The Hive at Kew, bringing eyesight to the blind
Cheesemakers in Scotland are celebrating something of a victory over Food Standards Scotland (FSS). To begin with, guidance from FFS prohibited the sale of cheeses made from unpasteurised milk. Five Scottish cheesemakers launched a crowdfunded campaign to overturn the guidance, which they said was contrary to established EU best practice. In the end the cheesemakers dropped their legal campaign because FFS and the Scottish Food Enforcement Liaison Committee issued new guidelines that satisfied the cheesemakers.
FFS, for its part, says that it wasn’t a victory at all because its guidance was already under review.
The cheesemakers are confident that FSS would not have made any changes to the document had they not pursued a legal remedy.
I don’t think it matters. What matters is that if you choose to take the risk, you can have a Scottish cheese made from raw milk. While much of the regulation around foods probably does improve food safety, it also represents a cost – usually a fixed cost – that smaller enterprises can ill afford. Smaller enterprises are also usually much more careful about safety anyway. I don’t see conspiracies everywhere, honest, but I suspect someone has already written a thesis on the extent to which increased food safety regulation, especially in the wake of breakdowns in food safety, is promoted by the companies responsible for the breakdowns.
The New Food Economy website thinks not, being so bold as to entitle its latest on the matter This is our last soda tax story ever.
Critics say soda taxes punish the poor, and they’re paternalistic. Despite all that, a team of economists says, they’re worth it.
Of course the story is only about the United States. (Long-time readers know I often despair of ever finding stuff from anywhere else.) The conclusions might be different in places where the cost of medical treatment is not quite so high.
As part of my ongoing campaign to restore the dignity of vanilla from all those slurs on its exoticness, I must share Vanilla fever, a wonderful piece from The Economist’s 1843 magazine. All the usual suspects, sure, but brought to book with gusto and pizzazz.
There’s a pretty fascinating paper in Plants, People, Planet. Resetting the table for people and plants: Botanic gardens and research organizations collaborate to address food and agricultural plant blindness wants to enlist botanic gardens in a broad effort to restore our ability to see plants. There’s a good long list of previous exhibits and displays mounted by botanic gardens and demonstration farms around the world, and to me they all sound absolutely fascinating.
But, as my friends will tell you, I’m weird. I’m very happy lingering among the multiplier onions and dye plants at the botanic gardens here in Rome, or tut-tutting at the labels, lack of, on the potatoes at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, my two most recent forays. And let me share a tip; if you’re looking for peace and quiet in a botanic garden, useful plants is the place to be, because most visitors are not weird like me.
The authors of the paper, of course, are weird like me. They’re the kind of people I’d like alongside at any of the exhibits they talk about and others they don’t. But although they cite one set of visitor numbers – 600,000 people saw the Amber Waves of Grain exhibit at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC in 2015 – there’s precious little evidence it had any impact on any of them. I’m sure, too, that many directors of botanic gardens would love to put on the sort of exhibits being called for, if they but had the cash.
It may be a shame, but people are generally blind to the plants that sustain them. And yet, they still manage to eat. Would it make any difference to food policy if people at large had clearer vision?
Just for the record, another weird person, a friend and colleague of mine and half the authors on that paper, wrote a cracking blog post prompted, I suspect, by similar sorts of thoughts: Why I dislike the International Day for Biological Diversity. I would have used a different word than “dislike” but I wouldn’t have been smart enough to write the piece.
Everyone makes mistakes
In our conversation about haroset, Susan Weingarten mentioned that one “traditional” ingredient, a bit of ground up pottery, was probably the result of a mistranslation. Jonathan Katz, on his site Flavors of Diaspora, does not include that example in his musings on how Mistakes Made Jewish Cuisine. In any case, he ranges far beyond Jewish cuisines to tackle the imprecision of family recipes, whether cooks deliberately omit a secret ingredient, the connotations of something like “a bit” in other languages and much besides.
Fascinating stuff, and in future I’m going to try not to get all het up when a published recipe doesn’t “work”
Speaking of mistakes, I said, last time, that I was going to return to the topic of ultra-processed food soon. I shouldn’t have, because in the interim actual work got in the way and more studies have been published.
I also wondered about going to the food exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I went, and loved it. Weird, as I said. Although not in a botanic garden, it was an amazingly interesting exhibit that I have yet to write about.
I remain hopeful in all things.
All the best,