The internet has been bountiful once again, so here are the things I have found most interesting these past couple of weeks.
The BBC Archive disinterred a brief 1948 TV segment on the cockle collectors of Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. Worth giving three minutes of your time to as a period piece in so many ways.
Fast forward to 2004 and the ghastly cockling disaster that took place in Morecambe Bay. No cheery Cockney chappies here. At least 21 Chinese illegal immigrants died after being caught by the incoming tide. The two men who hired the Chinese and bought the cockles were cleared of wrong-doing but the Chinese gangmaster and his girlfriend and cousin were convicted of various offences. I’ve no idea whether in post-Brexit Britain cockles are still the cheap and nutritious treat they were in 1948.
Although English cockles and Italian vongole are not the same species, I was prompted to do a bit of research. From what I can gather, most of the vongole are cultivated, or at least looked after a bit. The harvest is about 50,000 tonnes a year, making Italy the second largest producer in the world. Most are sold alive in Italy. They are not the local, European species Ruditapes decussatus but rather R. philippinarum from the Pacific, which was established in Italy in 1983.
Small clams, either wild-caught or raised in hatcheries, are seeded into the lagoons of the northern Adriatic where they may also be covered with a mesh to reduce predation. After 16 to 30 months they are harvested. In some cases, that is by a boat that winches along a cable, so its propellors do not disturb the ecologically-sensitive bottom of the lagoon. A very high-tech GPS system provides the boats with a kind of auto-pilot that is apparently accurate to about 5 centimetres, and that ensures that the boats are harvesting from the designated area.
The first recorded use of “the cockles of one’s heart” is from John Eachard in 1670.
I am confident of it, that this Contrivance of his did inwardly as much rejoyce the Cockles of his heart, as he phansies, that what I writ did sometimes much tickle my spleen.
I still have no clear idea of how cockles, hearts and the cochlea of the inner ear are related etymologically, but I strongly advise against investigating the adjacent phrase “tickle my spleen”.
It will never cease to shock me (and indeed, I’m writing a book on the subject) that people would rather spend millions creating “meat” out of all sorts of products than simply stop eating meat or make meat a treat.
Alicia Kennedy’s piece On the Future, and why justice is more important than innovation is a fine read, and not only because we seem to see eye to eye on so many things. I like the way she deftly steps from unusable smart ovens in New York to unusable high-input seeds in Malawi with several stops along the way, almost all of which involve someone from a different culture telling people what they need.
I’m looking forward to that book.
Lawrence Haddad, executive director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, did us all a service by translating a well-meaning academic paper into messages we can all understand. Like so much of modern feed-the-world rhetoric, the policy generals are fighting the last war. Haddad picks out five prevalent myths that are currently an obstacle to better policies.
The other three are not quite so amenable to a quick quotable extract, but are equally interesting. In the final analysis, a belief in the myths of food distribution resulted in “a misdirection of policy and consequently not targeting scarce resources optimally”. Which is not in our best interests.
[E]ither we continue to eat like ravenous global omnivores and destroy the planet, or we must eat more plant protein than meat and revert to some kind of peasant-paleo diet of beans and gruel, enlivened with the occasional foraged herb.
I confess, those two alternative straw people almost put me off reading Wendell Steavenson’s article The battle to revolutionise food in Prospect Magazine. I’m glad they didn’t, because her article is a nuanced look at the problems posed by modern food systems that illustrates high-flown concepts with down-to-earth experience. I highlighted several quotes to share here, but in the end decided that they belonged in the context of the article as a whole, so do give it a read.
To me, a pawpaw will always be that glorious tropical fruit with creamy orange flesh and shiny black seeds, best eaten with a squeeze of lemon as the sun comes up over Kilimanjaro, or wherever. That would be Carica papaya, the original pawpaw.
To many other people though, pawpaws are “the largest edible fruit in North America,” although I suspect Bill Heavey, author of The Mad Scientist of Pawpaws, meant to say the largest edible fruit from North America. The article is a fun and informative article about Asimina triloba, a species that has long been on the verge of breaking into the big-time, and Neal Peterson, “who has been called the Johnny Appleseed of pawpaws”. That too seems wrong, as Peterson has devoted himself to actually breeding, selecting and improving his pawpaws, rather than merely scattering their seeds. Utterly sane. Still, it is an entertaining enough story of the errant paths of the fruit and its promotor.
What to do when something sounds interesting enough to mention here, but I can’t actually get access? Sometimes the reason is lazy online publishers who cannot or will not understand GDPR, which protects people in Europe from the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism. In that case, I can often find a link that does work. But what about items that are behind a paywall and that I don’t, myself, pay for? In an ideal world micro-payments for a single piece of content would work, but they haven’t, yet. All I can do, then, is offer a link.
Ketchup as a Vegetable: Condiments and the Politics of School Lunch in Reagan’s America is an article by Amy Bentley that, I am certain, is well worth reading. Another of her articles — How Ketchup Revolutionized How Food Is Grown, Processed and Regulated — is freely available, though it doesn’t contain much about Reagan-era food politics.
Take care, and stay safe.