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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.

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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.

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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.

Take the Biscuit

This week I attended the Johannesburg launch of Gabeba Baderoon’s Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid. In it, she traces the long history of the representation of Muslims in South Africa, arguing that this is crucial to understanding how ideas around race and sexuality, for instance, have changed over time in this country. Importantly, though, she also looks at how Muslims themselves have both responded to and challenged the ways in which they have been portrayed.

She devotes an excellent chapter to the meanings and uses of ‘Cape Malay’ cooking. This is a cuisine, Baderoon notes, that carries with it the memory of enslavement and violence – a memory which was erased, in particular, by the recipe books written by white authors about the cooking of the Cape’s Muslim population, most of whom are the descendants of slaves. Part of the purpose of books such as Renata Coetzee’s The South African Culinary Tradition (1977) was to use this cooking to demonstrate the existence of a particularly South African cuisine which was linked more strongly to Europe – albeit heavily influenced by southeast Asia – than Africa.

When Muslim women – both in the Cape and elsewhere – began to write their own books during the early 1960s, they acknowledged the ‘Africanness’ of their cooking. Their recipe books

meant that Muslim food would no longer be a realm presided over by white experts who drew from silent or apparently submissive black informants in their kitchens, and spoke on their behalf. The transformation of Muslim cooks from silent informants to spokespeople of tradition began to subvert the use of ‘Malay’ food to solidify a ‘general’ South African cuisine that marginalised Africans and centred a European-oriented whiteness.

Baderoon uses the example of the Hertzoggie to demonstrate how Malay food encodes a fraught, but also subversive, history.

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Hertzoggies are small – delicious – cookies consisting of a layer of pastry, a blob of jam (usually apricot), and a dome of desiccated coconut. They’re named after JBM Hertzog, Prime Minister of South Africa between 1924 and 1939. Representing largely the interests of white Afrikaners, Hertzog oversaw legislation which further entrenched segregation. The landmark 1936 Native Trust and Land Act and Native Representation Act not only further restricted the land that Africans could hold, but also removed those Africans who qualified to vote from the voters’ roll in the Cape and dashed any hopes of extending the franchise to blacks nationally.

According to Cass Abrahams – an authority on Cape cooking – it was in this context that the Hertzoggie was invented. Baderoon quotes her:

[Hertzog] made two promises … He said that he would give the women a vote, en hy sal die slawe dieselfde as die wittes maak he will make the Malays equal to the whites. Achmat [Davids, the late linguist and historian] reckoned the Malays became terribly excited about this and they put this little short-crust pastry with apple jelly underneath and then had the egg white and coconut on top of it and baked it and called it a Hertzoggie in honour of General Hertzog. However, when he came into power he fulfilled one promise, he gave the vote to the women, but he didn’t make the slaves the same as the whites. So the Malays became very upset and they took that very same Hertzoggie and covered it with brown icing, you know, this runny brown icing and pink icing and they call it a twee-gevreetjie [hypocrite].

I had never heard this account of the origins of the Hertzoggie before and it rings entirely true for me – particularly because of the widespread use of desiccated coconut in Cape Malay baking. It demonstrates Baderoon’s point about the use of food as a form of subversion by people otherwise socially, politically, and economically marginalised, particularly well.

However, I think that it’s also worth thinking about the Hertzoggie in relation to other baking traditions. It’s a little difficult to keep apart these different strands of South African cooking. Hertzoggies appear in recipe books written by – and, presumably, for – white, middle-class class women during the 1930s. And, often, they placed alongside recipes for Jan Smutsies or Smuts-Koekies.

Jan Smuts – statesman, war general, philosopher – was Hertzog’s main political rival. Although the differences between Smuts and Hertzog’s politics, particularly as regards segregation, should not be overstated – after all, they formed the fusion government between 1934 and 1939 – they tended to represent opposing liberal and conservative impulses within South African politics during the 1920s and 1930s.

Smutsies are similar to Hertzoggies, but have a plain pastry instead of coconut lid covering the jam. Was the relative austerity of Smutsies a commentary on his asceticism? That said, other recipes imply that Smutsies and Hertzoggies are, in fact, exactly the same – only the name changes according to the political sympathies of the baker (or the eater).

The same recipe books which include Smutsies and Hertzoggies also refer to puddings and cakes named after other white, Afrikaans heroes: like General de la Rey (hero of the South African War) and President Steyn (the President of the Orange Free State during the same conflict) cake. (They’re both cakes heavy with dried fruit and nuts, although Steyn’s is decorated with meringue.)

I don’t write this to undermine Baderoon’s argument, but, rather, to note how entangled South Africa’s culinary traditions are. Also, I want to reinforce her point about the subversive potential of food: that a biscuit invented by poor, black, Muslim women first in support of, and then in criticism of, a political figure could be taken up and celebrated by precisely the people who voted for him.

Further Reading

Gabeba Baderoon, Regarding Muslims: From Slavery to Post-Apartheid (Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2014).

William Beinart, Twentieth Century South Africa, new edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Saul Dubow, Apartheid, 1948-1994 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

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

Food Links, 30.07.2014

  • Rooibos tea has won geographic indicator status from the EU.
  • A food contamination scandal in China spreads abroad.
  • Restaurant workers’ wages are stagnating.
  • Stop telling women what to eat.
  • Britain’s contaminated chicken scandal.
  • The threat to Market Basket.
  • Refrigeration, dumplings, and climate change.
  • Is there such a thing as sustainable corn?
  • Two thirds of Americans are avoiding fizzy drinks.
  • Tesco and Tony Blair.
  • The all-mackerel diet.
  • Which meat should we eat?
  • Farm to counter.
  • Why is Nando’s so popular in the UK?
  • Recipes for a summer party.
  • Mustafa’s Sweet Dreams.
  • A nineteenth-century breast pump.
  • The burger joint name generator.
  • Whiskies from around the world.
  • Glass loaves.
  • London’s best park cafes.
  • Ending an addiction to Diet Coke.
  • Wole Soyinka on bread in Paris.
  • The difference between sorbet and sherbet.
  • The state of soul food.
  • Everything you need to open a hipster bar.
  • Where to eat in Boston.
  • New York’s 1859 Piggery War.
  • What a trendy restaurant looks like.
  • How restaurants increase sales in summer.
  • Lady at her breakfast.
  • Food not to throw away.
  • A guide to New York’s dive bars.
  • How to cook a basic pot of rice.
  • Things to know about spatulas and wooden spoons.
  • ‘Coconut water went from local skirmish to beverage fame despite what might seem like a major impediment: its flavour.’
  • Heirloom or hybrid?
  • Simpsons-themed wine bottles.
  • Spotting food trends.
  • Joan Didion on Martha Stewart.
  • What is so delightful about tiny food?
  • Cooking with olive oil.
  • Fat & Furious Burger
  • Oak brewed tea.
  • A celebration of ice cream.
  • Pineapple flowers.
  • A Roman nut tart.

Ideal Conditions

Earlier this month it was announced that the sport scientist turned diet guru Tim Noakes is in talks with Derek Carstens, former First Rand executive and now Karoo farmer, about improving the diets of farm workers. The Cape Times reported:

Once the project begins, the families on the farm will be monitored for five to 10 years. With a diet high in offal – which is readily available in the farmlands of the Karoo – the families will stop consuming carbohydrates, which Noakes says are of no benefit to the human body.

‘This is an ideal set-up,’ said Noakes. ‘And it would be much harder to do research of this nature in a place like Cape Town.’

Since the emergence of nutrition as a field of scientific enquiry in the early twentieth century, the poor, the hungry, and the socially and politically disenfranchised have often been the subjects of research into diet and malnutrition. Last year, University of Guelph-based food historian Ian Mosby published evidence that during the 1940s and 1950s, scientists working for the Canadian government conducted a series of experiments on malnourished residents of rural Aboriginal communities and residential schools.

Rural impoverishment in the 1930s – brought about by the decline in the fur trade and cuts to government provision of poor relief – meant that First Nations people struggled to find enough to eat. They could not, in other words, afford to eat, and this knowledge informed the advice they provided to researchers for eradicating malnutrition. Mosby writes:

Representatives of the various First Nations visited by the research team proposed a number of practical suggestions for ending the hunger and malnutrition in their communities. In addition to more generous relief during times of extreme hardship, these included increased rations for the old and destitute, timber reserves to be set aside for the building and repairing of houses, and additional fur conservation efforts by the federal government, as well as a request that they be given fishing reserves ‘so that they could get fish both for themselves and for dog feed, free from competition with the large commercial fisheries.’

However, researchers decided to set up an experiment in which First Nations peoples were provided with vitamin supplements to gauge their relative effectiveness in combating the side effects of hunger. Crucially, researchers were well aware that ‘vitamin deficiencies constituted just one among many nutritional problems.’ In fact, they calculated that the average diet in these communities provided only 1,470 calories per person during much of the year.’ First Nations people needed food supplies, not vitamin supplements. Mosby concludes:

The experiment therefore seems to have been driven, at least in part, by the nutrition experts’ desire to test their theories on a ready-made ‘laboratory’ populated with already malnourished human ‘experimental subjects.’

In other areas, researchers regulated what kinds of food Aboriginals could purchase with their welfare grants (the Family Allowance):

These included canned tomatoes (or grapefruit juice), rolled oats, Pablum [baby food], pork luncheon meat (such as Spork, Klick, or Prem), dried prunes or apricots, and cheese or canned butter.

This experiment was also an attempt to persuade First Nations people to choose ‘country’ over ‘store’ foods. They were to hunt and to gather instead of relying on shops. To these ends, some officials tried to prevent some families from buying flour:

In Great Whale River, the consequence of this policy during late 1949 and early 1950 was that many Inuit families were forced to go on their annual winter hunt with insufficient flour to last for the entire season. Within a few months, some went hungry and were forced to resort to eating their sled dogs and boiled seal skin.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is little or no evidence to suggest that the subjects of these research projects consented to being part of them.

In South Africa, anxiety about the productivity of mine workers in the 1930s drove the publication of a series of reports into the health of the African population. Diana Wylie explains:

The Chamber of Mines in particular was alarmed at the 19 per cent rejection rate for Transkei mine recruits. Some of the researchers urged the government to concern itself with nutritional diseases ‘as an economic problem of first importance in which not merely the health but the financial interests of the dominant races are concerned.’ Another warned, ‘unless a proper food supply is assured, our biggest asset in the Union, next to the gold itself, our labour supply, will fail us in the years to come.’

In response to these findings, mining companies introduced supplements to miners’ diets to combat scurvy and generally boost immune systems. They did not, obviously, address the causes of miners’ ill health and poor diets – which were partly the impoverishment of rural areas and the system of migrant labour.

Mine workers in Kimberley.

Mine workers in Kimberley. (From here.)

The Canadian experiments and South African research projects were produced by a similar set of concerns: by an interest in civilising indigenous people, but also because, in the case of Canada, ‘it [was their] belief that the Indian [sic] can become an economic asset to the nation.’ Africans also needed to be well fed and kept healthy for the benefit of the South African state.

Noakes is correct when he says that conducting the research he proposes to do on rural farm workers would be almost impossible in a city. Although he insists that he will seek ethics approval, I wonder how he and other researchers will go about winning the informed consent of a group of people who are dependent on their employer – Noakes’s collaborator – for their livelihoods, and who have, historically, very low levels of education.

Also, Noakes seems to believe that only carbohydrates are at the root of farm labourers’ poor diets. As the First Nations people referred to above argued, malnutrition is caused by an inability to access good, nutritious food – and usually because of low wages. Instead of feeding Carstens’s employees offal, it might be worth considering how much they are paid, and how easy it is for them to afford transport to shops selling healthy food.

Noakes argues that ‘We can’t build this nation in the absence of sufficient protein and fat.’ To what extent is this project purely for the benefit of Karoo farm workers? And to what extent to prove a controversial theory proposed by a prominent researcher?

Sources

Ian Mosby, ‘Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952,’ Histoire Sociale/Social History, vol. 46, no. 91 (May 2013), pp. 145-172.

Diana Wylie, ‘The Changing Face of Hunger in Southern African History, 1880-1980,’ Past and Present, no. 122 (Feb. 1989), pp. 159-199.

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

Food Links, 23.07.2014

  • Encouraging women farmers.
  • The UN has reduced refugees’ rations to 850 calories.
  • A new contaminated food scandal in China.
  • Give up beef massively to reduce carbon footprints.
  • It is possible and necessary to reduce antibiotic use in farming.
  • Detroit’s water crisis.
  • California’s water crisis.
  • Burritos are sandwiches.
  • Tipping should be banned.
  • The new Australian guide to healthy eating.
  • A South African guide to seasonal eating.
  • French restaurant bloggers are nervous.
  • Veganism and masculinities.
  • Crayfish can feel stress.
  • Subsisting on Soylent.
  • Purity, ghee, and cheese.
  • Whiskey and crisps with Nadine Gordimer.
  • ‘The anorexic changes her body into a symbol, thinking, wrongly, that this symbol will be recognized universally for what it represents to her.’
  • Baking with mashed potatoes.
  • How to buy white chocolate.
  • Cooking and eating during wartime rationing.
  • Thoughts on coffee.
  • Celebrating Germany’s World Cup victory with cake.
  • Semolina and loquat pudding.
  • In praise of sourdough bread.
  • Cooking for three generations.
  • Molly Wizenberg’s favourite recipe books and food blogs.
  • Selling ugly produce.
  • Crème légère.
  • New Tempting Ways to Serve Bananas.
  • ‘if your reason for saving a tomato seed is to preserve genetic diversity or to trade with other gardeners, you should know that there is a chance of your tomato seeds not coming true to type.’
  • On blancmange.
  • The kill-to-eat diet.
  • A beautiful wooden lobster.
  • How to make coconut milk.
  • A recipe book from the Urals.
  • Mrs Beeton’s soup recipes.
  • Listening to bees.
  • The joy of homemade ice cream.
  • Recipe substitutes.
  • Make your own ricotta.
  • A ten-layer ice cream cake.
  • Raspberry and redcurrant jam.

Old Bottles

I realised that I am a kind of wine snob when I moved to Joburg last year. (A year! I’ve been here a year. It’s been interesting, Joburg.) At a party I was asked if I wanted ice in my white wine. Having been raised in the Boland – one of South Africa’s oldest and most popular wine-producing regions – I know enough about wine to feel fairly strongly that it shouldn’t be diluted with water.

Most of my knowledge about wine I’ve learned thought being around my father and sister – whose blog you must read – and from spending a childhood in a region where we would spend Saturday mornings visiting wine estates in the area, where there were goats and ducks to feed, and my sister – an oenophile with strong opinions at the tender age of five – would have the odd sip from my father’s glass.

This was a time just before wine estates – and South African wines more generally – were marketed to foreign audiences. The standard guide to local wines – Platter’s pamphlet-sized annual rating of all the wines produced in South Africa – was only a centimetre thick. It’s now a dense, detailed compendium of a vast array of regions which had yet to come into being in the late 1980s and early 1990s: the Breede River Valley, West Cost, and Hermanus, for instance. It was a time when my sister and I could wander into the cheese room at Fairview, have a chat with old Mrs Back, and then see what wine my father was tasting.

Now, though, the winelands are a standard feature on tourists’ itineraries – after the delights of Cape Town and just before safaris in the northern provinces, quickly skipping over altogether more complicated Johannesburg. They have been used to denote a particular kind of South African-ness (or, more accurately, Cape-ness) of being at once part of an experience that is African and reassuringly European. They are Africa-lite.

The use of the wine industry to construct a version of national identity is not particular to South Africa. In When Champagne became French: Wine and the Making of a National Identity, Kolleen M. Guy argues that, contrary to official histories of the French wine industry which portray it as forever having embodied the very essence of French-ness, the notion of French identity being expressed through its wine is a relatively recent phenomenon. As an international market for expensive champagne began to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century – and as mechanisation of the wine industry allowed for increasing volumes of wine and champagne to be produced – the export of these luxury goods became increasingly associated with what it meant to be French.

These luxury goods were taken up to indicate France’s commitment to good wine and to good eating, as a prosperous nation which, although fully modernised, still relied on the work and wiliness of its peasants to produce goods for an international market. The idea of terroir was particularly important in constructing France as a nation with a uniquely perfect food culture: only French soil – and no other land – could produce wines as distinctive as France’s. These narratives hid fractures and changes within French society, as the new middle class sought ways to manifest their wealth and, they believed, their sophistication.

The opposite – the erasure of a winemaking tradition in aid of national re-making – has also occurred. For various reasons, I’ve recently been re-reading Robert Byron’s classic travelogue The Road to Oxiana. The story recounts his journey – on horseback, in cars, busses, lorries, and trains – from Palestine to Afghanistan, and from there to India, where the narrative ends. Although Byron’s interest in food is fairly limited, one of the most interesting and unexpected themes in the book is his commentary on local wines. Particularly in Persia, he comes across wines grown in the region, and of varying quality. He writes while staying in Shiraz:

Wine is another boon of the Persian South. Its fame has spread and etymologists argue as to whether sherry derives its name from Xerez or Shiraz. So far we have discovered three varieties here: a very dry golden wine, which I prefer to any sherry, though its taste is not so storied; a dry red claret, nondescript at first, but acceptable with meals; and a sweeter vin rose, which induces a delicious well- being.

In Azerbaijan he finds a wine which ‘tastes of a Burgundy grown in Greece. We have drunk a bottle apiece today.’

Gonbad-e Qabud, Maragha, Iran (from here).

Gonbad-e Qabud, Maragha, Iran (from here).

Iran has a long history of wine production:

Many believe this rugged area of southern Iran was the original source of the grape used to create the world-famous Shiraz wine – today produced in vineyards in California, Australia, France and South Africa. The claim is disputed by some experts, who believe the grape to have originated in France. What is not in doubt, however, is the central place of wine in an ancient Persian culture held dear by many Iranians.

Iran’s most revered poet, Hafez, wrote voluminously on wine’s virtues, as did several of the nation’s other prominent bards. Even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the famously ascetic father of the revolution – and an amateur poet in his spare time – composed verse praising ‘wine bearers and wine shops’, although it is widely assumed his references were allegory for the spiritual joy of religious belief.

The 1979 revolution banned the production and consumption of alcohol in Iran. Some religious minorities are allowed to serve alcohol at private gatherings, and there is a thriving trade in smuggled wine and spirits.

The Road to Oxiana was published in 1937, and it is in many ways a melancholy read at the beginning of the twenty-first century: several of the mosques, monuments, and tombs described by Byron have been destroyed during recent conflicts. And the relative religious tolerance he refers to has disappeared, particularly in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The odd presence of Persian wine in the book is a reminder of a more complicated past than the current regime would like to allow.

I don’t want to make a glib point about using food to understand common heritages and shared histories, but, rather, at this moment of stand-offs, of stupid, pointless attack and destruction, that it’s worth paying attention to how narratives of national strength and vulnerability are constructed. Like Persian wine, they are often based on erasure and distortion.

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

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