Christmas has come early this year, with a sackful of pieces that are not only long and entertaining reads, but also stretch beyond the USA, even those published there.
If you’re of a certain age, and a certain culture, you may remember a TV advert for Pizza Hut featuring none other than Mikhail Gorbachev. Although it didn’t make me any more likely to eat at Pizza Hut, I do remember being amazed at its very existence. I mean, how did it come to be?
Wonder no more. Foreign Policy has a detailed account of the back story, the politics that prompted Gorbachev to agree and the practical details of making the commercial. I found it deeply interesting.
I remember being astonished by the extraordinary colour photographs of Russian agriculture by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii when I first came across them a decade or more ago. A couple were of the tea plantations in Georgia, in which I had developed a passing interest, although I had not seen this image of Lao Jin Jao on his tea plantation in western Georgia. It comes from a fascinating account of how Lao Jin Jao’s award winning tea was degraded by the mechanised march of Soviet agriculture and, lately, how immigrants from Estonia and Lithuania are resurrecting the reputation of Georgian tea.
Dutch farmers have been involved in huge protests over the past few weeks, a story I haven’t seen a whisper of elsewhere, so thanks to ARC2020 for its reports.
At issue is an ill-conceived move by the government to tamper with the rules surrounding nitrogen emissions. Although nitrogen makes up four fifths of the air we breathe, and is not in itself harmful, some nitrogen compounds are damaging in different ways. Nitrous oxide, for example, is 300 times more effective than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and also attacks the ozone layer. Soluble nitrates are fertilisers that can cause algal blooms and dead zones in lakes and seas and also disturb terrestrial ecosystems. And agriculture is the biggest source of both.
Faced with a decision that its nitrogen control permits were illegal under EU rules, the Dutch government decided summarily to cut farmers’ permits. It was even suggested that the entire Dutch livestock herd be halved. Dutch farmers quickly took to the streets – and to the beaches – and many provinces quickly caved in.
The problem, however, remains. How exactly do you regulate one of the more pernicious pollutants associated with agriculture? I don’t have any answers, but I can’t help feeling that a tax is the answer. I was also pleased to see one critic, Wanne Roetemijer, provide a global context for the problem. Most of the nitrogen in livestock feed, for example, is imported from South America and can tip local environments out of balance.
“The Netherlands is a small country but we have a major nutrient-influx to deal with. All that nitrogen is not a natural part of the Dutch ecosystem.”
It has always been a mystery to me why Americans eat so little lamb, less than 500 gm a year. Of course I’m biassed, being as lamb is my favourite less-intensive meat. Whatever the reason, though, the current three-way battle among New Zealand’s Lamb Company, the USDA and the US lamb industry is a joy.
New Food Economy has the story, which is all about the magical words “spring lamb”. New Zealand would like to get rid of restrictions on use of the phrase, which US federal regulations define as “lamb slaughtered between March and the first week of October”. Not much help if your spring starts in October. New Zealand wants to continue selling its trademarked “New Zealand Spring Lamb”. US lamb producers argue that “eliminating ‘spring lamb’ regulation would … give rise to false marketing”.
I’m pretty sure lamb eaters in the US know that the seasons are reversed down under, but hey.
p.s. I need to mention a stunning soup I enjoyed in Venice last weekend. Castradina is served specifically around the feast of the Madonna della Salute, on 21 November. Its base is the meat of a montone castrato, which I would call a wether. The tricky part is that the meat is also salmistrato, which Wikipedia suggests means it is salted, smoked and then aged. Other sources indicate the use of sodium nitrate. Regardless, the soup, prepared with Savoy cabbage and onions, seasoned with salt, pepper and butter, was absolutely exquisite.
Toward a Culinary Ethos for the Twenty-first Century is a typically interesting, well-reasoned and provocative piece from Rachel Laudan. I wonder how she feels about the story Nicolaia Rips tells in Breaking Bread: The dark and white flours of ideology? Yes, it is about the difference between brown and white, but there are aspects to that story that I, for one, was completely ignorant about.
On the one hand, “totalitarianism is bread in exchange for freedom”. On the other, democracy says “give up bread for freedom”. Disturbing stuff.
And finally, The New Yorker‘s Food Issue is always something to look forward to. I’m singling out Can Babies Learn to Love Vegetables? only because it echoes the advice offered by Elisabetta Visalbergi in our chat about capuchin monkeys and what they can tell us about human food choice.
That’s all for now.
Perestroika stamp from Wikimedia.