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Food Links, 11.03.2015

At the Fordsburg night market, Johannesburg.

At the Fordsburg night market, Johannesburg.

  • Childhood in the Cape winelands.
  • Food banks in the UK experience a spike in demand during school holidays.
  • ‘dictating what you can buy with food stamps is the kind of thing that only sounds good to people who don’t actually have to survive on a poverty income.’
  • Why bees are disappearing.
  • The average South African farmer is 62 years old.
  • ‘an increase in US food aid increases the incidence and duration of civil conflicts’.
  • Palm oil and the destruction of rain forests.
  • South Africa’s most sugary cold drink.
  • Prison labour and food production.
  • ‘The government invites you to be wary of those who do not eat baguettes.’
  • The rise of diabetes in south Asia.
  • ‘When Bulletproof coffee looks like the answer, the odds are you’re asking the wrong question.’
  • Developing food security in post-Katrina New Orleans.
  • Vitamania.
  • The secret marijuana farm underneath the maraschino cherry factory.
  • Arcade Fire’s Will Butler writes a song inspired by São Paulo’s water crisis.
  • Why are South African wines so underrated?
  • The nineteen ingredients in McDonald’s chips.
  • ‘Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There’s nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your biscuits.’
  • The chopped salad.
  • Orange or orange juice?
  • Seventeenth-century recipes for beauty and health.
  • Fairy butter.
  • Where to eat in the Downtown Arts District in Los Angeles.
  • Diana Henry on chicken.
  • Beer was legalised in Iceland in 1989.
  • Why we find vanilla extract in the baking, not the liquor, aisle.
  • Carrot dashi.
  • Purple tea in Kenya.
  • The Farm Church in Wisconsin.
  • Molly Wizenberg on the seven-minute egg.
  • Cod feasting in Norway.
  • In defense of South African snacks.
  • A Korean-Spanish restaurant in Berlin.
  • America’s knifemakers.
  • ‘The Taco Bell Quesarito is the Devil’s cheddar-stuffed work.’
  • Thawing and brining at the same time.
  • Twenty-four hours at Katz’s Deli.
  • Ram Juen, the queen of jok.
  • The Cake Shop at the London Review Bookshop reviews The Vegetarian by Han Kang.
  • Holi food in London.
  • Baklava in Turkey.
  • Where to eat in Portland, Maine.
  • How to find good coffee in Paris.
  • Shirohige Cream Puff Factory in Tokyo.
  • Yuca.
  • The many uses of club soda. (Thanks, mum!)
  • Pistachio recipes.
  • Enlightenment philosophers drinking coffee.
  • The difference between brie and camembert.
  • ‘It is well known amongst snow chemists that fresh Arctic snow goes very well with 15-year-old single malt whisky.’
  • The Smiths and becoming vegetarian.
  • Lamington pincushions.
  • A guide to making doughnuts.
  • How to wear an apron like Alexa Chung.
  • A week on sex dust.

Cows Come Home

Last week, Maharashtra, India’s second-biggest state and home to the country’s commercial capital Mumbai, approved legislation which would ban the sale or possession of beef. The slaughter of cattle – cows, bulls, and calves – is now illegal. The right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been in power both nationally and in Maharashtra since May last year, argued that the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act saves an animal revered by many Hindus as holy. In their view, this represents a victory for pious Hindus.

As many have pointed out, although some Hindus may be in favour of a ban on the slaughter of a beast which they believe to embody divinity, the consumption and sale of beef in India is a complex and contradictory business. Firstly, the beef trade is controlled by the country’s Muslim minority, and beef is consumed mainly by them and the even smaller Christian portion of the population. Despite the fact that India is supposed to be a secular state, this law is aimed directly as these religious minorities. Vashna Jagarnath writes:

This ban will devastate the beef industry in Maharashtra, an industry that is largely run by the Muslim minority. It is not an isolated act. On the contrary, it is part of a longstanding attempt by the Hindu right, now backed with the power of the state, to make the lives of religious minorities increasingly difficult.

The ban provides the fascist project with two immediate benefits – exerting control over the minorities by sending a clear message about their increasingly precarious position in contemporary India; and dealing an economic blow to Muslims who trade in the bovine industry.

In Gaborone, Botswana.

In Gaborone, Botswana.

Secondly, this is not the first time that there have been efforts to control the slaughter of cattle in India. Several states have made the killing of cows illegal, and there are laws which limit the sale of beef in some areas. Indeed, the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act has taken nineteen years to pass. The Bill was sent to the then-President to sign into law in 1996, but it floundered – only when the BJP was re-elected in 2014 was it able to recommit to making the ban real.

And the ban has caused widespread outrage in India – and not only among Muslims and Christians. This is the third point: some Hindus eat beef too. Not all Hindus stick absolutely (religiously?) to vegetarianism. In 2001, the historian DN Jha faced harassment and attempts to prevent the publication of his – by all accounts fairly dry – monograph, The Myth of the Holy Cow. His not particularly fresh thesis was that Hinduism’s ban on beef is a relatively new phenomenon. Pankaj Mishra explains:

the cow wasn’t sacred to the nomads and pastoralists from Central Asia who settled North India in the second millennium BC and created the high Brahminical culture of what we now know as Hinduism.

These Indians slaughtered cattle for both food and the elaborate sacrificial rituals prescribed by the Vedas, the first and the holiest Indian scriptures. After they settled down and turned to agriculture, they put a slightly higher value upon the cow: it produced milk, ghee, yoghurt and manure and could be used for ploughing and transport as well.

Indian religion and philosophy after the Vedas rejected the ritual killing of animals. This may have also served to protect the cow. But beef eating was still not considered a sin. It is often casually referred to in the earliest Buddhist texts.

The cow became holy first for upper-caste Hindus between the seventh and the thirteenth centuries CE. These were the people who could afford not to spend most of their time producing their food. What changed, though, to identify vegetarianism with Hinduism?

The answer lies in the 19th century, when many newly emergent middle-class Hindus began to see the cow as an important symbol of a glorious tradition defiled by Muslim rule over India. For these Hindus, the cause for banning cow-slaughter became a badge of identity, part of their quest for political power in post-colonial India. Educated Muslims felt excluded from, even scorned by, these Hindu notions of the Indian past; and they developed their own separatist fantasies.

The implications of these nationalist beginnings during the Raj are now playing out in Maharashtra.

My final point is one that I found the most surprising: the effects of the ban on the export of beef. India not only exports water buffalo – the red meat of choice for many Indians – but twenty per cent of the world’s beef comes from India. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act has implications, then, for the global food supply. Beef has been a commodity traded on national and international markets since improvements in transport – railways, shipping – and, more importantly, refrigeration, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the United States, the price of beef dropped in the 1870s and 1880s because of the opening up of huge ranches in the west which were connected by rail to packing centres in large cities, most notably (and notoriously, given the revelations in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906)) Chicago.

Something similar happened in South Africa, when the politician and wildly successful businessman Sir David de Villiers Graaff, 1st Baronet, pioneered refrigeration, allowing fruit, vegetables, and meat to be transported across the country’s vast interior without spoiling. His Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company – founded on the eve of the South African War (1899-1902), out of which De Villiers Graaff profited nicely – became one of the biggest meat packing businesses in Africa.

This and large-scale tax avoidance were at the root of the wild success of the Vestey brothers’ beef empire in the early twentieth century. By 1922, Vesteys had, as Ian Phimister writes, ‘interests in South America, China and Russia, and extensive land holdings in South Africa; it gradually extended its operations to embrace Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar.’ The business shipped beef – produced cheaply under appalling conditions for both workers and cattle – around the world with ‘five steamers refrigerated and fitted for the carriage of frozen meat’.

A poster in Williamsburgh's Spoonbill & Sugartown bookshop.

A poster in Williamsburgh’s Spoonbill & Sugartown bookshop.

The demand that drove the expansion of ranching and packing in the US, and De Villiers Graaff and the Vestey bothers’ businesses, was a growing middle-class taste for a meat once prohibitively expensive. Beef became – like sugar, chocolate, and tea – an affordable luxury once an industrialised food chain caused prices to fall. A similar process is currently underway in India, as an ever-bigger middle class chooses to add more beef to its diet. Although a small, committedly nationalist middle-class was partly responsible for making Hindu diets vegetarian in the nineteenth century, the opposite is happening now. Part of a global circulation of both commodities and ideas – middle classes in other developing nations are also eating more red meat – to what extent will this large middle class be able to negotiate the demands of right wingers keen to protect the lives of holy cows, and the attractions of a more varied and ‘modern’ diet?

Sources

Ebbe Dommisse, Sir David de Villiers Graaff: First Baronet of De Grendel (Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2011).

Harvey A. Levenstein, Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003).

I. R. Phimister, ‘Meat and Monopolies: Beef Cattle in Southern Rhodesia, 1890-1938,’ Journal of African History, vol. 19, no. 3 (1978), pp. 391-414.

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

Food Links, 25.02.2015

Near the University of Edinburgh.

Near the University of Edinburgh.

  • Manufacturers can also buy … eggs pre-formed into 300g cylinders or tubes, so that each egg slice is identical and there are no rounded ends.’
  • US chefs talk GMO labelling.
  • Diets are worsening.
  • Updating the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • ‘But is being fed poorly inhumane? Should criminals be deprived of any pleasure from food? Isn’t that counterproductive if the purpose of imprisonment is rehabilitation?’
  • São Paulo is running out of water.
  • Some states in the US are considering legalising the sale of raw milk.
  • Understanding the gluten-free trend.
  • How to spend $300,000 on dinner.
  • Cafe Neo in Lagos.
  • Schools in Rome diversify their menus.
  • Explaining the munchies.
  • Manhattan’s best designed coffee shops.
  • How to choose and look after knives.
  • Eat chocolate cake for breakfast, lose weight.
  • A recipe for Grewia occidentalis berries. (Thanks, mum!)
  • Sewerage brewerage.
  • ‘For the best breakfast, I vote the Socialist era.’
  • Why are Kinder Surprise eggs illegal in the US?
  • Catering for the fashion industry.
  • A short history of the samosa.
  • Penguins can only taste the saltiness and sourness of their food.
  • When England was the coffee capital of Europe.
  • What chefs hate to cook.
  • The Carson McCullers diet.
  • Cooking … is a process that enables us to increase the calorie density of our food, so it’s almost as if you’re making calories out of nothing.’
  • A robot that feeds you tomatoes as you run.
  • Kanye West’s favourite restaurant.
  • Learning to make La Genovese in Naples.
  • If cities were made out of food.
  • Grape molasses cake.
  • The art of the crisp sandwich.
  • Burmese pudding.
  • The kitchen of the future.
  • Joan Didion’s recipe book.
  • Why not drink pig milk?
  • A world in a grain of salt.
  • Join a chilli club. And a guide to very, very hot chillies.
  • An optical illusion placemat.
  • Camembert shortbread.
  • An obituary for Michele Ferrero.
  • Stop motion latte art.
  • New York City’s salt mountains.
  • A cooking disaster.
  • The man who invented Sriracha.
  • Protein from sugar beet leaves.
  • Food-themed art.
  • Betty Crocker’s jelly salad.
  • A guide to the English breakfast.
  • Unfashionable sauces.

Apples and Oranges

One of my favourite scenes in Alice in Wonderland is when the Caterpillar asks Alice ‘Who are YOU?’ Having spent the day being shrunk, telescoped, and grown again, Alice is at a loss: ‘I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’ During a period obsessed with lineages, classes, and groups, Alice’s inability to slot herself into the correct category feels profoundly transgressive. Her ontological uncertainty—she remarks to the Caterpillar ‘I can’t explain MYSELF…because I’m not myself’—is more mature than the Caterpillar who will, as Alice argues, turn into a chrysalis and then a butterfly. Nobody is one thing for very long.

The same can be said, of course, for confectionary. Periodically, Britain convulses in a fraught debate over the status of the Jaffa Cake. In their commercial form these are rounds of Genoise sponge topped with orange jelly, and covered with chocolate. Supermarkets sell bright blue packets of McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes in the same aisle as Digestive biscuits, Hobnobs, and shortbread. So to the uninformed, the Jaffa Cake is – despite its name – a biscuit.

But is it really? Legally, the Jaffa Cake qualifies as a cake. A long and complicated court case in 1991 ruled in favour of McVitie’s, confirming that the Jaffa Cake is indeed a cake and should not, then, be subject to VAT. Harry Wallop explains:

In the eyes of the taxman, a cake is a staple food and, accordingly, zero-rated for the purposes of VAT. A chocolate-covered biscuit, however, is a whole other matter—a thing of unspeakable decadence, a luxury on which the full 20pc rate of VAT is levied.

McVitie’s was determined to prove it should be free of the consumer tax. The key turning point was when its QC highlighted how cakes harden when they go stale, biscuits go soggy. A Jaffa goes hard. Case proved.

So this is a Cake which looks like a biscuit but is really a cake.

Oranges trees in Perth, Australia.

Oranges trees in Perth, Australia.

But this ontological uncertainty extends beyond its position as cake or biscuit. Jaffa Cakes are named after Jaffa oranges. (McVitie’s never patented the name Jaffa Cake, so chocolate-and-citrus flavoured confections are often described as ‘Jaffa.’) These were developed in Palestine – in and near the port city of Jaffa – during the 1840s. Sweet, seedless, and with a thick rind which made them perfect for transporting, Jaffa or Shamouti oranges became Palestine’s most important export in the nineteenth century. The arrival of Jewish immigrants in the 1880s and 1890s revolutionised citrus growing in the region. These new arrivals introduced mechanised, ‘scientific’ forms of agriculture, dramatically increasing yields.

By 1939, Jewish, Palestinian, and, occasionally, Jewish and Palestinian farmers working collaboratively, employed altogether 100,000 people, and exported vast numbers of oranges abroad. Britain was a major importer of Jaffa oranges, particularly after Palestine became a Mandated territory under British control in 1923. The Empire Marketing Board – which promoted the sale of imperial produce – urged Britons to buy Jaffa oranges, something picked up by McVitie’s in 1927 with the invention of the Jaffa Cake.

An Empire Marketing Board advertisement for Jaffa oranges.

An Empire Marketing Board advertisement for Jaffa oranges.

Jaffa oranges were – and, to some extent, are – held up as an example of successful Palestinian and Israeli co-operation during the interwar period. But after 1948, the same oranges became a symbol of Israel itself. Similar to the boycott of Outspan oranges during apartheid, organisations like BDS have urged customers not to buy Jaffa oranges as a way of weakening Israel’s economy and demonstrating their commitment to a free Palestine. (Jaffa oranges are no longer, though, a major Israeli export, and are grown in Spain, South Africa, and elsewhere.)

The changing meanings of Jaffa Cakes – cake, biscuit – and their constituent ingredients – symbol of collaboration, symbol of oppression – show how the categories into which we slot food are themselves constructs. (We could, really, compare apples and oranges.) But also, the Jaffa Cake helps to draw our attention to how taxes, trade agreements, and the politics and practicalities of shipping shape the ways in which we eat, buy, and think about food. Last year, the supremely British McVitie’s – producer of the Jaffa Cake, the most widely recognised biscuit (I mean, cake) in Britain – was sold to Yildiz, a food group based in … Turkey.

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

Food Links, 11.02.2015

Shoreditch, London.

Shoreditch, London.

  • Rooibos farmers and the state rooibos factory.
  • Organic tea in India?
  • What the produce aisle looks like to migrant farmworkers.
  • How to reduce your water footprint.
  • How to avoid peak chocolate.
  • Milk by Coke.
  • Is tea or coffee better for your health?
  • Remaking Newcastle Brown Ale for the US.
  • Hops are in high demand.
  • Orthorexia.
  • Kenji Ekuan, the inventor of the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, has died.
  • Howard Epstein, the man who popularised sachets of soy sauce in the US.
  • Sweden’s first beer made only by women.
  • Immigration and coffee pots.
  • The politics of cups of tea.
  • How to make infused whipped cream.
  • Eating in Chengdu.
  • ‘Recipe for amatriciana, from the office of the mayor of Amatrice.’
  • The joy of blueberries.
  • The joy of Vegemite.
  • The joy of collard greens.
  • Soufflés should not be scary.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe and the pineapple fiasco.
  • Recipes in the Inquisition records.
  • How to make tea in wartime.
  • Speculoos cookie butter.
  • Fat should be the sixth taste.
  • The return of jelly.
  • What is fast casual?
  • Photoshopped food is boring.
  • Drinking vodka at the Faraday Bar in Antarctica.
  • Squirrels eating pizza.
  • Cups of tea in 22 different countries.
  • If zodiac signs were wine.
  • Japanese beer advertisements.
  • An introduction to balsamic vinegar.
  • President Taft’s cow.
  • The anti-crisis cow.
  • A History of Pizza Hut’s New Product Releases, 2002-2042.
  • Eliza Tibbets, the queen of the naval orange.
  • Embracing bush tucker.
  • ‘I suppose linguists can be annoying dinner companions.’
  • Grow your own salt.
  • Why we prefer independent cafes to Starbucks.
  • Food infographics.
  • Free-from diets are a form of conspicuous consumption.
  • Papusas in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
  • ‘only people with coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition that causes gut inflammation when gluten is ingested and affects 1 per cent of the population – needed to go gluten-free.’
  • Hot beer.
  • Yong Tau Foo.
  • Making maple taffy in the snow.
  • Culinary disasters.
  • Dumpling diplomacy.
  • ‘Is this a long-term Taylor Swift entrapment scheme?’
  • Episodes from Season 4 of Little House On the Prairie Reimagined to Reflect the Presence of a Starbucks in Walnut Grove.
  • Silly kitchen gadgets.
  • Perpetual pizza.
  • Big Corn and the film industry.

New Wine

Last week some friends and I had supper at the Cube Tasting Kitchen. I should emphasise at the outset that for all the fact that I write a blog about food, I’m not a huge fan of the mad flights of fancy which characterise fine dining at the moment. I’m not into molecular gastronomy. I think it’s really interesting—and for a number of reasons, not only culinary—but given the choice between that and the sublime comfort food served at The Leopard and Woodlands Eatery, pizza at Stella e Luna, or dim sum at the South China Dim Sum Bar, I’d probably choose one of the latter.

But Cube was, really, entirely wonderful. And fun. It’s a small, box shaped, white walled restaurant in Joburg’s Parktown North, in a row of good and unpretentious middle-range restaurants, including Mantra which is one of my favourite places at which to eat saag paneer. It was an evening of delights over fifteen courses. We began with six starters, each themed according to a vegetable—tomato, cucumber, cabbage, potato—or a deconstructed—pissaladière—or reconstructed—Parmesan ice cream with balsamic vinegar made to look like vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce—version of a familiar dish. The cucumber came with a gin cocktail, the cabbage soup was blue and then turned purple, and the Parmesan ice cream didn’t really work.

Blue cabbage soup...

Blue cabbage soup…

Johannesburg-20150129-00424

…that turns purple. (Apologies for the grainy photographs.)

That was okay, though. The fact that not every course was an absolute success was part of the fun. The infectious enthusiasm of the young chefs—who cook almost in the middle of the restaurant—and of the serving staff turned this into a game and an adventure. I had vegetarian main courses. The oddest, but most successful, was a combination of asparagus, humus, and shards of meringue with black pepper. The most delicious was a mushroom soufflé and a curry reduced to its most basic elements. The most beautiful was a Jackson Pollocked plate of beetroot and leek, which was also, paradoxically, the least flavourful.

Johannesburg-20150129-00428

Beetroot and leek.

And pudding—after baklava and cheese, and a palate cleanser of sherbet, pomegranate jelly, and orange sponge consumed as you would tequila with salt and lime—was a forest floor of pistachio marshmallow, rice crispy and cranberry cookies, chilled chocolate mousse, dried flower and chocolate soil, coffee biscuits, lemon gel, and wheat grass. Then there were chocolate brownies and coconut ice.

Forest floor pudding.

Forest floor pudding.

The size of the portions and the length of time it took to eat all of this—we were there for more than three hours—meant that we could digest at leisure. Because this was as much an intellectual and sensory exercise as it was supper. It would be easy to criticise this kind of dining on the grounds that its purpose is not really to feed people: it uses good, expensive food to allow fairly wealthy paying customers to have fun. But it is equally true that food has always been about more than nutrition. Human beings have long consumed—sacrificed—food in the name of status and power, in performing rituals, and marking celebrations.

It is, though, interesting that molecular gastronomy—which has its roots in the nouvelle cuisine of the 1980s—came to prominence before and during the 2008 crash, in a period marked by ever widening social and economic inequality. (On a side note, it’s worth thinking about relative definitions of wealth: our meal at Cube was expensive, but within the realms of financial possibility even for someone on a fairly modest researcher’s salary. I would never be able to afford the same menu at a similar restaurant in London, for instance.) Molecular gastronomy does not—despite the grandiose claims of some of its practitioners—represent the future of food.

It does, though, represent the past. What sets the foams, pearls, and flavoured air of molecular gastronomy apart from other iterations of fine dining is its reliance on technology. Indeed, the twin gurus of this kind of cuisine—academics Nicholas Kurti and Hervé This—were interested in researching the chemical processes which occurred during cooking. Their acolytes—from Heston Blumenthal to Ferran Adrià and René Redzepi—have used this knowledge to disrupt, deconstruct, reconstruct, and undermine what we think of as ‘food.’

This work, though, does not really fundamentally challenge our eating habits and choice of things to eat. Noma might serve insects and Blumenthal may have invented snail porridge, but molluscs and insects have been part of human diets for a very long time. I think that a more accurate name for molecular gastronomy is, really, modernist cuisine—the title of Nathan Myhrvold’s 2011 encyclopaedic guide to contemporary cooking. In all of is reliance and enthusiasm for technology, molecular gastronomy is supremely modern: this is the food of industrialisation. It is as heavily processed as cheese strings. Modernist cuisine is the logical extreme of an industrialised food system.

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

Food Links, 28.01.2015

  • How Peter Magubane hid his camera in a loaf of bread.
  • Race, class, and alcohol consumption.
  • Factory farming causes air pollution.
  • New York’s food sweatshops.
  • A municipal boundary dispute and hunger.
  • Whisky is the third biggest industry in Scotland, behind energy and financial services.
  • South African Airways’s wine tenders may have been rigged.
  • Using mosquito nets for fishing.
  • South Africa’s looming water crisis.
  • The uncertain future of Pacific sardines.
  • The 2015 Big Mac index.
  • The best pear.
  • New York City’s last matzo factory is closing.
  • The moonshine renaissance.
  • Cooking while visually impaired in post-1945 America.
  • Bermondsey’s phantom cheesecake deliverer.
  • Fast food to fast casuals.
  • Defending simple coffee.
  • A coffee guide.
  • A cultured meat primer.
  • Fish without the fish.
  • Hershey vs Cadbury.
  • The Double Down Dog.
  • The science of ramen noodles.
  • Meeting Paris’s food producers.
  • The North Carolina food sisterhood.
  • Americans try haggis.
  • The Vegetarian.
  • Coconut oil is not a superfood.
  • Eating breakfast from around the world in London.
  • Unless otherwise specified.
  • Umami and health.
  • Lacing noodles with opiates in China.
  • A guide to black pepper.
  • The invention of instant ramen.
  • Brewing beer using wild yeast.
  • Afro-vegan cuisine.
  • In praise of pigs in books.
  • Ginger syrup.
  • Raw cookie dough can be dangerous.
  • Red blood cell cupcakes.
  • Turner’s favourite tipple.
  • Eating the world in Portland, Oregan. (Thanks, mum!)
  • ‘the great Aussie pie lies at the foundation of the country’s economic health.’
  • Try not to name your daughter Nutella.
  • Jonathan Gold is no longer anonymous.
  • Carrot top pesto.
  • Clotted cream caramels.
  • Texas chili.
  • Make your own condiments.
  • Best nachos.
  • Vegan cheese.

In a Nutshell

On my fridge, I have a collection of business cards from cafes and shops visited on trips abroad. This afternoon—months late—I added another few from a recent month-long stay in Canada and the US, and I was reminded of a fantastic breakfast at the August First bakery in Burlington, Vermont. I was in Burlington for a conference and spent a couple of days beforehand working and wandering around a small university town – I grew up in a small university town so I have a professional interest in them – which has a reputation for extraordinarily progressive and inclusive politics. DSCN1370 There were posters advertising make-your-own banjo classes (out of gourds, apparently), vegan Thanksgiving, and homebrew nights; the local Democratic party was next door to a Tibetan dumpling shop; and I have never been so aware of the plight of the Dalai Lama as I was in the week I spent in Vermont. And there was the most amazing co-operative, which had a wall – a wall! – of granola. Progressive America is, truly, the most amazing place. (In a similar vein, Ann Arbor’s community co-op is opposite a Birkenstock shop.) DSCN1380 I had, then, granola at August First. And it was wonderful granola, with whole walnuts and fat raisins, and with plenty of really good plain yoghurt. Burlington has embraced its granola. But – and I write this as one who makes her own granola – there is a contradiction at the heart of the association of granola with progressive living: a lot of the time, it’s full of sugar. Unlike muesli, which is left raw, granola is baked usually with honey, maple syrup, or (sometimes and) sugar, as well as oil, and, occasionally, egg white. This is not necessarily the healthiest breakfast. So why does granola signify healthy eating? DSCN1386 This isn’t the only food to be linked to left wing politics. Paul Laity notes:

‘Socialism,’ George Orwell famously wrote in The Road to Wigan Pier (1936), draws towards it ‘with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, “Nature Cure” quack, pacifist and feminist in England.’ His tirade against such ‘cranks’ is memorably extended in other passages of the book to include ‘vegetarians with wilting beards,’ the ‘outer-suburban creeping Jesus’ eager to begin his yoga exercises, and ‘that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers…’

Orwell’s ‘cranks’—a term reclaimed by the London vegetarian restaurant in 1961—were the free-thinking and –living British Bohemians of the early twentieth century, who experimented with new forms of comfortable dress, sustainable eating, eastern religions, egalitarian social arrangements, and alternative sexual identities. This early counter culture was strongly influenced by late nineteenth-century dieticians and naturopaths—many of them based in Germany—who advocated raw, simple eating in contrast to the meat- and starch-heavy meals which characterised most middle-class diets. DSCN1388 As Catherine Carstairs remarks in her essay ‘The Granola High: Eating Differently in the Late 1960s and 1970s,’ it was immigrants from central Europe who brought health food shops to North America, stocking vitamin supplements, wholewheat bread, and, inevitably, fruit juice. It was these shops that made widely available the foods eaten at more exclusive sanatoriums in Europe and the United States.

Like muesli and bircher muesli, granola was invented in a health spa. In her excellent and exhaustively detailed history of granola, Karen Hochman argues that Dr James Caleb Jackson—a farmer, journalist, and doctor—invented granula in 1863 for the patients at his spa, Our Home on the Hillside, in upstate New York. Relying heavily on Graham flour—invented by the dour evangelical preacher Sylvester Graham—he baked sheets of biscuits and crumbled them into granules to be soaked in milk and then eaten for breakfast. It’s likely that granula—the predecessor of Grape Nuts—would never have moved beyond the confines of Our Home on the Hillside had it not come to the attention of a rival sanatorium doctor and Seventh Day Adventist, William Kellogg, who used rolled, toasted oats instead of Graham flour biscuits. He renamed his product granola, and it became for a while a significant money earner for his Sanitarium Food Company (renamed Kellogg’s Food Company in 1908).

But enthusiasm for granola remained—largely—limited to the relatively small numbers of people who shopped in health food stores until the 1960s and 1970s. Then, concern about the effects of pesticides and additives on human, plant, and animal health; suspicion of the food industry; a desire to experiment with diets from elsewhere; and a back to the land movement all coincided to produce an interest in purer, healthier, more ‘natural’ foods. Hippies—another food counter culture—looked back and found granola. So did big food companies, as Hochman writes about the US:

Granola went mainstream in 1972, when the first major commercial granola, Heartland Natural Cereal, was introduced by Pet Incorporated. In rapid succession, Quaker introduced Quaker 100% Natural Granola; Kellogg’s introduced Country Morning granola cereal and General Mills introduced Nature Valley granola.

The sweet, nut- and dried fruit-filled granola we eat today is derived from the granola reinvented in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite having been popularised by Quaker and General Mills—the enemies of the second food counter culture—granola retained its association with progressive, healthy living.

This cultural history of granola tell us three things, I think. Firstly, that the food counter culture has roots in alternative experiments in living stretching as far back as the late eighteenth century, when vegetarianism and lighter diets were picked up as markers of enlightened, rational eating. Secondly, that business has long taken advantage of the experiments done by people working and living on the fringes of respectability.

Finally, it also traces the shifting meanings of what we define as ‘healthy.’ Despite evidence presented to us by nutritionists, what we think of as being healthy food depends on a range of factors, including whether, historically, a product has been associated with health-conscious living.

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

Food Links, 21.01.2015

  • The appalling conditions under which farm workers grow America’s fresh produce.
  • ‘Sometimes, I think of that unruly field as my grandparents’ desperation garden.’
  • Butter that costs $49 per pound.
  • American children are eating too much pizza.
  • The implications of commercial bees for wild bee populations.
  • From free school meals to food pantries.
  • British shoppers are paying the same for cucumbers as they did in 1989.
  • Farming without herbicides.
  • French supermarkets take on budget rivals.
  • What the world eats.
  • McDonald’s sales are down.
  • Checking the flow of illicit honey into the US.
  • Turning sewerage into drinking water.
  • Bonnie Slotnick’s recipe book shop will not close.
  • Inside Egypt’s ahwas.
  • Icicle farming.
  • Red velvet Oreos.
  • Determining apples’ ripeness with lasers.
  • Corporate beer is badly watered down.
  • Time-restricted eating.
  • How farmers cope with the cold.
  • Future super foods?
  • Introducing Cuban cuisine. (Thanks, mum!)
  • ‘Even the gleaming teeth in the BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall are historically accurate, according to author Hilary Mantel, who says that in an age when eating sugar was uncommon – even for the likes of Henry VIII – tooth decay was much less of a problem.’
  • Where to eat ramen in Tokyo.
  • Bacon biscuits.
  • Conflict Kitchen.
  • The 2015 Piglet.
  • Culinary tours of Cuba.
  • A map of every goat in the US.
  • Curry in English hands.
  • The rise and rise of Jägermeister.
  • The great cookbook breakdown.
  • Make your own flatbread.
  • Chefs love brains.
  • Jonathan Gold on ramen.
  • American Creme Eggs won’t change.
  • Eye of the gazelle.
  • ‘”Each month you can see how it’s changing by how many veggie burgers they sell,” he says. “Each month it’s more. With gentrification you start getting gourmet fried chicken…”‘
  • The salt hotel.
  • The best American cities in which to raise livestock.
  • Make your own buttermilk.
  • Roast a chicken without a recipe.
  • Absurd restaurant stories.
  • Korean women try US junk food.
  • Making cheese in China.
  • Wonder fries.
  • The 8,000 calorie diet.
  • Cocoa cubes.
  • What is a beard friendly pub?
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