 4410-4417.

Creative Commons License Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Back in a dash (of salt)

I’ve writing to do, and then I’ll be in North America for a month, conferencing and seeing some of the best people. In the meanwhile, I leave you with this recipe for a whole fish baked in salt:

And with these links:

  • ‘A judge convicted one of Togue’s clients for feminine mannerisms and for drinking Bailey’s Irish Cream, which he felt only a woman would drink.’
  • Plastic in beer.
  • ‘Our research leads us to question why the frontline in reforming the food system has to be in someone’s kitchen.’
  • Why listeria is so dangerous.
  • McDonald’s in the new conflict with Russia.
  • We need to eat less red meat.
  • Big or small farms?
  • The decline of unpasteurised cheese in France.
  • Please stop foraging.
  • Please stop brunching.
  • Conflict Kitchen.
  • Livestock and the history of sexuality.
  • Why wait hours for food?
  • René Redzepi in Mexico.
  • Systemic saccharification syndrome.
  • Could lab-grown meat be kosher?
  • Ingenious pizza box design.
  • Pulled chicken.
  • Elizabeth David’s recipes for mackerel.
  • The return of the Colorado Orange.
  • The dominance of Red Delicious.
  • The dominance of clover honey.
  • Pickling courgettes.
  • Texas Monthly‘s barbecue editor.
  • Thoughts on making avocado toast.
  • How to navigate Andrés Carne de Res in Chia, Colombia.
  • The rise and rise of Pop-Tarts.
  • Sønderjysk Kaffebord.
  • Expensive meals.
  • Pecans in Georgia.
  • What is a sandwich?
  • Hervé This, food scientist.
  • Every comment on every recipe blog.
  • Wine flavoured Kit Kat.
  • Funfetti cake.
  • Drunk texts from famous authors.
  • Shrewsbury cakes.
  • How to eat sushi.
  • How to froth milk in the microwave.
  • Food to cook straight out of the freezer.
  • Flavoured butter.
  • Should we eat more swan?
  • A multi-layered birthday cake.
  • The difference between jasmine and basmati rice.
  • How to make Turkish delight.
  • Frankling D. Roosevelt’s pfannkuchen.
  • A fried chicken iPhone case.
  • New York’s first fine dining Chinese restaurant.
  • Cooking with a waffle iron.
  • Andouille corn dogs.
  • What is tobiko?
  • What is parmo?
  • ‘Results of a taste test of the two bakeries’ offerings were inconclusive, because all the doughnuts were delicious and because this reporter started to feel sick after the fourth of six doughnuts sampled. A friend with a stronger stomach said that the sour cream doughnut from Peter Pan was more succulent than the Moe’s Doughs version, but that he appreciated the dossant’s delicate, flaky crust. He agreed that all of the doughnuts tested were tasty.’

Oh, and I was on the radio recently, talking to Redi Tlhabi about changing tastes. Take a listen here. See you in November xx

Food Links, 10.09.2014

  • The fast food workers’ strike in the US. They were not paid to strike. But will these strikes actually work?
  • Russians respond to the ban on western food.
  • The rich are eating better, the poor are eating worse.
  • Synbio.
  • Sugar and fat are not addictive.
  • In Boston, food trucks are safer than restaurants.
  • Why fast food is more expensive this year.
  • Organic farming won’t save the world.
  • Raw sugar is no healthier than refined sugar.
  • Alain Ducasse (almost) abandons meat.
  • Urban agriculture in Cleveland.
  • Rumours of shortages of kale, chia seeds, amaranth, and quinoa.
  • A brief history of the pumpkin spice latte.
  • Americans are eating more butter.
  • The barn revival.
  • Roald Dahl on food.
  • In praise of Yotam Ottolenghi and Diana Henry.
  • ‘They proudly revel in the relentless, boorish stuffing of faces, unchecked public intoxication, and wasteful excess.’
  • A history of picnics through photography.
  • Vegan cheesecake.
  • The evolution of caffeine.
  • Patat Oorlog.
  • The language of tea. (Thanks, mum!)
  • A market in Da Lat, Vietnam.
  • Insect snacks in Massachusetts.
  • How to divide cake batter evenly between pans.
  • Where to eat in Gujarat.
  • The science of chocolate chip cookies.
  • Breakfast in Istanbul.
  • Jennifer Lopez’s birthday cake.
  • Buttered coffee.
  • Why restaurants discontinue dishes.
  • Eating rat.
  • How to clean a wooden rolling pin.
  • Things that contain no calories.
  • Eating across Texas.
  • Raspberry and quince jelly teacake.
  • South Indian cool drinks.
  • Making maple syrup.
  • Death threats at a whiskey distillery in Texas.
  • Monster soup.
  • Coasters.
  • Salt beef sandwiches.
  • The end of cereal?
  • A recipe comic.
  • Chicken, bacon, and bean stew.
  • Minimalist cocktail posters.
  • Unpaid graft.

Human Beans

A few weeks ago, my friend Nafisa sent me a photograph of a banner outside a cafe in Linden in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. In a particularly good demonstration of why punctuation helps to avoid horrific confusion, it advertises that it ‘now serves TIM NOAKES’—with ‘breakfasts and lunches’ in smaller script below.

In Linden, Johannesburg. Courtesy of Nafisa Essop Sheik.

In Linden, Johannesburg. Courtesy of Nafisa Essop Sheik.

Personally, I would prefer neither to eat Tim Noakes nor his high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. This sign is interesting, though, because it still refers to a Noakes, rather than Banting, diet. In the past couple of months, restaurants all over South Africa have added Banting friendly meals to their menus, and I think it’s worth taking a closer look at Banting, his diet, and context. William Banting (1796-1878) was a prominent undertaker and funeral director whose family had long been responsible for organising the Royal Family’s funerals. He and what became known as ‘Bantingism’ rose to prominence in 1863 with the publication of A Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. In it, he described how he shrunk from obesity to a ‘normal’ weight as a result of a miraculous diet. The aptly named Michelle Mouton explains:

After many vain attempts to find a doctor with a cure for corpulence, and after futile experiments with Turkish baths and the like, it is ironically diminished sight and hearing that incidentally lead Banting to his miracle. His ear surgeon suspects a constriction of the ear canals, Banting reports, and advises him to abstain from what Banting terms ‘human beans’—‘bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes’—so called because they are as harmful to older persons as are beans to horses.

The diet was so efficacious that Banting lost forty-six pounds in a year, and reported feeling healthier than ever before. So what did he eat?

For breakfast, I take four or five ounces of beef, mutton, kidneys, broiled fish, bacon, or cold meat of any kind except pork; a large cup of tea (without milk or sugar), a little biscuit, or one ounce of dry toast. For dinner, five or six ounces of any fish except salmon, any meat except pork, any vegetable except potato, once ounce of dry toast, fruit out of a pudding, any kind of poultry or game, and two or three glasses of good claret, sherry, or Madeira—champagne, port and beer forbidden. For tea, two or three ounces of fruit, a rusk or two, and a cup of tea without milk or sugar. For supper, three or four ounces of meat or fish, similar to dinner, with a glass or two of claret. For nightcap, if required, a tumbler of grog—(gin, whisky, or brandy, without sugar)—or a glass or two of claret or sherry.

Noakes-ites will note that Banting included some carbohydrates in his diet, and seemed to shun pork (if not bacon) and salmon, possibly on the grounds that they were too fatty. His injunction against sugar is mildly ridiculous considering the amount of fortified alcohol he drank. No wonder he enjoyed the diet so much—it gave him licence to remain in a permanent state of gentle tipsiness.

Much of Bantingism’s popularity was linked to the fact that it emerged during a period when diets, perceptions of physical and moral beauty, and ideas about health were undergoing rapid change. The wild success of his pamphlet in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere caused intense debate within a medical profession which was increasingly linking weight—Banting’s corpulence—to health. Urban living and industrialised food production reduced the price of food and altered eating patterns. For the middle classes, for instance, meals were now eaten three times a day, with dinner moving to the evening. At the same time, thinness was increasingly associated both with physical beauty and moral behaviour. This diet seemed to offer an easy way to achieve both ideals. Self-denial would result in a more moral, thinner person. Mouton writes:

Toward the end of 1864, George Eliot wrote to a friend, ‘I have seen people much changed by the Banting system. Mr A. [Anthony] Trollope is thinner by means of it, and is otherwise the better for the self-denial,’ she adds.

The diet also offered the new middle classes a way of navigating new food choices, in much the same way that their embrace of evangelical Christianity assisted them in finding a place for themselves within Britain’s class system. As Joyce L. Huff observes, Banting chose to write his pamphlet as a tract. Similar to other confessions of earnest Christians who had come to the light of God’s grace, Banting’s Letter traces the journey of a humble man—a sinner in a fat body—to the light and clarity of a high protein diet. He had achieved full mastery of both his body and his soul.

William Banting (from here), presumably after his diet.

William Banting (from here), presumably after his diet.

Enthusiasm for the diet petered out fairly quickly, but Banting’s writing has been resuscitated more recently by pro-protein evangelicals like Robert Atkins, Gary Taubes, and Noakes. Thinking about Banting’s diet in historical context draws attention to a few exceptionally important points:

Firstly, anxieties about diet occur in the midst of major social change. I don’t think that it’s any accident that Noakes has found an audience among South Africa’s middle classes: whose numbers are growing, but who are also feeling the impact of global recession. Diets—particularly strict diets—offer a sense of being in control and of group belonging in times of radical uncertainty.

Secondly, as a closer look at Banting’s day-to-day eating demonstrates, his diet and that advocated by Noakes are fairly different. In fact, I wonder if Banting lost weight simply because he was eating less food more generally, than as a result of his switch to greater quantities of protein. Noakes cites Banting and other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century high protein dieters to lend his writing greater validity. This is knowledge, he implies, that has been around for some time. All he’s done is to bring it to wider public knowledge. Yet it’s clear that what we define as high protein has changed over time. Noakes’s diet is a diet of the early twenty-first century.

Thirdly, as the short lived initial enthusiasm for Bantingism suggests, this diet is no more successful than other diets at causing weight loss. Put another way, while eating a high protein diet will cause initial, dramatic weight loss—partly through dehydration—those who follow diets which encourage greater exercise and generally lower calorie intake lose the same amount of weight over a longer period of time. This has been demonstrated by study after study. More worryingly, we have no idea what the longterm health implications of high protein diets may be.

Connected to this, Noakes argues that it is largely industry—Big Food—which has been behind efforts to discredit high fat diets. Although Banting was ridiculed by some doctors during the 1860s, this was at a time when medical professionals jostled with quacks for recognition, and did not occupy the same position of authority that they have since the mid-twentieth century. Doctors could not band together to suppress this kind of information. Moreover, food companies were in their infancy. Clearly, people chose to relinquish the diet for a range of other reasons.

Finally, this—as Banting’s contemporaries pointed out—is a diet for the wealthy, and for a planet with unlimited resources. It is out of reach for the vast majority of people who are obese, most of whom are poor. We know that intensive livestock farming has a devastating impact on the environment. Addressing poverty and rethinking agriculture offer the best means of improving the health of the world’s population and of mitigating climate change. Not eating more animal protein.

Further Reading

Sander L. Gilman, Fat: A Cultural History of Obesity (Cambridge: Polity, 2008).

Joyce L. Huff, ‘A “Horror of Corpulence”: Interrogating Bantingism and Mid-Nineteenth-Century Fat Phobia,’ in Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression, eds. Jana Evans Braziel and Kathleen LeBresco (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), pp. 39-59.

Michelle Mouton, ‘“Doing Banting”: High-Protein Diets in the Victorian Period and Now,’ Studies in Popular Culture, vol. 24, no. 1 (Oct. 2001), pp. 17-32.

Creative Commons License Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 20.08.2014

  • How to feed an extra three billion people.
  • Hunger’s disproportionate impact on women.
  • ‘California’s drought is now the worst since at least 1895.’
  • An eviction from a wine farm leaves a family homeless.
  • Eat more meat to save the world. Don’t eat more meat to save the world.
  • A quarter of US military households are using food banks.
  • Children born in recessions may have better health.
  • Almond milk is a scam.
  • Chicory, brown sugar, acai berries, soybeans, and peanuts are being added to coffee.
  • We’re eating too much salt.
  • A cookbook for people on food stamps. (Thanks, mum!)
  • DIY Soylent.
  • Pyongyang’s restaurants.
  • The growing demand for ancient grains.
  • Greenfields Farm in the Natal midlands.
  • A guide to eating in Puglia.
  • The joy of bone marrow.
  • ‘Smells a little like hops but tastes like cleaning fluid.’
  • Cooking like a pioneer woman.
  • The cinnamon peeler’s life.
  • ‘it means joylessness, piety, self-regard, self-delusion and staggering pomposity.’
  • Ramen noodles, from beginning to end.
  • Cappuccino flavoured crisps.
  • Recipes from women chefs.
  • The language of menus.
  • In praise of the cast iron frying pan.
  • Tiny food sculptures.
  • A 1939 hamburger stand in Texas.
  • Cooking with hearts.
  • The moral economy of beer.
  • Arkansas is averse to bartenders.
  • Tidy your spice drawer.
  • Balzac on coffee.
  • A bacon themed restaurant in Montreal.
  • Buckfast ice cream.
  • The world’s most expensive cupcake.
  • Cricket flour.
  • No-churn ice cream cake.
  • Sylvia Plath on cake.

Starved Out

Two years ago today, police opened fire on a group of striking mineworkers encamped on a koppie outside of Marikana. Mainly rock drill operators doing some of the most basic and difficult work on the mine, these men demanded that Lonmin – in whose platinum mine they worked – raise their salary to match that of literate, better skilled miners, to about R12,500 per month.

After weeks of sporadic violence on both sides – during which policemen, shop stewards, and workers were injured and killed – mine bosses urged the police to end the standoff. Jack Shenker writes:

It was the police who escalated the standoff at Marikana mountain, bringing in large numbers of reinforcements and live ammunition. Four mortuary vans were summoned before a single shot had been fired. Lonmin was liaising closely with state police, lending them the company’s own private security staff and helicopters, and ferrying in police units on corporate buses. Razor wire was rolled out by police around the outcrop to cut the miners off from Nkaneng settlement; pleas by strike leaders for a gap to be left open so that workers could depart peacefully to their homes were ignored.

Police opened fire as workers approached them. In the end, thirty-four were killed, seventeen of them at a nearby koppie where it appears that they were shot at close range. The Marikana massacre has been described as post-apartheid South Africa’s Sharpeville. As the inquiry into the events near the mine has revealed, police arrived not to keep order, but, rather, to end the strike through any means possible.

Miners-Shot-Down-March-finalweb-450x640

The poster for Rehad Desai’s documentary on the Marikana massacre, Miners Shot Down.

The killings were followed by a strike – the longest in South African history – until May. Of all the details to emerge in the coverage of life in the platinum belt, the one that seemed to encapsulate the desperation of striking miners and their families was in a 2006 report commissioned by Lonmin: researchers had discovered children suffering from kwashiorkor near the mine.

Although already identified in 1908, kwashiorkor was named by Dr Cicely Williams, a Colonial Medical Officer, in the Gold Cost during the 1930s. Tom Scott-Smith explains:

she noticed a recurring set of symptoms amongst children who were aged between one and four: oedema in the hands and feet, darkening and thickening of the skin followed by peeling, and a reddish tinge to the hair in the worst cases. There was a clear pattern in the incidence of this disease, since it occurred in children who had been weaned onto low-protein, starchy foods such as maize, after being displaced from the breast by a younger sibling. Williams’ description first appeared in print in 1933, and two years later she identified the condition by its name in the local language: kwashiorkor, the ‘disease of the deposed child’.

Williams diagnosed kwashiorkor as a from of inadequate nutrition – similar to pellagra, which is caused by a diet insufficient in vitamin B3 – related specifically to an intake of too little protein. Williams had noticed that newly weaned babies and young children – the ‘deposed’ children referred to by the word kwashiorkor – were particularly vulnerable to the condition, and surmised that longer breastfeeding or a diet rich in the nutrients non-breastfed children lacked – protein especially – would eradicate kwashiorkor.

By the 1970s, though, doctors argued that this emphasis on protein supplements – which had driven United Nations and other organisations’ efforts to address kwashiorkor – was incorrect. Kwashiorkor, they argued, was the product of under nutrition: of not consuming enough energy. Scott-Smith writes:

Evidence from the 1960s demonstrated that a less protein-rich, more balanced diet could cure kwashiorkor equally well, and by the 1970s a number of other causes for the disease were suggested – even today, the details of kwashiorkor are still not fully understood.

Had scientists paid closer attention to the name ‘kwashiorkor’ they may have come to this realisation sooner. It is a disease of poverty where adults are unable to provide weaned children with adequate nutrition. As a result, its solution is distressingly simple: better and more food.

If there is any indicator of the extent of poverty in the platinum belt, then it is the fact that children suffer from kwashiorkor. While Lonmin has ploughed some of its profits back into communities surrounding the mines – opening schools and running feeding schemes, for example – it remains the case that mineworkers and their families are still desperately poor.

Keith Breckenridge argues that the wealth generated by workers operating in exceptionally dangerous conditions is channelled largely to a small group of beneficiaries. He adds:

Under the current arrangements in the platinum belt there is almost no movement of resources from mining to the wider problem of maintaining the physical and emotional well-being of the general population working in the mines. Mine managers have retreated from maintaining order and health in the hostels, and they have ceded control over the key human resource questions – employment and housing – to union officials and their allies. Like foreign shareholders and local royalty owners, these union leaders, using their monopoly over jobs and housing, have tapped into the demand for employment to enrich themselves (often at the expense of the working and living conditions of union members). Local government – caught between the mines and the prerogatives of tribal authorities – has all but abandoned the project of regulating the living spaces around the mines.

Where once miners were coralled into the prison-like conditions of single-sex hostels where their food, accommodation, and other expenses were covered by mining companies, now meagre housing allowances are meant to support these workers and their families in the otherwise badly provisioned and serviced towns and villages in the platinum belt. Salaries tend to go straight to pay interest on loans granted by micro lenders, charging exorbitant interest rates.

As the incidences of kwashiorkor reported to Lonmin suggest, these men were not earning enough to feed themselves and their children. While under cross examination at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre, Cyril Ramaphosa – current Deputy President and Lonmin board member who had emailed the then-Police Minister, demanding an end to the workers’ strike – remarked:

The responsibility has to be collective. As a nation, we should dip our heads and accept that we failed the people of Marikana, particularly the families, the workers, and those that died.

I dispute the ‘we,’ Mr Deputy President.

Further Reading

Keith Breckenridge, ‘Marikana and the Limits of Biopolitics: Themes in the Recent Scholarship of South African Mining,’ Africa, vol. 84 (2014), pp. 151-161.

Keith Breckenridge, ‘Revenge of the Commons: The Crisis in the South African Mining Industry,’ History Workshop Journal Blog, 5 November 2012.

Creative Commons License
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 13.08.2014

  • The problem with counterfeit seeds in Uganda.
  • Farming without fertiliser.
  • The threat to corn in the US.
  • On having anorexia and autism.
  • Are people in Scotland drinking less?
  • Bottled water comes from some of the driest parts of the US.
  • Gentrification and food deserts.
  • Should cooking be a human right?
  • How to save the banana.
  • The low carbon diet.
  • The effects of showing people how many sugar cubes  soft drinks contain.
  • The Fried Calamari Index.
  • Be careful of the Noakes diet. (In Afrikaans.)
  • Rethinking the word ‘foodie.’
  • The link between longevity and diet in Japan.
  • The Department of Coffee is opening new branches.
  • Food miles and the provisioning of Ancient Rome.
  • Toaster selfies.
  • Ranking American states through food.
  • Why are potatoes so popular in the US?
  • The end of cuisine.
  • When did vanilla become white?
  • The rise and rise of the Halal Guys.
  • On Modern Farmer.
  • ‘Unbearably bleak, it tastes as though someone has distilled the essence of a downtrodden woman with low self-esteem, then bottled it. ‘
  • The Pangraph.
  • Make your own harissa.
  • New ways of eating ice cream.
  • Frozen cocktails in Austin.
  • ‘The sprouts were not the only part of his kit that had to be specially bought. To protect his nose from rocky nooks and crannies, he wore a plastic nose guard.’
  • Gajjar ka murabba.
  • The surprising history of butter sculpture.
  • How to age beef at home.
  • What to do with a mountain of chard.
  • The joy of a toaster oven.
  • The Cakeway to the West.
  • Neanderthals ate birds. And soup. (Thanks, mum!)
  • Rethinking kitchen lore.
  • An abandoned satellite is being controlled by a group of people in an abandoned McDonald’s.
  • The Seducer’s Cookbook.
  • Use up bruised fruit.
  • Jam, jelly, marmalade, preserves, conserves.

Soup of a City

This week the institute where I work has organised a conference called ‘Curating the Afropolitan: New Ethnographies of Johannesburg.’ Its purpose is to bring together scholars, writers, and artists to think and talk about Joburg: its past, present, and many possible futures. I was reminded this morning of how frequently it has been evoked in fiction: from Nadine Gordimer, Can Themba, and Mongane Wally Serote, to Marlene van Niekerk, Ivan Vladislavić, and Lauren Beukes. Because the city is so new and has been subject to almost constant expansion and re-fashioning, it seems to be particularly attractive to being remade in fiction: writers can remould it according to their own ends, while still retaining something of its ‘Johannesburg-ness.’

My favourite literary description of a city is of a made-up metropolis. In The City and the City (2009), China Miéville traces a murder investigation in Besźel, a city somewhere, presumably, in the Balkans. What complicates Inspector Tyador Borlú’s work – and, indeed, life in Besźel – is that it occupies the same space as another city: Ul Qoma. As Besźel is modelled on the kind of Mittel-European city described by Kafka or Stefan Zweig, then Ul Qoma owes its architecture, culture, and ways of living to Turkey.

Although parts of the cities overlap in ‘crosshatched’ areas, for the most part, the inhabitants of the two cities keep strictly to their side, learning to ‘see’ and to ‘unsee’ Besźel or Ul Qoma during childhood. (Tourists are required to attend classes and pass a test before visiting either city.) When the invisible barriers between the cities are violated, a mysterious force called Breach is invoked to restore order.

Fittingly, the murder investigated by Borlú involves an archaeological dig in Ul Qoma. Instead of revealing the origins of the two cities and their odd connectedness – did they cleave together, or apart? – the academics and students working on the site retrieve a myriad of objects, the purpose and dates of which are unclear. This mirrors in some ways Borlú’s own investigation: the more he digs, the more confused he becomes.

the-city-and-the-city

Borlú needs, in other words, to pay attention to the things right in front of him: to the obvious. (Ironically, of course, he’s not allowed to ‘see’ some of them because they’re in Ul Qoma.) It is the very superficial which is allowed to inhabit both the cities openly: rubbish ‘drifts across borders, like fog, rain and smoke.’ Also, urban scavengers like ‘pigeons, mice, wolves, bats live in both cities, are crosshatched animals.’ And food. Or, at least, the traces of food. Borlú visits little Ul Qomatown in Besźel, where Ul Qoman immigrants have settled:

This is where pining Ul Qoman exiles come for their pastries, their sugar-fried peas, their incense. The scents of Besźel and Ul Qomatown are a confusion. The instinct is to unsmell them, to think of them as drift across the boundaries, as disrespectful as rain. (‘Rain and woodsmoke live in both cities,’ the proverb has it. In Ul Quoma they have the same saw, but one of the subjects is ‘fog.’ …) But those smells are in Besźel.

The City and the City is so compelling because it feels familiar: because although the idea of two cities existing on the same space, with their populations having to see and unsee each other, may seem outlandish, there is something recognisable about Besźel and Ul Qoma. I think part of Miéville’s success as a writer of speculative fiction owes something to his training as an anthropologist: he creates worlds which echo the logics of our own.

There are hints of another, real city in Miéville’s invented metropolises: Jerusalem. One of my favourite recipe books is partly written by another former anthropologist: Yotam Ottolenghi’s recent cookbook Jerusalem, which he wrote with his partner Sami Tamimi. The book’s conceit is a simple, but powerful one. Both men were raised in Jerusalem during the 1970s, but Ottolenghi in the Israeli part, and Tamimi in the predominantly Muslim East Jerusalem. They only met after leaving Jerusalem, having had fairly few opportunities to encounter each other there. In Jerusalem, they share the recipes of their city. Or their cities.

Jerusalem

Obviously Jerusalem isn’t segregated in the way that Miéville describes in The City and the City, but his evocation of a single space occupied by two groups who need to have as little to do with each other as possible, brings Jerusalem to mind. In Jerusalem, Ottolengi and Tamimi show that it is impossible to disentangle to the various culinary traditions in the city:

in this soup of a city it is completely impossible to find out who invented this delicacy and who brought that one with them. The food cultures are mashed and fused together in a way that is impossible to unravel. They interact all the time and influence each other constantly so nothing is pure any more. In fact, nothing ever was. Jerusalem was never an isolated bastion. Over millennia it has seen countless immigrants, occupiers, visitors and merchants – all bringing food and recipes from four corners of the earth.

I am not trying to suggest, glibly, that a realisation of a common, shared culinary culture will somehow end all conflict. But, rather, that understanding how difference is constructed, and by paying attention to where it breaks down – where it breaches boundaries – is a means of undermining nationalisms’ claims, demands, and justifications.

Creative Commons License
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Food Links, 06.08.2014

  • ‘It used to be the canary in the coal mine. Now it’s the oyster in the half shell.’
  • What is killing the bees?
  • Hunger in contemporary Britain.
  • How Big Food targets black and Latino youth in the US.
  • On the threat to Detroit’s water supply.
  • The Wellcome Trust has bought the Co-Op’s farms business.
  • A cafe on the border between China and North Korea.
  • Rates of physical activity among adults are declining.
  • Agricultural waste, climate change, and the implications for fishing in Lake Erie.
  • Kitchen essentials.
  • The drying of California.
  • The origins of the fish oil craze.
  • Nigeria’s first vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
  • Should toddlers be fed shakes as a nutritional supplement?
  • An interview with Betty Fussell.
  • Women who eat their placentas.
  • Photographs of the Hinterlands, an agricultural district near Brisbane.
  • Free Cakes for Kids.
  • A Taste of Data.
  • Photographing 45,000 bumblebees.
  • What alcohol looks like under the microscope.
  • A brief history of scarecrows.
  • Lemon meringue pie milkshakes.
  • Eating breakfast in New York City.
  • In praise of oatmeal.
  • Know your food tribes.
  • A guide to Kloof Street’s restaurants.
  • The re-embrace of Jewish-American deli food.
  • A recipe for Mograbia.
  • Sushi nail art.
  • Chocolate brains.
  • Cape Town’s best cafes.
  • Edible tableware and crockery.
  • How to slice a bagel.
  • Recipes for leftover berries.
  • An egg scale. (Thanks, mum!)
  • The best way to store whisks.
  • A colour-changing ice cream.
  • The London Review Cake Shop is holding a pickle competition.
  • Girdlebuster pie.
  • Hoecakes.
  • A dish of tea.
  • Eat more Greek yogurt.
  • Hamburger cupcakes.
  • A tree of many fruit.
  • Food infographics.
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