Straying somewhat from the beaten track, I blame the heat here, which has scrambled my brain. I take some solace from the observation that there are many other scrambled brains out there.
Thanks to a good friend, I was alerted to an apparently huge fuss here in Italy, about biodynamic farming. Apparently a handful of scientists organised a petition against a move to recognise biodynamic farming and thus enable it to get the same subsidies as organic farming. The petition rapidly gained something like 31,000 signatures and prompted a senator to claim that “we risk giving legal recognition to flat-earthers who preach magic and witchcraft.” All of which, I confess, had passed me by.
Anyway, the friend also linked me to some push-back from wine consultant and restaurateur Mike Turner. To be perfectly frank, I didn’t think much of it, mostly for what it left out of biodynamic agriculture as it ought to be practised, which does indeed sound a lot like witchcraft. (Some of that is covered in the comments to the article.) As a basic live-and-let-live article, it didn’t seem too bad.
My real beef, however, is with folks who dismiss far-fetched explanations rather than dismissing the notion that there’s anything there that requires explanation.
I have absolutely no doubt that organic practices, biodynamic practices, permaculture practices, and probably others, have an influence on the ecosystem present in a vineyard or any other cultivated milieu. How could they not? But are there any reliable differences between the results of good organic practice and good biodynamic practice? Or between following a lunar cycle and not following a lunar cycle? This, of course, is what people mean when they cry out for scientific evidence, even though there is nothing particularly scientific about it. It is merely evidence unencumbered by wishful thinking.
There are suggestions that biodynamic farmers should distance themselves from Rudolf Steiner and some of his crazier notions, and maybe even from some of the crazier practices. Rebrand the whole shebang. But then they wouldn’t be any different from boring old organic farmers.
I find myself wondering whether the Italian scientists, signatories and witch-hunting senator would be as aerated if it weren’t for the fact that public monies might be going to organic farmers who call themselves biodynamic. It’s bad enough that it goes to organic farmers, right?
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is hosting a new exhibit, Coffee: East and West, which has prompted an overflow of froth in various places. I got the most buzz from Ronit Vered’s lengthy piece in Ha’aretz: How coffee revolutionized Jerusalem social life in the 16th century. That coffee was suspected of promoting all sorts of social ills is no surprise. Nor, I suppose, it the fact that Muslims, Jews and Christians alike mostly chose to ignore their clerics railing against coffee shops. There’s little chance that most readers will be able to see the exhibit in person, so I’d love to be able to point you to the Museum for Islamic Art’s website, but it doesn’t pass (my) muster.
The Guardian had a long piece on Saturday about the quest for imitation cow’s milk. I don’t know why.
The ostensible reason is that existing dairy substitutes leave something to be desired if you are judging them against the real thing. The Guardian gushingly quotes “scientists” who “say it will recreate dairy’s authentic mouthfeel and temperature resistance, and constitute the perfect texture for vegan cheese, capable of melting just like the real thing”. Well blow me. If it contains the same proteins as real milk, I would hope that it performs like real milk in many ways.
My problem is that actual cow’s milk is in fact a plant-based product, just like lab-made milk. It happens to be made by an organism that you can see, touch and smell, rather than by a micro-organism engineered to do humanity’s bidding out of sight and out of mind. There’s plenty wrong with the dairy industry, which has also been engineered to do humanity’s bidding out of sight and out of mind, no doubt about that. But the solution, in my opinion, is to fix the way we use and abuse cows.
Forgive me; poetic license. But as I sit writing this, it was indeed 50 years ago today that the Concert for Bangladesh took place in Madison Square Garden, launching an entirely new way for celebrities to use their power. I wasn’t there, but my room-mate bought the boxed set as soon as it came out and oh how we laughed as Ravi explained to the crowd that he was only tuning up.
Anyway, NPR puts the whole thing in perspective in a lengthy article that opened my eyes to the huge complexity of benefit concerts. Best of all, of course, are the political insights. “Nixon privately railed at the concert funds going to ‘the goddamn Indians’” and the genocidal Pakistani military was none too pleased either.
I count that as win-win.
An academic study of nutritious diets in India which, praise be, is open access, says that “Diets are highly unaffordable, especially for women” and “Greater focus needed on enhancing affordability of nutritious food groups”. One of the authors is Anna Herforth, who spoke recently on the podcast about the first global study of the price of healthy eating, which she led.
The problem in India is that even though wage rates have increased more rapidly than the cost of a recommended diet, in absolute terms the nutritious diet is still beyond the reach of 80-90% of women and 50-60% of men.
What to do? In the abstract, the authors recommend
[M]uch more holistic focus on improving the affordability of the full range of nutritious food groups (not just cereals), a reappraisal of social protection schemes in light of the cost of more complete nutrition, ensuring that economic growth results in sustained income growth for the poor, and more timely and transparent monitoring of food prices, incomes and dietary costs.
I suppose that could happen.
A fascinating article from Regina Sexton goes deep into the Irish tradition of potatoes with a moon (sometimes a bone). The core idea is that in the 19th century, poor rural people in Ireland only half-cooked their potatoes. The idea was that the cooked portion gave them a quick energy boost, while the uncooked bone or moon sat in the stomach to await further digestion, “and thus the craving [sic] of hunger were warded off for five or six hours after the original meal” (according to Oscar Wilde’s dad).
Regina Sexton uncovers and shares earlier sources on the matter, along the way rescuing the hapless Irish servant in the US from the opprobrium often heaped on her. It’s a provocative read, written to accompany a photography project, some of which illustrate the article.
Patricia Bixler Reber continues her fabulous work of aggregating the best information about online events on the history of food and cooking. This week: Feeding the poor and needy.
Take care and stay safe.
p.s. Photo of a Steiner-inspired flowform, said to produce “High Energy Biodynamic Structured Water … water that resets, re-balances and restores itself”, nicked from an excellent article on turbulent flow by Phillip Ball.