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Food Links, 07.08.2013

  • The girls sold into slavery in India’s tea industry.
  • Monsanto, the US agribusiness, will withdraw applications to grow genetically modified crops in the EU.’
  • The significance of wild foods to food security.
  • Scurvy is on the rise in the UK.
  • Is there a link between the use of antibiotics on farms, and the rise of drug-resistant bacteria?
  • The school bus feeding children in rural Tennessee.
  • Are we nearing ‘peak water‘?
  • Onions have played an outsized role in Indian politics’.
  • Europe’s ability to grow its own food may be plateauing.
  • Drinking coffee may reduce people’s risk of suicide.
  • ‘Since 2008, Japanese law requires companies to measure and report the waist circumference of all employees between the ages of 40 and 74 so that, among other things, anyone over the recommended girth can receive an email of admonition and advice.’
  • Tecoma, the town resisting McDonald’s.
  • Buzzfeeds: the Guardian’s coverage of the bee crisis.
  • Was the menu at the state banquet to celebrate the Obamas’ visit to South Africa, sub-standard?
  • How Coke engineers its orange juice.
  • A soup kitchen during the Great Depression, 1930.
  • ‘drawing pictures of unhealthy food can have positive effects on mood.’
  • ‘All I ever got from the cookbook was an autographed copy, but in those days I was grateful for any little crumb that white people let fall, so I kept my thoughts about the cookbook strictly to myself.’
  • Hipsters can’t cope with their chickens.
  • ‘The world’s about to be turned upside-down. Breakfast will become dinner, night will become day, and fasting turns to feasting.’
  • hiSbe, the new ethical supermarket.
  • Eating take-aways in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Paris.
  • ‘the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal is celebrating the liquid that some call “white gold” by adding a “camel milk mixologist” to its catering team.’
  • Eating Pyura chilensis.
  • The return of the slushy.
  • Essential Indian cookbooks.
  • George Orwell and Douglas Adams on how to make tea.
  • Artisan cheese from Sweden.
  • New York City’s top kitchens are looking for chefs.
  • In search of the perfect burger.
  • Margarine v butter.
  • ‘What would happen if restaurants had explicit dress codes?’
  • Odd ways of using cheese.
  • Our brains on coffee.
  • Make your own cronut.
  • Camp Gluten-Free.
  • The planet Jupiter in cake form.
  • How to make a giant baked bean.
  • London’s two wine scenes.
  • PD Smith reviews a newish history of the English breakfast.
  • Introducing the ‘crookie‘.
  • Why does jelly wobble?
  • Jay Rayner dislikes picnics.
  • Food Sherpas.
  • Esquire‘s 1949 guide to brewing coffee.
  • Grown-up friendly toddler food (and vice versa).
  • What is a voodoo doughtnut?
  • How to fry an egg.
  • What’s in the average cup of coffee?
  • ‘Remember, not everyone shares your food knowledge and refined palate. That’s the source of your power.’

Food Links, 30.07.2013

Food Links, 24.07.2013

Food Links, 17.07.2013

Back in a moment.

Kind and patient readers – I must leave you for a little while. I’m packing up and moving to Johannesburg, where I’ll be researching interesting things related to the medical humanities at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (or WiSER – best acronym ever). And I have a manuscript to finish.

There’ll still be weekly links and, occasionally, some pseudery.

Wish me luck! See you in August-ish. xx

Goodbye Cape Town!

Goodbye Cape Town!

Food Links, 03.07.2013

Eating Nando’s in Gaborone

I spent most of last week at the biennial gathering of historians organised by the Southern African Historical Society. The conference at the University of Botswana was fantastic. Gaborone was, well, less so.* I think that the city is best summed up by an exchange between a conference delegate and her husband, who had spent the morning exploring downtown Gaborone. When asked what he had discovered, he answered: ‘There’s a Nando’s.’

This comment is interesting for many reasons. One of the most striking features of Gaborone – other than the many posters for visiting gospel choirs and the absence of any form of newspaper advertising – is its malls. Having had lunch and dinner at two of them, it seems to me that most of the major shops and restaurants in the city are branches of South African chains: from Spur, that staple of middle South Africa, to the relatively upmarket Primi Piatti. Given the hostility which locals appear to reserve for South Africans – and relations between the two countries became particularly tense during the late 1980s, when ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe exiles in Gaborone became the target of the apartheid state’s raids – this felt deeply ironic at the time.

Nando’s is an odd addition to the pantheon of South African culinary exports. In his speech delivered at the University of Cape Town during his recent visit to the country, Barack Obama referred to Nando’s – alongside the vuvuzela and Freshlyground – as prime examples of South African institutions. But like so many cultural icons which seem to embody national identity, Nando’s was founded by immigrants.

When I mentioned to friends in the UK that Nando’s is South African, I was often greeted with expressions of confusion. Surely, they argued, it’s Portuguese? Well, yes and no. Before its devastating civil war, Mozambique was a popular destination particularly for young, white South Africans. They visited its pristine beaches, its fun capital Maputo (Lourenço Marques before 1975), and ate its excellent and distinctive cuisine. Indeed prawns from Mozambique are still a regional delicacy. Radio Lourenço Marques – which could be picked up in South Africa – played the music banned by South African broadcasters. Mozambique represented, for young whites at least, relative freedom from the restrictions of a repressive and oppressive South African state.

For part of its civil war (1977-1992), South Africans escaping the country travelled to Mozambique to join up with the exiled ANC. Moving in the opposite direction, legions of whites migrated southwards to South Africa after Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Two of these exiles founded Nando’s in Rosettenville, a Johannesburg suburb with large ex-patriot Portuguese populations from Mozambique and Madeira. Although by no means the first or only chicken fast-food restaurant in South Africa – local Chicken Licken (opened in 1981) and foreign KFC (introduced in 1971) do a roaring trade – Nando’s distinctiveness lies partly in its adaptation of the hybrid Afro-Lusophone cuisine which developed in Mozambique.

The chain is probably best known for popularising peri-peri – a sharp, spicy sauce which is a feature of both Portuguese and Mozambican cooking. Its name derives from the Swahili word for the African bird’s eye chilli – the pili pili – which was taken back to Portugal by traders who had been present along the east African coast since the sixteenth century. Portuguese piri piri sauce entered Mozambique with the advent of white settlement, where it was re-adapted by Africans.

Nando's comments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Nando’s comments on the Protection of State Information Bill.

Following the first wave of white South Africans to leave the country during the transition, Nando’s opened its first overseas branch in Australia in 1990. Franchises in the UK (1992), Botswana (1993), Canada (1994), Malaysia (1998), Pakistan (2001), and elsewhere followed. It now operates in the United States and around southern Africa. It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, have a branch in Mozambique.

Nando’s menu is very obviously the product of the long interaction between Africans and Portuguese interlopers over the course of around four centuries. It purveys a global cuisine, and one which has become increasingly globalised as it adapts itself to the tastes and expectations of new countries and new customers. The restaurants in the UK, for instance, are noticeably more upmarket than the Nando’s outlets in South Africa. It’s also the product of the geopolitics of late twentieth-century southern Africa. It was founded as a result of white Mozambicans’ migration to South Africa in the mid-1970s, and catered to local enthusiasm for Mozambican cooking both among migrant Mozambican mine workers as well as those whites who had holidayed in Mozambique. Its first attempt at opening an international store accompanied white South Africans’ migration to Australia.

And yet, for all its hybrid identity, Nando’s identifies itself as a distinctively South African brand – and particularly through its advertising campaigns. Nando’s has a reputation for responding quickly and wittily to political controversies – like blacking out its ads during protests against the potentially oppressive Protection of State Information Bill in 2011. Although this is a strategy which backfires occasionally, it means that Nando’s can cash in – quite literally – by siding with (middle-class?) South Africans’ exasperation with the government and the country’s politicians.

Nando's expresses support for the Springboks, the national rugby team. 'Moer hulle' translates roughly as 'fuck them'. You wouldn't say this in front of your grandmother.

Nando’s expresses support for the Springboks, the national rugby team. ‘Moer hulle’ translates roughly as ‘fuck them’. You wouldn’t say this in front of your grandmother.

It was this which made Nando’s presence in Gaborone feel incongruous. Despite its expensive PR campaigns, Botswana has a deserved reputation for being one of the most secretive states in southern Africa. It’s particularly intolerant of dissent, and has expelled those who have challenged the political status quo. As a recipient of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Golden Padlock award in 2011, the real country is worlds away from Alexander McCall Smith’s sanitised and gently patronising depiction of Botswana’s people and politics. I doubt that Nando’s advertising would be legal in Gaborone.

*Never, ever trust the taxi drivers of Gaborone to get you to the airport in time for your early flight to Joburg. And particularly not those who congregate at the Gaborone Southern Sun at 4am. Trust me on this one.

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

Food Links, 26.06.2013

Check Your Privilege

Yesterday, the circulation of a photograph of a new Hackney café, The Advisory, caused a minor flurry of controversy on social media. The restaurant has been established on the site of the – now closed – Asian Women’s Advisory Service. As many pointed out, its decision to retain the Service’s sign and to appropriate the language of the centre in the name of foodie-ism, is in exceptionally poor taste. A sign on its window advertises: ‘This centre is responsible for a refined preparation of brunch, lunch and dinners.’ It adds: ‘We also respond to thirst related needs.’

In response to this criticism, The Advisory has removed the sign and, in a statement, explained that the building had been derelict for several years. A review of the café on Cherie City – which praised its ‘rough-luxe feel’ – has also been taken down.

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Regardless of whether the building was empty or not, The Advisory’s decision to model itself as an advice centre in one of the UK’s poorest boroughs, and in the midst of debates over the effects of the ‘hipsterfication’ of east London, is deeply insensitive.

This certainly isn’t the only example of tone-deaf foodiesm that I’ve encountered. A couple of years ago, I attended an event in Cape Town where a well-meaning author attempted to recreate the life of Nelson Mandela for the audience by providing us with meals he ate at key moments, supplied by … Woolworths. (It’s rather like Marks & Spencer handing out packets of rice to help punters to understand Gandhi’s struggles better.)

These are, admittedly, particularly bad examples of foodie thoughtlessness. But I think that they point to a wider problem within the ‘food world’ (so to speak – I mean restaurateurs, food writers, and journalists). Since its emergence in the US and the UK, during the late 1960s, the food movement – which questions industrial agriculture, supports small farmers and co-operatives, opposes GM and buys organic – has remained largely middle class. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does mean that the movement has a tendency to ignore its own, vast privilege.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, after having come across a new book on how Londoners can eat locally and sustainably. It’s called The Modern Peasant. I understand why Jojo Tulloh wanted to call her book that – she wanted to evoke the small, self-sufficient, self-contained world of the peasants of pre-industrial Britain – but I think it’s an immensely problematic choice, not least because it seems to imply that peasants no longer exist. They do. In their millions. The vast majority of farmers in Africa and south Asia are small farmers. These peasants produce 70% of the world’s food supply.

La Via Campesina celebrates the tenth anniversary of its founding this year. It is the largest peasant organisation in the world and is, arguably, one of the most significant forces within food politics at the moment. It originated the concept of food sovereignty, which puts power relations at the heart of creating a fair food system:

Unlike food security, often defined as ensuring people have enough to eat, food sovereignty zeroes in on questions of power and control.

‘Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations,’ reads the final declaration of the Forum for Food Sovereignty, held in 2007, held in 2007 in Sélingué, Mali. ‘Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.’

So calling a book about eating well in London ‘The Modern Peasant’, displays rather a lot of ignorance about how the world’s food systems operate.

My point is not to bash well-meaning, if occasionally tin eared, middle-class foodies who only want to encourage others to eat good, ethically-produced food. But, rather, to argue that they need to recognise that – by virtue of their whiteness and class – they operate from a position of power.

There has been a lot of debate among feminists over the past year or so about the usefulness of asking or telling straight, white, middle-class feminists to ‘check their privilege’ when addressing issues relevant to LGBT and working-class feminists, or women of colour. Although I have fairly mixed feelings about how ‘privilege checking’ has been used, it is a useful way of encouraging those in privilege to become aware of how powerful they are – and to recognise that any attempt to remedy broken food chains and to ensure that everyone has enough (of the right kind of) food to eat, is dependent on addressing power imbalances. And not only foraging for wild garlic in Hackney.

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

Foodie Pseudery (44)

This foodie pseudery was spotted by my friend Lize-Marie, who came across an entirely nonsensical description of a burger at a branch of MacDonald’s in Sweden:

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The text reads: ‘Sometimes the journey isn’t the goal, but the taste of something new and exciting. Join us during our taste explorations from spicy India to exotic South Africa via Greece, Mexico and Australia.’

Up to a point.